Nostalgia meets selective memory in 'Hindsight' at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio – The Columbus Dispatch

LANCASTER — “Hindsight,” an exhibit that at first seems to be nothing more than a collection of nostalgic, folk-like paintings of American life, does in fact raise questions about how that life is remembered. Indeed, the subtitle to this exhibition at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is “The Art of Looking Back,” implying that remembering can be complicated, selective business.
Some 80 works including paintings, furniture, clothing, ceramics and other pieces of decorative arts were assembled by antique and art experts Andrew Richmond and Hollie Davis.
The husband-and-wife curator team, who live in Belpre, Ohio, are eager for visitors to examine and enjoy these works as they consider how they process their own memories.
“Is this accurate or is it someone’s warm, fuzzy memory?” mused Hollie Davis as she stood in front of one of the bucolic 19th -entury farm paintings.
To be sure, the exhibit includes many cheerful folk paintings by Ohio-born artists. Bernadine Stetzel, born in 1927, painted soldiers leaving her pretty little town of Tiffin, during World War II on the “Troop Train.”
Tella Kitchen, who became mayor of Adelphi in 1963 when she took over for her deceased husband, started painting at age 67. Her depictions of small-town life are equally bright and pleasant.
Works by Kitchen’s grandson, Edwin Kitchen, are also included. His detail-rich “Mardi-Gras Parade — Lancaster” was sparked by his memories of a festive day during his childhood in Lancaster.
One work by that most-famous memory painter, Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses, is featured: “Stage Stop” (1958) depicts the Eagle Bridge in New York in a sunny pastoral scene.
But there are also examples of less lighthearted events from the past. The African American Columbus artist Charles A. Owens, who died in 1997, produced the biblical-looking scene “Bridge to Freedom,” a group of slaves heading across water to the north.
An entire room of the exhibit is devoted to the oil paintings of Leuty McGuffey Manahan, a 20th-century artist related to the McGuffey Readers family. The works by this underappreciated artist depict her childhood in rural Hardin County and were the impetus for the exhibition, according to Andrew Richmond. McGuffey’s paintings are beautifully composed, rich in detail and have a bit of feminist sarcasm.
Manahan’s “Weekend,” created in 1956, shows a mother hard at work ironing and surrounded by a passel of kids while in the background, her husband lounges in a hammock. “Mother’s Day” (1966) presents a similarly overworked and stressed woman amid the chaos of domestic life. And the artist’s “Auction Sale,” perhaps the loveliest in this body of works, is a poignant scene of a farm sale with a woman, presumably the mother, sobbing in the background.
A variety of three-dimensional objects include a “Trench Art” vase made in 1918 in Europe from a brass shell casing from World War I; an 1820s muslin dress, possibly a wedding dress, remade in 1840; two contemporary Shawnee vessels, made side-by-side by Wyandot, Oklahoma, sculptors Richard Zane Smith and Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee tribe; and the curious “Spinning Wheel Chair,” a rocker made in the late 19th century from parts of a spinning wheel.
The Decorative Arts Center, housed in the restored 1830s Reese-Peters House, is an ideal venue for this exhibit that both looks to the past and considers how the past has been presented.
One of the exhibit’s panels expresses a theme that applies to all the paintings and decorative creations assembled here: “We write, edit, and share our own story. While it is most important to us, it is also but one perspective of the past. Our history is really nothing more than a collection of individual memories and perspectives from the same time and place.”
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“Hindsight: The Art of Looking Back” continues through April 24 at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, 145 E. Main St., Lancaster. Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free. The center requests that visitors wear masks and maintain social distance in the galleries. Call 740-681-1423 or visit www.decartsohio.org.

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