WOUNDED HOME, Lloyd Library and Museum

August 2nd, 2013  |  Published in *, July-August 2013

WOUNDED HOME, Lloyd Library and Museum

By Karen Chambers

“Ten years in the making” is not hyperbole when applied to the “Wounded Home” exhibition at the Lloyd Library and Museum.1 It’s just a fact.

Ten years ago the guest curator, Kate Kern, participated in “Mining the Lloyd: Artists Reveal Secrets and Treasures from the Lloyd.” In the course of her research, she came across “photographs and prints of wounds and wounded soldiers” in Joseph K. Barnes’ multi-volume Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, published in 1879-88 by the Government Printing Office in Washington.

Kern did not use these images for that project, but they continued to haunt her. Over the years Anna K. Heran, exhibits curator and education/outreach coordinator, would ask Kern if she had used them yet, and the answer was always no, as if waiting for the perfect project. That came with “Wounded Home.”

Jenny Fine, Robby (det.), 2013, archival pigment print on rag paper with graphite and watercolor, 16” x 20”. Photo courtesy of Jenny Fine.

“Wounded Home” commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but the year 1863 also had significance for the Library since it marked the arrival of its founder, John Uri Lloyd, to serve his pharmacy apprenticeship in Cincinnati.

According to the gallery handout, the show was inspired by the idea of a Victorian parlor “ravaged by the losses and upheaval of Civil War America. Combining the vocabulary of an iconic household interior, including Victorian customs of mourning and grief, with text and images from the Lloyd’s collection of Civil War resources, each artist has created a facet of a poignant and disturbing room-within-a-room (designed and built by Celene and Jerrett Hawkins) in the Lloyd’s gallery space.”

Kern began meeting with the six other artists in the exhibition–Mary Jo Bole, Deborah Brod, Jenny Fine, Celene Hawkins, Saad Ghosn, Alice Pixley Young–in November 2011 as they prepared to take advantage of the Lloyd’s impressive collection of 250,000 volumes, dating from 1493, in the fields of natural history, travel and exploration, botany, pharmacy/medicine, scientific history, and the visual arts to research the works they would make specifically for the show. The materials that they consulted are on view, along with artist statements, in cases outside the exhibition proper.

The gallery space was divided into an interior—the parlor–where the conflict was literally brought home–and an exterior, which addresses the war in its larger context.

This decision overcame social activist Saad Ghosn’s initial reluctance to participate, not wishing to work within the confines of the home. Interestingly he is the only male artist in the show. Make what you will of that.

Saad Ghosn, The Price of a Civil War (det.), 2013, acrylic paint, sticks, wood, 6’ x 11’ x 18”. Photo courtesy of Saad Ghosn.

The installation reminded me of Michael Aschenbrenner’s “Damaged Bones” series, his commentary on the Vietnam War. In this series, the artist made glass “bones,” using the hot working technique (hot glass is manipulated into forms), and bandaged them, sometimes using branches as splints. They were then installed in grids on the wall.

I always found his work powerful and moving, and included it in exhibitions of glasswork I curated in the 1980s, including one at the Contemporary Arts Center. Compared to that work, I found Ghosn’s a little too obvious. Ghosn is upfront about his socio/political views as the founder of SOS (Save Our Souls) Art, Cincinnati’s annual art festival for peace and justice. He feels strongly that artists should use their art to express those views, but in his work, he walks a fine line between an aesthetic experience and agitprop.

Celene Hawkins’ Ode to Cotton chandelier, is, as she confesses “in your face.” Using a familiar form, a lighting fixture appropriate to a parlor’s décor, it is pleasing to the eye as an object, but delivers a strong message. It is the most successful work in the show by my estimation.

Hawkins was inspired by the following passage from D. A. Tomkins’ Cotton and Cotton Oil:

The white man loves to control and loves the person willing to be controlled by him. The negro readily submits to the master hand, admires, and even loves it. Left to his own resources and free to act as his mind or emotions dictate, no man can foresay what he is liable to do.

This was written in 1901, decades after the end of the Civil War, and Hawkins found it “deeply disturbing,” spurring her to learn more how the South’s economy was built and sustained by slaves.

The symbolism of the individual parts (most cast bronze) of the chandelier is as obvious as Ghosn’s. The bulbs are semi-translucent white glass blown in the shape of the cotton boll; it has burst open, leaving parts of the golden “husk” that once contained it. They are at the ends of elegantly curving “stems,” with what look like caterpillars crawling on them. At the bottom of the chandelier are green bolls in the clutches of boll weevils. The canopy, which covers the connection to the ceiling, is a coiled whip cast in bronze.

Surrounding the center rod are female nudes with manacles on their necks and hands. The manacles are attached to delicate chains, which are draped gracefully on the arms, and end in dangling handcuffs. The women with kerchiefs, like those were worn by female slaves, lack mouths, silenced by their slave masters.

Impaled on the central rod is a lamb, representing the ancient misconception that cotton was produced by vegetal lambs. In 1350, John Mandeville wrote, “There grew there [India] a wonderful tree, which bore tiny lambs on the endes (sic) of its branches. These branches were so pliable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungrie (sic).”

It’s all there to see in the chandelier, but the first impression is that it is a purely decorative lighting fixture that might be found in a Victorian parlor.

Like Hawkins’ chandelier, Kate Kern’s Our Nation Mourns Wounded Settee and Footstool would also fit into a drawing room, but the upholstery fabric is printed with “deceptively lush bullet entrance and exit wound(s)” left by the soft lead bullets that expanded on impact, the Civil War equivalent of today’s hollow-point bullets. Surrounded by haloes of peach, representing white victims, and an almost dried blood color, for the black fallen, they could be read as merely decorative motifs, but are also very impactful conceptually.

Also very much expected in a parlor is the hearth, and it’s supplied by the video installation Feeding the Flames by Kern and Deborah Brod. Filling the fireplace opening and projected from the rear on a “screen” of mulberry paper are two color images of river battles and Curtis Lloyd’s late 19th-century glass-plate negatives of Cincinnati landmarks and everyday life. These are superimposed on a video of “building a fire in a historic stone fireplace in Winton Woods Park.” The fireplace surround is made of photocopy toner transfer images from rubbings of Civil War grave-markers in Spring Grove Cemetery.

In their artist statement, Brod and Kern write, “The flame is eternal and elemental. It can represent the human spirit as well as the desire to preserve knowledge.”

Kate Kern, Our Nation Mourns: Wounded Settee and Footstool, 2013, ink-jet printed fabric on antique walnut camelback settee and footstool, 39” x 55” x 41”. Photo courtesy of Kate Kern.

Also expected in a Victorian parlor are family portraits—paintings or photographs depending on the family’s financial situation. Hanging above Kern’s settee are Jenny Fine’s portraits made in the style of 19th-century photographic solar enlargements.2 They were inspired by those in Photographic Atlas of the Diseases of the Skin by George Henry Fox (1846-1937), published in 1905.

Fine photographed family, friends, and neighbors to make the personal connection that those in a period drawing room would have had to the family. Posing her subjects dressed in clothes that could be of the Civil War period, she then drew and painted on their portraits to illustrate the wounds and diseases of that time.

So Fine’s are not the types of portraits that would not have actually hung in any parlor because they are certainly not the way those depicted would want to be remembered.

Wallpaper was popular at the time, but, again, certainly not Mary Jo Bole’s Drawing and Withdrawing Room Paper Hanging With/Family Tree. Even less subtle than Fine’s photographs and Kern’s furniture, the elements are clearly reminiscent of the hardships and trappings of war.

A drawing of a family tree is the central image, but she’s replaced the family’s names with the names of rooms in a home. Under a banner labeled “Drawing Room,” she’s written Anteroom, Reception Room, Sleeping Chamber, Great Hall, Buttery, and under the “Withdrawing Room” banner are Alcove, Larder, Inglenook, Privy, Pantry, Crawl Space, and Keeping Room.

Surrounding this are Secession badges, Morse code, bonnets symbolizing mourning women, a hospital cot, a line drawing of “House In Which Jennie Wade Was Killed July 3, 1863,” a circus elephant illustrating the slang phrase for going into battle “to meet the elephant,” and other images.

Surrounding this, Bole uses a repeat pattern of squares, each filled with evocative images related to the war. One has vertical lines of bullets on either edge and in the center are bullet wounds like those Kern uses in her upholstery fabric. Other squares show a part of a garment with lace, squares of hard tack, the names of diseases, some only dimly remembered such as milk sickness, in the handwriting of Dr. James Pattison Walker, author of an unpublished 130-volume encyclopedia. There is also a baby turning a gun on herself, an image Bole had seen in Charles Addams’ Dear Dead Days (1959), a scrapbook of vintage images that appealed to his sense of the grotesque and macabre.

Moving still further away from something that would not be incongruous in a Victorian parlor but is subverted for the artist’s purposes is Deborah Brod’s Wounded Table/cloth. She has broken off, amputated, a leg and bandaged it; it rests on a tree stump. The table is covered with a “cloth” made up of patches of drawings on a parchment-colored paper; it has been coated with gel medium to enhance the look of parchment. They are “tacked” together with bits of tape, colored pinkish like blood soaking through gauze. Crinkled and buckled, the cloth doesn’t lie easily on the tabletop.

Brod’s first thought was to use contemporaneous illustrations of plants that were used medicinally, “but as I delved into the subject matter surrounding the war, I began seeking glimpses of the larger wounds from that time that call out for healing, even today, and slavery took my attention.”

In her work, Brod tried to be “true to the source and true to the emotions” and chose three types of imagery for her delicate line drawings: documents of human cruelty, the flowering plants, and “bodies bandaged, healing protecting each other, even dancing!”

Alice Pixley Young’s research about cotton harvesting, rope making, and industrial and domestic spinning and weaving coalesced in the theme of “looking and longing and the tension created by confinement to a specific place, role, or identity.”

In Absence, lace collars made of kiln-cast glass hang on the wall. In the technique glass frit (small chunks of glass) is fused together in a mold, but it doesn’t melt completely to make a smoothly molded object. Instead it retains the gritty quality of the frit, making it perfect to represent lace.

Young explains “the collars act as a signifier of identity and place as well as mark the absence of the figure and emphasize the fragility of social identity during a time of immense upheaval,” and, of course, life.

In “Wounded Home,” seven artists bring the horror of the Civil War, our nation’s bloodiest, home. In the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression, depending on your viewpoint, 3,211,067 served, more than 10 percent of the U. S. population of 31,443,321, and nearly two percent of the entire country died in the conflict, making it the deadliest war in our nation’s history. In addition, 281,881 were wounded, close to another one percent.

In contrast, our experience of war today is more removed, abstract. It’s estimated that only one percent of today’s population of 316,308,872 has served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and “mere” 6717 have died while 50,897 have been wounded. So there is little personal impact on most of us.

All wars are about home: soldiers defending and longing for it, and those left behind waiting and perhaps mourning. When—if—the soldier returns, wounded possibly physically but almost assuredly psychologically, he must hope to return to what he knew before he left to defend it, perhaps in high spirits as did the Tarleton twins in Gone with the Wind (they died at the Battle of Gettysburg) or more recently expecting the “cakewalk” in Iraq promised by Defense Secretary Assistant Ken Adelman. But that home no longer exists. War has scarred it, too.

The “Wounded Home” is more than a “period piece.” It speaks powerfully about the cost of war in any age. That cost is always personal, and the home is a potent metaphor for that.

The women in the exhibition understood that and used the familiar–the furniture and decorative objects–as carriers of meaning. Because of their success in mediating between polemic and thoughtful consideration and their ability to translate that into engaging objects, you won’t leave the “Wounded Home” untouched.

The success of the exhibition can be attributed to the support of Heran and the Lloyd, starting with the choice of Kern as curator. By gathering together this group of artists and challenging them to respond to the theme of the “Wounded Home,” the message is clear and clearly delivered.

None of these artists, with the exception of Ghosn, are particularly political nor are their responses to the theme necessarily typical of their work. This is particularly true for the video Feeding the Flames, a collaboration of Kern and Brod who found the core images of scenes of everyday life in Cincinnati made by Curtis Lloyd in the institution’s rich archives thus celebrating those resources.

This project was a new artistic venture for Kern and Brod. I was there for the installation of the exhibition and witnessed their struggle to overcome technical difficulties in order to fulfill their aesthetic and conceptual goals, which they did.

The exhibition could have beaten the viewer over the head with an anti-war message, but the women chose to personalize the conflict by bringing it home and, in doing so, made it universal, and for this Kern is to be applauded.
–Karen S. Chambers

1 The Lloyd Library and Museum began as a research resource for Lloyd Brothers, Pharmacists. In 1885 John Uri Lloyd (1849-1936) bought out H. M. Merrell, for whom Lloyd had worked as a chemist, and his partner, T. C. Thorpe. He was joined by his two younger brothers, Nelson Ashley Lloyd (1851-1925) and Curtis Gates Lloyd (1859-1926)—all trained pharmacists–to form the company. “Specific medicines,” which were highly concentrated unofficial tinctures (about eight times the strength of most tinctures) of plants extracted by maceration or percolation. Lloyd Brothers, Pharmacists, was sold by the estate in 1938 to S. B. Penick who continued to manufacture its products virtually unchanged from the original formulas. In 1956 what had become Lloyd and Dabney was purchased by the Westerfeld company and became Lloyd, Dabney & Westerfeld, which was then bought for $4 million by the German pharmaceutical manufacturer Hoechst. Its name was changed again, and Hoechst moved and upgraded the operations.
In 1919 trusts were established to ensure the continuation of the Library after the deaths of the brothers. The Lloyd now owns 250,000 volumes, dating from 1493, and the collection encompasses 1,500 linear feet of archives and artwork. The focus areas of the library are pharmacy, botany, pharmacognosy (a branch of pharmacology dealing with medicinal substances of biological origin, especially plants), herbal and alternative medicines, natural products, horticulture, and eclectic and sectarian medicine. In 1949 the Library was number six on a list of 10,000 most important private libraries by the Library of Congress.

Today the Library also houses the Historical Research Center for the Natural Health Movement.

2As early as the late 18th century, Thomas Wedgwood, (1771-1805) who was the son of Josiah Wedgwood, the potter, was using a solar microscope to enlarge microscopic specimens by projecting them on sensitized paper. In the next century, photographic pioneers Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre 1787–1851) and William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) also used solar microscopes. Developments in projection enlarging occurred quickly in the 19th century.

“Wounded Home,” Lloyd Library and Museum, 914 Plum St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, 513-721-3707, www.lloydlibrary.org. Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a. m.-4:00 p. m., Aug.-May, 1st and 3rd Saturdays. Through January 20, 2014.

Photos:

• Jenny Fine, Robby (det.), 2013, archival pigment print on rag paper with graphite and watercolor, 16” x 20”. Photo courtesy of Jenny Fine.
• Saad Ghosn, The Price of a Civil War (det.), 2013, acrylic paint, sticks, wood, 6’ x 11’ x 18”. Photo courtesy of Saad Ghosn.
• Kate Kern, Our Nation Mourns: Wounded Settee and Footstool, 2013, ink-jet printed fabric on antique walnut camelback settee and footstool, 39” x 55” x 41”. Photo courtesy of Kate Kern.

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