The entrance to Dwellings, May 24. (Ryan Clayton)
The entrance to Dwellings, May 24.

Ryan Clayton

Dwellings: Experiences of Shelter

May 24, 2021

During the beginning of the pandemic, a shelter in place was set and many stayed at home for weeks. The “Dwellings: Experiences of Shelter” exhibit, which will be displayed at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art until Sept. 4, explores that time spent at home and the concepts of help, grief, violence, stigma and gratefulness that came with it.

“This exhibition reveals depictions of houses, architecture and rooms created well before the COVID-19 coronavirus spread throughout the world. As such, we see these artworks in both past and new contexts, allowing them to recall another time and to speak anew of our time. Viewing these works through the lens of time invites us to consider the past, present and future, and to imagine new ways to cope, help and renew,” Danny Bills, Wichita Falls Museum of Art curator, said.

Jessica Calderwood is the guest artist for the exhibit. Calderwood is a sculptor whose artwork makes statements about contemporary life. The sculptures that are being showcased were created during the shelter in place. Calderwood describes her works as a negation that censors or denies what lies beneath to suggest a personal and internal struggle.

A wall of art at Dwellings art exhibit, April 15. (Ryan Clayton)

“Earlier this year [Calderwood] exhibited in the art gallery Juanita and Ralph Harvey School of Visual Arts, directed by Professor Steve Hilton. Based on her work, we felt she would be a great artist to include in our ‘Dwelling: Experiences of Shelter’ exhibit, and this would also give students an extension of seeing her work within a theme,” Bills said. “She created a new system of displaying the work by having the pieces float on metal discs. The work is intentionally installed lower than normal to give the viewer a position similar to her view when she creates the pieces.”

In addition to Calderwood’s artwork, the WFMA also collaborated with MSU professors. Throughout the exhibit, like in the “Color in Art, Color in Life: Prisms, Pigments and Purpose” exhibit, there are excerpts about the concept of dwellings written by different professors.

“We have been seeking input from collaborative partners for the last few exhibits. Dr. Todd Giles, associate professor of English, has served as a faculty liaison for the museum reaching out to professors to see if they are interested in contributing to certain exhibits. This brings many more viewpoints into the experience,” Bills said.

Each professor touches on a different topic from well-being to an economic perspective. Tara Fox, assistant professor of counseling, writes about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Fox redefines home as not a physical building but a space in the heart that radiates peace. She connects this to how the shelter in place has also redefined home among other things. 

“Shelter in place has drastically impacted how we interact with our world and the people in it. Video chatting has become the new way to hang out with friends or catch up with family. Birthdays, special occasions and holidays seem too lackluster. Throughout the year, the lack of physical connection has decreased our ability to show empathy to others. Our feeling of home as a place of peace has been compromised. To rebuild, we need to embrace a positive mental attitude and take back ownership of our peaceful dwellings,” Fox said.

The participating professors were from different colleges on campus bringing together different ideas to the meaning of dwellings. However, the exhibit didn’t stop at a campus-wide collaboration. Within the museum, there are artworks created by students of Burkburnett Middle School as well. 

Collection of artwork made by students of Burkburnett Middle School, April 15. (Ryan Clayton)

 

“Stefanie Rhoads, the Burkburnett Middle School art teacher approached us about how she could get her students involved. We took this opportunity to set her students up with a Zoom discussion with our guest artist Jessica Calderwood from her studio in Indiana. The students learned a lot about how artists work, what they think about and how to work on theme,” Bills said.

The exhibit brought together different people from college professors to middle school students. It also aims to include WFMA visitors in this collaboration by having a “Story Wall: Sense of Place.” This wall allows museum-goers to share their experience during the shelter in place.

“Museums use interactive parts of exhibits from time to time as way to further engage their visitors. This type of hands-on activity has been difficult to execute during the ongoing pandemic,” Bills said. “We came up with a safe way for people to share a story if they want to. There is a wall where they can pin their handwritten story after using our paper, clean pencils, and a clean pin. They can also share the story with us through online means if they feel more comfortable.”

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