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Courtesy of Hollins University
Sue Johnson, “Banqueting Table,” 2007-13. Slip-cast vitreous china, found object construction and printed vinyl tablecloth. 192 inches x 48 inches x 29 inches.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
An appetizing dining room spread serves up porcelain effigies of familiar icons such as the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Mr. Potato Head .
A dollhouse from the 1950s is blown up so the walls are 10 feet tall, presenting a home interior about which June Cleaver could only have dreamed .
All of this is part of Maryland artist Sue Johnson's "American Dreamscapes," a new exhibition that explores consumer culture and fills all three galleries in the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University.
The "dollhouse," called "Ready-Made Dream," is a site-specific installation in which Johnson has made enormous prints of images from the interior of a vintage dollhouse, adding objects that serve as additional commentary on the 1950s ideals of domestic bliss - and how such ideals were presented to children.
"She's taken these icons of consumerism and is turning them into higher art," said Laura Jane Ramsburg , manager of museum operations.
Johnson grew up in the 1960s and '70s surrounded by many of the items and images she incorporates into her larger-than-life dollhouse replica. The prints are pasted onto walls within the gallery in an approximation of different rooms. Visitors will almost certainly recognize some of the imagery .
One "picture window" is actually a large replica of a well-known paint-by-numbers image. In the "tool room," a photograph of tiny toy tools - attached to a plastic frame like the pieces found in model kits - is blown up so that the tools are life-size. The "kitchen" features an array of appliances, including three ovens, atop avocado-colored cabinets. Decorative cookie jars represent a number of famous brands and media characters, from Winnie the Pooh to R2-D2, and wallpaper features repeating images of fridge magnets that doubled as advertisements. The "play room" displays giant wooden alphabet blocks.
The dining table exhibition takes a similarly playful look at the ties between consumer culture and idealized home life. The long table has a tablecloth that's actually a banner with dishes printed on it. The porcelain sculptures, using the same brand icons, sit on top of the tablecloth, alternating with the printed images. Johnson made the porcelain pieces, which she calls "The Incredible Edibles," through an artist residency at the Kohler Co. in Wisconsin. The sculptures are made from "the same ceramics that they use to make toilets and sinks," said Wilson Museum exhibitions manager Janet Carty .
The centerpiece on the table, called "The King of Happiness Hill," looks at first glance roughly like a multi-layered cake, but it's made from Happy Meal toys, with a smiling Mr. Peanut of Planter's Peanut standing on top.
The third gallery displays creations inspired by Japanese flower arrangement books that unfold in a single sheet formed from bamboo strips. However, Johnson's versions, called "The Asphalt Series," contain renditions of corporate logos.
"Sue Johnson: American Dreamscapes" will be on display through Dec. 7. On Nov. 7 at 6 p.m., Johnson's colleague at St. Mary's College of Maryland, professor of anthropology Iris Carter Ford , will give a talk in the Frances J. Niederer Auditorium at Hollins about "Material Culture at Home: An Anthropology of Domestic Space and Stuff," in conjunction with the exhibition. The lecture is free.
The Wilson Museum's former director, Amy Moorefield, stepped down in September to take a job as the deputy director of exhibitions at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke.
In an interview before she changed jobs, she discussed how "American Dreamscapes" is part of a year-long series of shows at the museum that raise the questions, "What does it mean when you think of home? What does it mean to not only adorn ourselves but adorn our homes?"
Furthering that theme, the Wilson Museum will have an exhibition called "Home Sweet Home" from Jan. 9 to March 1, 2014, that includes Roanoke artists Betty Branch, Susan Jamison, Betsy Hale Bannan, Christine Carr, Nan Mahone Wellborn and Annie Waldrop, Blacksburg artist Travis Head, and Bent Mountain artist Genesis Chapman.
Admission to the Wilson Museum is free. For more information, call 362-6532 or visit hollins.edu/museum.
Dorothy Riffe posed in O. Winston Link's most famous photograph, a depiction of a young couple snuggling in a drive-in theater while a train rolls by in the background. Prints of the photo, which is on view at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, have sold for about $4,500 - $20,000 if signed.
Riffe, 73, died Sept. 8 of a combination of numerous health problems, said her eldest daughter, Louise Stacey. A West Virginia native, Riffe was the subject of a 2005 Smithsonian magazine article about the genesis of the 1956 photo, titled "Hotshot Freight Eastbound at the Iaeger Drive-In." In 2011, she visited the Link Museum to see the photo - her own copy was destroyed long ago in a flood.
"She really didn't think that picture was anything" until Smithsonian magazine called her, Stacey said, recalling that "she was so excited" to see it again.
Call for auditions
Marlow Ferguson with Roanoke's Star City Playhouse is looking for a few good actors - three men in the 30 to 50 age range and two women in the 20 to 30 age range - to flesh out the cast of their Christmas show. "The Bargain" is a dark adaptation of Charles Dickens' story "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain." The script is by Marlow Ferguson's wife, playwright Karon Semones Ferguson.
The story parallels that of Faust, he said, so you can bet the bargain of the title isn't a beneficial one. Performances of the show take place Nov. 22 to Dec. 8. To schedule an audition, call 366-1446.
On the Arts blog
Virginia Tech graduate Jeff Consiglio (class of '83) was the editor for the short documentary "Inocente," which won an Academy Award earlier this year and became the first Oscar-winning film partially funded by the Kickstarter crowdfunding website. He'll be giving free workshops Oct. 14 at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. To learn more, visit blogs.roanoke.com/arts.
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