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A Family Affair: Rural Routes Exhibition at the Ohio Art League
Steel and fiber cows. Ghostly, ephemeral lithographs of dilapidated buildings. Fountain grass grouped like bales of hay in a large wave across a gallery. Somewhere in between the installation and two-dimensional pieces were three generations of an Ohio family.
Catherine Bell Smith, a self-proclaimed re-emerging artist, and her daughter, Claire E. Smith, presented an installation about impressions, memory, distances and place at Rural Routes (not your traditional landscape), an exhibition at the Ohio Art League. The repeated trips along Interstate 71 between Columbus (where Claire grew up) and Cleveland (where Catherine grew up) inspired their installation.
Having grown up in the Cleveland area myself, this installation particularly resonated with me.
Driving back and forth between Columbus and Cleveland, I-71 is littered with abandoned farm houses, expansive crops of hay and corn, and the occasional spattering of cows or horses.
What magic does this seemingly ordinary landscape hold for artists?
Claire’s simple images with engrossing textures come from a fascination with the spaces in between structures, she said.
“The space between places is fleeting when moving at high speed. It is difficult to formulate a still impression of the landscape,” Claire said. “The stone lithographs created for Rural Routes are inspired by impressions of the swiftly moving landscapes of the in-between.”
For Catherine, “Watershed,” an installation mimicking clusters of tiny bales of hay in waves throughout the gallery, is inspired by hard-worked farmlands – vast pauses between cluttered rest stops, commercial signage and urban sprawl.
The artists perfectly represent the space between these two cities.
Catherine, the third of ten children, initially began making art in the early 80s, but took a hiatus to raise her children.
“When I’m working on my art, I seem to focus only on that and not on my family,” she said. “So I decided to take a break from it and get back to it when my children were a little older.”
That 20 year break was rewarding for Catherine.
“More time observing, experiencing life and I come back to it with a renewed vigor, and so much more information and excitement … it’s amazing,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do it, I always knew I would do it, but you take it away for a while and when you get it back you just, chomp on it.”
Catherine and Claire seem to have a wonderful, truly collaborative nature to them outside of their family connection. I had the pleasure of speaking to the matriarch of the family, Rose, Catherine’s mother and Claire’s grandmother. I have been lucky to meet a lot of amazing people in my line of work, but this woman was particularly wonderful.
“I am really amazed by what they’ve created. I can’t imagine doing something like that,” Rose said. “[Catherine] took a bunch of wire mesh from our house and I had no idea it would end up in this show.”
Rose spoke with me candidly about raising ten children and the pride that she had for her large family, which includes 30 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“You have to nurture the gifts that are inside of you, and we all have so many things that we can give to the world,” Rose said.
Rose and Catherine value the work and joys of motherhood, but relish in the ability to re-purpose their own lives once their familial duties have lessened.
Claire is in her third year at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, studying sculpture as a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts candidate. I have a feeling we will see great things from her in the years to come. Perhaps it’s genetic, but whether it’s nature or nurture, this is a family of creative thinkers.
Rural Routes (not your traditional landscape) is on display at the Ohio Art League at 1552 North High Street in the South Campus Gateway from April 7 to April 30. Admission is free. The OAL gallery is open to the public every Monday through Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.