Intro to My Newest Book, Exhibit A

Exhibit A: Paintings of Alabama Places

I moved to Alabama in 1994, amazed by the historical and natural wonders that are largely overlooked by Alabamians. After exploring the United States full time for over 3 years, I chose Alabama as a favorite in my travels and endeavored to explore my new home state through sightseeing and painting. I received the Alabama State Council on the Arts Individual Artists Fellowship for 2006-07 which inspired a series of mixed-media panels based on some of my favorite Alabama places. The Mobile Museum of Art held an exhibit of the project from April to August of 2011.

I set out on field trips—some alone, some with family or my friend Anne Laplante—to discover, photograph, learn about, and get inspired by interesting places. Among other adventures, we sloshed around a muddy bog north of Mobile, hung out with Indians in Tuscumbia, huddled under thousands of cave crickets while wading in an underground river in a cave in the Paint Rock Valley, and got lost in the woods on a Sipsey Wilderness Hike. On each encounter I learned so much fascinating new information that the project would have been worth it for the education alone. Being from another part of the country rendered me just unfamiliar enough with Alabama’s landscape and history that I saw it as fresh and foreign—and thus very exciting.  In my paintings I attempted to highlight the things that struck me visually and intellectually. I got well-meant suggestions from others about what should be included, but ultimately I chose the things that made me say Wow.

From the many photos I took on each trip, I patched together details in a random and scattered way. I found that using many different images in one piece better represented the way I saw the place than a straightforward realistic view would. In the studio I handmade ceramic tiles and inlaid them into a large wooden panel. The centers of the pieces are copper, and except for the tiles, the entire piece is painted with oils. My handy husband and ceramic artist, Scott Bennett, consulted on tile construction and completed all of the woodwork.

Through Exhibit A I got to connect with my community in an intentional way, and champion the parts of Alabama that most intrigued me. Each place I chose to depict had other champions of its own. A handful of dedicated (and usually overworked and underpaid) people watch over and tend the places I chose. I consulted with historians, biologists, rangers, and activists. They do the honorable job of maintaining, educating, raising money, and tenderly devoting themselves to their place. Their dedication inspired me to put my all into Exhibit A, and reminded me that we silly humans truly can do amazing things when we choose to.

The photographs that follow represent the 12 panels that made up Exhibit A. They were completed between 2006 and 2011. The texts that accompany the images give a little info about the place, my experience making the piece, and the organization that maintains the place. My hope is that Alabama gets a little more appreciation, and that people from in and out of state get fired up about seeing the hidden, fascinating places that are everywhere around us.