“Women’s Work”

Two Eves mixed media paintings

Two Eves, empowering portraits of girlz, circa 1995

Back in September 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic, a friend drove me to Indiana to pick up as much of my old artwork as we could load into her pickup. It was my first trip out of town since the pandemic began, and I was nervous about the four hour drive, nervous about being in public places, even briefly and while masked, and nervous that I would bump into my ex as a good portion of my artistic history is still in the attic of the farmhouse I once co-owned with him. Instead the trip was a going backwards in a good way that I sorely needed.

When I got it home to Kentucky, it felt oddly satisfying and deeply settling to wrap the rescued artworks in plastic and store them in my shed. All winter long as walked by it, filling bird feeders and fetching dry wood for my ceremonial little fires I could feel their presence, and that was enough until I moved into a new art making space where I have been painting and drawing several times a week again, also a first since the pandemic hit.

One of the purposes of this new, shared art space is to sell artwork. However, anyone who knows me well knows I don’t give a **** about selling my artwork; that’s not the reason I made art (although I didn’t know it at the time) or make art now. I do it because it’s a way to tell stories, some of them secrets, without saying a word. Visualizing my memories and feelings is healing and empowering. It grounds me. Making art creates something concrete and real when my world feels shaky and nebulous. It makes me feel like I am doing something positive and constructive during difficult times. So I told the art-space-mates that I wouldn’t be putting anything out in the front room to sell.

Now, I live in a place “where art is alive” as the billboards boast and the water tower proclaims. But in truth, it is a place where art is meant to bring tourists in who will buy it. Old Town, the location of my new studio space, has several galleries and craft workshops, but it’s mostly a ghost town, only recently enlivened by a pizza place that sells beer and wine. This “artisan village” couldn’t support a coffee shop either, though there was one in 2016 that I frequented once or twice with Owen, and I still think of him and that cafe every time I pass the clothing boutique that has replaced it.

But, like I said, I had no intention of selling anything — until the blank walls began to bother me, and I thought about my mummified artworks baking in the summer heat, and I suddenly had a fierce need to display them. So yesterday morning I worked up a slight sweat by grabbing two packages of small pieces from the late 1990s along with the two panels illustrated here, and brought them to the art space after work.

Here’s my history, according to them. 

Me outside ARC 1995

Me, outside ARC Gallery Chicago, after hanging Women’s Work

It was quite a transition from graduate student to working artist/teacher. I had to downsize my studio space by three-quarters, moving it into a half-basement of a townhouse I rented with my second husband, whom I married in 1994. But one of the first professional things I did was join ARC Gallery in Chicago, “one of the oldest co-ops of its kind in the country”. It was my first experience with gallery representation, which likely formed my lack of affinity for traditional galleries with paid staff judging artists based on their ability to sell, charging 50% commission on artworks sold, and an institutional hierarchy that is clearly patriarchal and focused on consumerism and majority rules. At ARC in 1994 there was a president, treasurer and secretary, elected by the membership for short terms. We all had a full say in decision making, and practiced group consensus. Every member paid minimal dues and had a gallery job — mine was doing monthly PR and Saturday gallery sitting a couple times a month. It wasn’t perfect, I’ll admit. I remember being particularly jealous of members who had lawyers and doctors for husbands and didn’t have to support themselves and a family like I did while struggling as a frantic adjunct professor with little time or money to make art. But overall ARC became a great role model for another kind of arts organization that I have been trying and failing to sell to this artist community after brief stints as a co-director of an informal organization that was supposed to promote public mural projects, and a member of local arts council that seemed to become paralyzed by COVID-19 restrictions that I saw instead as opportunities for growth and change.

So I feel like celebrating the person I became because of the person I was in 1995 by posting this pic of me in my late 30s, looking like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, tired as hell from hanging my ARC solo show entitled “Women’s Work” in which I displayed the panels I depict here, two of the six 50 x 35″ or so panels I entitled “The Eves”. They were based on photographs of my youngest daughter and one of her friends, and I no longer recall if I took them or they did. I only know that their poses intrigued me from a feminist perspective, it was pleasing and empowering to work with them and display them, and I am even more impressed with myself now as I unwrap crusty bubble wrap, maybe for the first time since that show, as ancient shavings from industrious mice cascade onto the sales room floor.

 

 

 

New ArtSpace

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After almost two years as a member of Berea Makerspace, I have moved my mural and other large scale art activities to a new creative space located in Old Town/Artisan Village in Berea, KY. This is a partnership with an artistic other, a generous donor and several other artistic types who would like to offer a work and sales space to artists who don’t quite fit in with other artistic organizations in the area.

In particular my partner and I want to offer an “alternative” art space to folks whose work and artistic philosophies may not be in alignment with more traditional arts organizations in the area. We plan to create a Facebook and Events pages soon, and will be scheduling monthly “critiques” and salon-style get togethers in the coming months.

Enjoy the slide show. This is a mural panel that got stalled in the middle of its community creation in the Berea middle and high schools because of COVID-19 school closures. My plan is to finish it and work with the schools to have it installed where the makers can see it and be inspired by it late this summer. When that panel is gone I plan to create a whole series of mural panels on polytab (mural cloth), modeled on another mural I helped create at a homeless shelter, and sell them to whomever is willing to display them publicly, and help pay for the installation.

Community Art in the time of COVID-19

Almost finished Hold Up Hold On panel, February 2020

a HUHO! panel from February 2020

Just as the Hold Up Hold On! team was successfully engaging participants in Berea, Kentucky middle and high schools…COVID-19 happened.

First, Berea College sent all students home in early March, which meant I lost one of my artist assistants. I remember thinking this might be a slight overreaction but as large area higher education institutions followed suit, including the one where the AmeriCorps program I manage is housed, as well as the area public and private K-12 schools, the surprise and disappointment I was feeling quickly turned to disbelief and then despair. I honestly and pretty quickly was no longer thinking about HUHO!; I was agonizing about my health and the health of my family and the sheer magnitude of the crisis.

The over three months that the pandemic has panned out to date, weeks and weeks of adjustment and survival, coupled with the recent onset of the racial unrest, has finally propelled me into a state in which I must reach out, act out, and figure out how to transform HUHO! into something that can be completed as intended, and further expanded and used by my community to help handle these uncontrollable situations and help heal from them.

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Initial movement in that direction happened in May when the Berea Arts Council, of which I am a board member, offered their windows for a HUHO! display.

I have since made an ask of the BAC, for support in 1) finding a building owner or city government entity willing to donate an exterior wall on which to install these panels; 2) hosting two upcoming events in which the Resilience panel is finished by area artists and in-progress panels are finished as well — with added elements that address equality and diversity.

It is my hope that I can directly partner with the BAC to make HUHO! a success story as of this fall, 2020.

Thanks again to the Kentucky Foundation for Women for helping to make this community art project happen!

The Kentucky Foundation for Women

 

Healing Through Art Panel, 3/27/19

Flyer I designed for Healing Through Art Panel, EKU

I took three hours out of my busy AmeriCorps Program Director work day to participate in this panel presentation on art and healing. I was one of three writer/artists to participate, although I have twenty academic years under my belt as well and could easily have worn that hat — but I am glad I didn’t. I find so much more meaning in telling my own story (as egoistic as this may sound) because my story is also the story of the underserved by art individuals I have been able to help through offering them opportunities to visually tell their own.

With organizers Drs. Melinda Moore and Judy Vandevenne, and artists Pam and Obiora at the Healing Through Art panel, March 2019.

The artists present were invited to bring samples of our artwork, and I automatically chose the healing artworks I created between 2009 and 2013 that helped me by illustrating my misery, my grief and finally my ability to celebrate my transition from traditional college art professor to teaching artist to the underserved and during a time when many painful memories and truths were being revealed. As a result I will most likely be showing that series of artworks for the first time at a local Richmond, KY gallery — and won’t that be empowering!

Night, 2009, at the Healing Through Art panel, March 2019.

Many thanks to Melinda Moore, psychology professor and leader of the Survivors of Suicide group at EKU for inviting me to speak and share my healing through art story.

Death and Life

Through September and into November, in between marathon Art Bag Lady writing sessions at the Berea College library, I have been engaged in a number of art experiences with at-risk and artistic youth via the after school program with William Wells Brown/LEXengaged @UK, and the Day of the Dead festival at the Living Art and Science Center.  I’ve also been stalking (well, walking!) the historic Richmond KY cemetery — thus the title of this post, Death and Life.

Last year, just 8-10 weeks after Owen’s death, was very difficult. Halloween was a nightmare, November, except for a day or two, a blur. I am so grateful, therefore, to have this year’s celebratory life and death holidays and my involvement in them for comparison.

As part of LEXengaged I helped facilitate a field trip and scavenger hunt at African Cemetery #2 with dozens of little and big students taking photographs of headstone symbols and writing about the unique markers they found. It was a beautiful day, and beautiful to watch the kids interacting with the space and one another.

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I am most grateful to have been involved in the upbeat and positive Day of the Dead Festival hosted by the Living Art and Science Center on November 1. The nearby Episcopal Cemetery was open and embellished with candles and decorated altars; there were colorful dances in the street, food vendors well worth the wait, and art activities inside that I helped facilitate.  It was a joyous, wondrous evening despite the rain showers.

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In looking for a place to get my daily walk in Richmond, KY, I decided to check out the old, historic cemetery,  have been entranced with new memorial art every time I visit.  Some of the stones are quite old, and many so personalized it is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. It is a bummer that picnics are not allowed!

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