Where Were You..? -Part 1

 Originally posted 10/14/2014

www.theflyingchagall.blogspot.com- The words, "Where were you...?" against a poolside view of the ocean.

Have you ever played the penny game?  That’s where random pennies are passed out and then you are asked, “Where were you on the date of your penny?”

I recently stumbled upon some artwork from my distant past that begged to be dusted off and written about.  They were the catalyst for this post and made me think of the penny game.  I’d like to play it for you now using the artwork to illustrate my stories.

But first, let me explain my how these pieces came to be.  

I was a Masters student in Studio Arts at Wesleyan University back when we lived in Connecticut about 12 years ago.  I was able to get a spousal discount since my husband was teaching there, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.  Halfway through my studies I found that I was pregnant with my first child.  Then, just before I began my thesis, I discovered that we’d be moving to Pennsylvania.  I was able to hold off completing my Masters until we got settled and managed to complete my thesis with a two year old and a 2nd child on the way.

My thesis was a body of work exploring the places I had lived and their influences on me.  Growing up, we had moved quite a bit due to my parent’s divorce and remarriages.  Then I married an academic and moved across the ocean and over several state lines through his various positions at universities.

My thesis dealt with my sense of place and attempted to visualize my impressions of them.  These pieces do not necessarily represent the style that I am currently developing- but I’m still rather proud of them; especially considering the blood, sweat, and tears that literally surrounded their creation!

But this post is not about my thesis, per se.  What I’d like to attempt is to take a snapshot of little moments from my life in the context of what this artwork represents to me.

Lets get started and you’ll see what I mean…

www.theflyingchagall.blogspot.com- Cleveland 1990-1995- Mixed Medium
Cleveland 1990-1995- 28″x36″- Mixed Medium.  I created this piece using overlays of maps of the region found in the wonderful Map Library at Wesleyan University.  The shape of the land intersects with the vast Lake Erie which rises like clouds above it.  I used tacks to attach the overlays, and they became part of the composition.  They emphasized the grid of the land, which is much as how the roads are laid out in Cleveland’s suburbs and outer regions. 

I hold up the first penny- 1991.  Memories come flooding back of my 2nd year of college at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  I had just broken up with my boyfriend from high school.  What a mistake that was!  Not in the breaking up part but of holding on to that dying relationship throughout my freshman year.  It seemed to deter me from fully embracing my independence at college, and I vowed, never again, to allow someone to hold me back.  Ironically, that is when I met my husband-to-be! 

1991 was a pivotal year.  I was developing as an artist, exploring my own interests, and dating a wonderful guy that, for a long time, I kept at an arm’s length in fear that he’d bring me down.  God bless him for being patient and allowing me to come around on my own!  When I did, I found love and acceptance for who I was and what I was becoming.

www.theflyingchagall.blogspot.com- Cleveland 1997-2001- Mixed Medium
Connecticut 1997-2001- 28″x36″- Mixed Medium.   I found an 1812 map of Middletown, CT- the town in which we had lived.  I copied the map several times, laid it down, stained it with tea and burnt umber glazes, then splattered paints and paint soaked tissue paper.  I wanted it to appear as if there were stains and old relics on a weathered surface.  This seemed fitting since New England is steeped in history, down to the 1920’s colonial house that we lived in and the cemetery across the street with gravestones as old as the 1700s.  

Next Penny- 1999– Instantly, I’m transported to New Year’s Eve.  Do you remember all that Y2K hype?  My husband and I stayed put for New Years, not because we were afraid of the world ending, but because I was 9 months pregnant and couldn’t imagine going anywhere else!  We decided to spend the night on our new pull-out couch (which we still own and is overdue for retirement!) in the living room drinking sparkling grape juice and watching the celebrations from our tiny 15″ television.  

I had just quit my job as a department manager of a Barnes and Noble in Glastonbury, Connecticut.  It was a decent job, but I was full of hope.  Hope that we’d soon be having a new baby (who happened to be 2 weeks late, so it wasn’t as soon as I thought!), and hope that, with this baby, we’d begin a fresh life for ourselves.  I was oozing with feel-good hormones and anticipation; the world ending was the furthest thing from my mind.  Thank goodness that prediction never panned out!

www.theflyingchagall.blogspot.com- Kentucky 1972-1978- Mixed Medium
Kentucky 1972-1978- 28″x36″- Mixed Medium.  The town I lived until I was 6, Lancaster, KY, was down the highway from where I was born- Lexington, KY.  The maps I found became like a nerve cell with Lexington acting as the nucleus and Lancaster and its environs becoming the nerve ending.  Pieces of maps are like cells floating around it.  I wanted to create a visceral image of Kentucky to convey how deeply rooted it is in me.

This penny is corroded- 1974 -A memory floats up that is so distant that I’m not sure how much of it is mine and how much I was told.  This is what I know:  I was 2 years old.  My mother and I were eating lunch in our trailer in Lancaster, KY.  The sky had grown dark and stormy but gave no indication of the events to come.  Then the sirens came at the same time as the fierce winds.  My mother had just enough time to grab me from my high chair before the winds burst through the windows and threw us out of them.  Then comes a vivid memory of sharp blades of grass brushing my face and being unable to see.  My mom tells me that I called to her, and that was how she located me because she, too, could not see. 

We were in a tornado.  We survived but our trailer did not.  It was picked up, wrapped around a telephone pole, split in two, and flung in separate directions hundreds of yards from each other.  If we had not been thrown out of the window, we would have perished in the wreckage.  I, apparently, went into shock soon after my mom found me but only required 3 stitches under my eye and 1 above the bridge of my nose.  My mom required 87 stitches on her feet and along her scalp.  She was also 7 months pregnant but was able to keep my brother safe.  Our guardian angels were working overtime that day!

With that, I’m going to pause this game.  I have a few more pennies in my coin purse and artwork to show you, but I’m feeling the need to take a little break and continue this game next week.  

Some memories are bittersweet and must be handled with care. 

Thanks for allowing me to share mine.  What would yours be if I handed you, say, a penny from the year 2000?  Would you mind sharing your memories with me?

Have a wonderful week!