A Room of One's Own (2002)
by Laura Bartlett
Building a private mental greenhouse of growth and respite amid a daily blizzard of dirty dishes, half-done homework, unpaid bills, and questions that begin, "Honey, where's my . . ." takes determination.
The Michigan Guild of Artists and Artisans offered area women the chance to depict their real or imagined personal sanctuaries by issuing each of them a fourteen-inch-square cardboard box to decorate as she liked, diorama style. Inspired by A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf's 1929 tract about obstacles faced by women artists, the exhibit shows 198 vivid abstract and representational boxed scenes crammed with visual puns, self-portraits, and otherworldly weirdscapes.
As a visitor pulls knobs on local musician Annie Gallup's black-velvet-coated box to part curtains and animate a female figure within, or peeks into Sally Silvennoinen's lace-curtained box provocatively titled Peep Show, a twenty-minute tape loop of one-minute statements by the artists plays in the background.
"The hands of women are covered," says Sheri Lynn. "They have things to do - social decorum, conventions - but in my box, you throw all that away and you play." Her box shows two white-gloved hands in the upper left and lower right corners. In between is a playful whirl of wire decorated with multicolored toy jacks.
Ellen Moucoulis describes being kicked out of an exhibit because her paintings were controversial. Her ideal room would be "a place where I can work and keep people out," she says, "where I can keep my paintings safe from the world and the world safe from my paintings." Her box shows a ragged, wiry chicken, resembling an angry dragon, leaping over a wire fence against a background of storm-cloud sky.
Marge Pacer's voice comes on, describing her box as a portrait of the art-deprived hiatus that followed her childhood love of drawing. "I never had the courage to draw" as an adult, she says, until age forty-seven. Her joyful abstract box shows three pillars, each sporting a paper cutout
rose. Scriptlike twirls and spirals, drawn when the paint in the pale painted background was still wet, float above a floor of red paper tiles. They're daubed with what look like lipstick kisses in lime green, burgundy, and robin's-egg blue.
Pam Campau speaks painfully of infertility, which gave her time for creativity but which also created loneliness. Her box shows a cozy nest set against an empty blue sky. Instead of eggs, a handful of used pastel crayons lines the nest.
I parted the curtains of Peep Show to see cheerful spray-painted marshmallow chicks, or "peeps," perched insouciantly here and there in a cozy blue room with a fireplace. The lighthearted pun summed up the verve radiating from all of the boxes, on display through October 4.
[Originally published in October, 2002.]