I can’t believe that I have been curating what is now called The Harris Family Gallery for nearly thirty years! There have been many exciting changes during those years, in both the physical space and my approach to the artwork I curate.
In 1986, Ginger Krohn, the Chair of the Art Committee of the Weathervane Women’s Board, asked me to join her in curating the gallery’s exhibits. Ginger had just begun to chair that committee, and I agreed to work with her.
My father was an artist and I grew up in a home filled with art, both my father’s and the work of his friends. Also, I had been the main life-drawing model in the art departments of both The University of Akron and Kent State University. Because of that experience, I knew many of the fine local artists in this area and kept in contact with many of the professors for whom I had worked. I was confident that I would be able to find artists who would enjoy exhibiting their work at Weathervane and that I could easily take on this project.
After curating only one show, Ginger resigned from the Art Committee and I became the chairman by default. I quickly learned that providing art for the gallery wasn’t as simple as I had thought it would be.
I had no “plan” for the gallery, other than finding work to hang on the walls. My criterion was that I had to like the art. Over the years, this approach evolved. I began to think of the gallery exhibits as an extension of the productions being presented onstage. I wanted the artwork to relate, in some way, to the plays. My hope was that the art in the gallery would enhance the audience’s experience of the art onstage. I started thinking about what would go in the gallery as soon as the new season was announced each year. This approach led to many exciting and wonderful collaborations.
In 1998, I wanted to have photographs of people “on the job” during the run of Studs Terkel’s ‘Working.’ I had powerful photographs from Ott Gangl, photographer for the Akron Beacon Journal and official photographer for the Ohio Ballet. Gangl’s photos, however, weren’t framed. Whenever he sent his work to galleries around the world, the galleries were responsible for framing it. I was fortunate that Kistler’s Framing matted and framed the twenty photographs AND donated the frames to Weathervane for future use! These frames are have displayed many exhibits over the years, and are currently being used to display the exhibit that accompanies ‘Clybourne Park.’ I also use them every year for the artwork done by third grade students for Weathervane’s holiday show.
Another example of the gallery work being an extension of a current Weathervane production is an exhibit of art created by female artists who were cancer survivors during the run of ‘Wit,’ which chronicles the journey of a college English professor’s battle with Stage IV ovarian cancer. I wanted the audience to see that many people do survive cancer and continue on their chosen paths.
I collaborated with the Hower House for an exhibit during a production of ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’ For the first time in the history of Hower House, pieces of heirloom lace were allowed to leave the premises. The fact that Grace Crawford Hower was one of the founding members of Weathervane probably influenced that decision. I worked with members of a local lace-making guild and exhibited some of their work as well, displaying it in the donated frames.
When ‘Wait Until Dark’ was presented, I worked with the Akron Society for the Blind and The Cleveland Sight Center. I met many courageous blind people who produced lovely artwork in various mediums including ceramic and stone sculptures, tooled leather pieces and fabric collages, to name a few. There was one very large painting that was created specifically for blind people to experience. It was an abstract piece heavily painted in many different textures so that one could “feel” the art.
There have been many other collaborations over the years, which brings us to the current exhibit for ‘Clybourne Park.’ I discussed options for artwork for this production with Susan Ying Ling, a well-respected artist and retired art teacher from Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts. Susan suggested that I contact Patrick Dougherty, one of the art teachers at Firestone High School. Since many of Susan’s students had gone from Miller South to Firestone, she was familiar with their work and the progress they were making in Patrick’s classes.
When Patrick and I met, I realized that I knew him when he was an art student. I had been his model for some of his classwork at the time. He was really interested in the project and decided that the students in his Portfolio Class would welcome the challenge of creating work for the gallery and the opportunity to have their work on display.
‘Clybourne Park,’ by Bruce Norris, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play. Patrick brought its script to his students and with them read and discussed it in the classroom.
Because the play is an intense look into the dynamics of family and into what elements make up a neighborhood and a community, he asked his students to look through old family photos and find images that depicted, for them, what family looked like. The resulting paintings currently in The Harris Family Gallery were based on these very personal photographs.
I’m excited about the exhibit and the collaboration that brought it to the gallery and I am happy that the Weathervane can provide a venue for students to share their art with a new audience. This is a great outreach effort that enriches the students and the community. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we work with the talented students of Firestone High School.
‘CLYBOURNE PARK’ PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE:
Thursday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, January 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, January 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, January 31 at 2:30 p.m.
For tickets, please visit www.weathervaneplayhouse.com or call 330.836.2626.