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The Scarlet & Black

Dead letters come alive in Smith gallery

Smith - John Brady
String sculpture on display in Smith Gallery. Photo by John Brady.

Smith Gallery is now home to Dead Letters, an exhibit which hybridizes language, art and the personal feelings attached to them. It is the result of five continuous days of installing the seven different pieces and painting the walls for the exhibit.

For the exhibit’s creator, Abby Lowe ’15, every portrait is a story. The idea for “Dead Letters” was inspired by the novel “Going Postal” by Terry Pratchett in combination with her perspective on portraiture and narrative.

“I don’t know how to make art that isn’t hyper-personal,” Lowe said.

According to Lowe, each of the seven pieces on display is autobiographical or focuses on someone in her life—past or present.

She discovered her passion for narrative and storytelling through art after a sculpture class she took with Professor Lee Running, Art, last semester which revealed her ability to combine art and language.

Smith - John Brady
Silhouettes on display in Smith Gallery. Photo by John Brady.

After a year of hard work, her exhibit came to fruition in the Smith Gallery. Lowe started the project in the fall of 2013. She studied abroad in London for the spring semester, where she added more art pieces to the project. She finalized the project over the course of summer break in her own kitchen.

“My mom has been incredibly supportive of me making art my whole life,” Lowe said. “I [told] her that I needed an art material and she said she had them in the basement, so she’s been incredibly helpful for me.”

The exhibit showcases her versatility with different art mediums.

“The show is very representational of my studio course of art last year,” Lowe said. “You first work with paper, then you work in wood, then casting and then welding. So you can see each of those represented [in the exhibit]. And the hanging silhouettes was a project I worked on all semester in hybrid media with Professor [Matthew] Kluber, [Art].”

Paper cutouts on display in Smith Gallery. Photo by John Brady.
Paper cutouts on display in Smith Gallery. Photo by John Brady.

At the end of her efforts, Running suggested to Lowe that she should apply to showcase her works of art in Smith the following school year.

“[Professor Running] said to me, ‘You have all this work. I think it’d be good for you to see it all in one space to start thinking through what your body of work is looking like,’” Lowe said.

After seeing Dead Letters come to life, Lowe says that her most visually striking piece is the hanging silhouettes.

“I tend to work kind of small and fiddly and to have something take up that much room is really exciting,” she said.

The two puppets in the exhibit tie back to her affinity for writing, her love of creating characters and her work as a scholar at Grinnell. Lowe is currently working on a MAP about puppetry, and the two puppets have inspired her work.

Lowe said that the jars are the most emotionally charged piece of art in the exhibit right now, despite her doubts about their success.

“That piece is about my sense of home right now just because a lot of things are in flux for me and a place that used to feel immaculately safe and happy has really gotten shaken up, especially in the last two to three years,” she said. “The only reason it’s challenging for me is because the [emotions connected to the jars] are so prevalent in my life right now.”

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