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In "Safekeeping", Artist Explores Family Heirlooms & Memories

At the heart of artist Katherine Fries’s work “is the relationship of people, objects, and memory.”

At Thomas More College’s Eva G. Farris Gallery, Fries shows paintings, prints and assemblages in her exhibit Safekeeping, which, she says, “speaks to the act of preserving memories and objects for examination, cataloging, sentimentality, and understanding.”

So, in her self-portrait "Katherine #2", Fries is seen in a pose that suggests adolescence, lying on the floor on her stomach, her jean-clad legs bent upward, bare feet crossed at the ankles, suggesting she’s listening to old time rock ‘n’ roll – maybe the Elvis album propped within reach. Nearby is an "ancient" rotary phone. Its pink color suggests a "princess" model. (Consult parents and grandparents for details.)

The whole is comfortingly encased by the kind of “blanket fort” most of us knew as children. It’s decorated with a bright chain of paper flowers.

Fries laughs. The painting is part of her “Memory Fort” series, in which she interviewed adults “about their objects, interests, stories, and family, and thematically arranged them: the people and their objects in a constructed child-like blanket fort.

“The fort for me symbolizes one of our first acts of defining one's own space and adorning it with what we deem important.These forts act as capsules for memory, whimsy, and storytelling.”

Fries describes herself as “storyteller and preservationist.” “I grasp at any known narrative of who, what, when, where, and how. As preservationist, I long to know context, strive to understand relevance. You the viewer can act as sleuths piecing together the story.”

She chooses her subjects carefully, looking for “linkages and commonalities” so she can better tell their stories. Fries talks to her subjects about “what they kept and why." "Most of us keep things simply because they are part of our history, they tell our story. I get wonderful stories. It’s a wonderful way to meet people,” she said.

Oil on canvas "Katherine #2"’s happy references include the memory of “growing up listening to Elvis with my great-aunt on her record player.”

Farris gallery director Elizabeth Neal says, “I personally related to the collection of multi-generational objects that one accumulates.  

“My mother-in-law passed last year and we are in the process of distributing the family belongings and are experiencing how hard it is to throw away family heirlooms if the next generation doesn't find value in them. The connection to my family by acquiring objects that they felt were important and have been passed down and used by each generation holds a special place in my heart, yet negotiating the collection of other people's things as an emotional connection to them is a slippery slope."

Like so many of us, Neal admits, “I am personally torn at this point in my life between keeping things that are my mother's and grandmother's and great-grandmother's and not accumulating too much ‘stuff.’ 

Work by Clinton Wood III will complete the summer exhibit season at the Eva G. Farris Gallery Aug. 2-19. The opening reception is 4-6:30 p.m. Aug. 2.

Safekeeping, July 6-19, Eva G. Farris Gallery, Thomas More College Library (entrance level), 333 Thomas More Pkwy., Crestview Hills. Gallery hours: 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. 859-344-3300 (library). Details: www.thomasmore.edu/art/art_gallery.cfm

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts