Wilson Museum Prepares for Early 2013 Exhibitions

Above left: Liz Miller, Imperious Decorum (revisited) (detail), 2012. Stiffened felt and other mixed media. Photo by Matt Gubancsik. Center: Younseal Eum, Sailing. Glass, copper, motor. Courtesy of the artist. Right: Huguette Despault May, Umbilicals (detail), 2009. Charcoal on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Katharine T. Carter & Associates.

The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University is dark right now, as it prepares for the next exhibition, an ambitious – or should we say amphibious? – presentation from three artists. Echo Sounding (January 10-March 2) explores the work of three artists, looking at nautical elements and marine tools, and the “repetitive patterning in nature to tell compelling stories.”

Liz Miller creates large-scale stiffened felt assemblages; Younseal Eun’s “kinetic sculptures,” are made with paper and plastic, and Huguette Despault May will show her charcoal drawings that “unravel nautical knots into organic forms.” All three artists have exhibited throughout North America.

Miller and Eun will appear at the Wilson Museum’s popular lecture and reception series (January 10 for Miller on opening night; Eun will appear on February 21) during the exhibit run. Miller will create a large-scale sculpture on site, a work that addresses man’s relationship to the ocean. Visitors will actually be able to walk through the installation.

Each lecture begins at 6pm with a reception following an hour later. Wilson Museum director Amy Moorefield said the themed exhibit will also address environmental issues in some fashion. “I just thought this would be a really wonderful exhibition to put together. [Each artist] works in very different manners.”

Moorefield said the exhibition ties in to a larger theme at the museum this year, which is highlighting artists that use materials “in contradictory ways.” Art is not just two-dimensional Moorefield points out, not just paintings on a wall. Art that involves science, mathematics and other relevant topics “opens up a rich dialogue,” adds Moorefield, who assumed her post at Hollins in 2008.

Following the opening exhibit run, Hollins University welcomes its annual artist-in-residence, who will also bring works to campus for a showing at the Wilson Museum. Dan Estabrook, this year’s Frances Niederer Artist-In-Residence (the position is named after a well-known and well-heeled Hollins alumna).

Niederer was an actress, entertainer and artist who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Supreme Court justices and journalist Edward R. Murrow. In the early 2000’s a gift from “Siddy” made the Wilson Museum and the Hollins art building possible. “[She’s] our touchstone,” noted Moorefield.

The Hollins University studio arts program actually brings the artist-in-residence to campus. Estabrook, a New Yorker who will leave a work behind for the museum’s permanent collection, is an expert on 19th century photographic processes; he also uses pencil and paint to enhance images that seem to be taken two centuries ago.

Estabrook’s work will be on exhibit from March 14-April 20, with a lecture by Estabrook on Thursday, April 18. Estabrook just finished teaching a course elsewhere on apocalyptic photography, or “what happens after the zombie apocalypse?” as Moorefield puts it. Students had to make their own cameras and developer. “He brings a really good energy [to the Wilson Museum],” notes Moorefield.

The spring season at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum rounds out with Tanja Softic: Migrant Universe (also March 14-April 20). Softic, a Sarajevo native, uses large-scale paintings and drawings to address concepts like cultural hybridity, chaos and memory. Softic earned an MFA in printmaking from Old Dominion University. Softic will lecture on March 14 at 6pm with a reception to follow as well. “A lot of her work are very large, mixed media prints,” said Moorefield, often detailing how human beings have migrated from one continent to another. “That’s a primary focus for her [using] phenomenal printmaking techniques.”

This has been sort of a rough year for the arts locally, with the shuttering of Studio Roanoke, the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre and the demise of the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge. Moorefield, who was a board member on the Arts Council, which was a member-supported advocacy group for local cultural institution, says the volunteer Roanoke Arts Commission, which she now chairs, will pick up some of that slack.

“We’ve been spending the past couple of months …figuring out who of our partners in the community can take over some of the good works of the Arts Council,” said Moorefield. The Arts Commission will foster collaborative projects and is “committed to supporting arts and culture here in the community.”

Moorefield said other regions are feeling the pinch in the arts community, in part because of a still-sluggish economy. She points to a recent study that showed Roanoke has more arts organizations, galleries, museums, theaters, etc. per-capita than many other areas, evidence she adds that there is support. It’s also, “not surprising,” in that case that there would be some attrition.

Again, as often stated, Moorefield believes collaboration will help local artists and cultural outposts like the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum survive. She also points out that the Foundation for the Roanoke Valley will hand out $300,000 in grants within the next year to artists and organizations that apply for assistance and have their request approved.

“We’re very grateful that the community has been responsive to what we’re doing,” said Moorefield, who has worked tirelessly to raise the Wilson Museum’s profile, while also drawing it closer to the Roanoke arts community and other institutions. (see more about upcoming exhibits at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at

 by Gene Marrano

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