University of Delaware
The third and final session in the University Museums' "If Objects Could Talk" series will be held Thursday evening, Nov. 21, in the Mechanical Hall Gallery.

Nov. 21: 'Celebrating Our Stories'

Upcycling, storytelling set at University Museums' Mechanical Hall Gallery


11:55 a.m., Nov. 18, 2013--This semester, the University of Delaware’s Mechanical Hall Gallery is home to a thriving jungle of vibrantly colored empty cardboard boxes that tumbles across the floor. A canopy of the same breed decorates the ceiling, lustrous in the warm yellow lights, suspended by invisible string.

These cardboard boxes provide the foundation for artist Maren Hassinger’s Hanging Boxes and Changing Boxes. Hassinger is one of two artists featured in the gallery’s fall exhibition, “Hassinger and Clark: Boxes, Combs and Constellations.”

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UD senior art conservation major Katie Bonanno worked with the University Museums curator of education Ivan Henderson and Vicki Cassman, associate professor of art conservation, to implement a series around the exhibition as part of her senior thesis project.

The series was titled “If Objects Could Talk, What Would Yours Say?” At each event in the series, museum visitors were invited to bring objects and stories to share that had a connection to the exhibition themes.

The third and final program in the series, "Celebrating our Stories," will be held at 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 21, in the Mechanical Hall Gallery. A video will be shown with highlights from the unforgettable stories shared at the “Making Do” and “Talking Shop” programs held earlier in the semester. DVD copies will be made available to participants, and light refreshments will be served.

The first program in the series, “Talking Shop,” was held Oct. 3 and focused on the work of Sonya Clark and the hair stories her work evokes from visitors.

“Making Do,” held Oct. 17, was the second program in the series, and visitors were asked to share stories and join a discussion on “Upcycling.” At the event, Bonanno referred to Hassinger’s installation as art made from “upcycled” materials. Upcycling – a concept officially born in the late 20th century – is similar to recycling in that materials are re-used but instead of being broken down into their basic elements, things to be tossed out or given away are instead transformed into new and exciting objects.

In her artwork, Hassinger has illustrated her own version of this vision. Her inspiration came from a lofty apartment building in New York City. The artist gazed into the industrial skyline and saw clusters of buildings that appeared like boxes. Her work expresses an urgency to escape literal and proverbial boxes.

United by inspiration, those in attendance were encouraged to bring their own upcycled objects to the museum. Visitors formed a semi-circle, cameras rolling, and all ears were open. The energetic discussion took several interesting turns, and each object carried memories unique to its owner.

A T-shirt can be made into a handbag, or an entire rug of T-shirts. "It's amazing to see the new meanings that objects can take and hold," Bonanno said.

One participant brought a photograph that showed the size and weight of the object that followed -- a beautiful stained glass window made into a decorative panel. She spoke of her grandfather, George Wilson, who played a key role in the construction of Newark. Wilson demolished buildings and upcycled the leftover building materials into houses on Ray Street, Terry Lane and Kennard Drive for the African American community in Newark from the 1950s through the 1980s.

"If you didn't claim your materials, then George Wilson got them," laughed his granddaughter, Patricia Wilson Aden. "He was the type to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission."

Vera Kaminski, artist and UD associate professor of art, displayed her use of shredded money. "You may take a strip," she said as she passed it around. First, she used money to transport her artwork, but it has since taken on other unique forms.

For about 20 years she has been making "cash pearls," using “tens and thousands of dollars,” as Kaminski explained. The jewelry she creates mocks the classic pearl necklace. The artist has most definitely thought outside the box. 

Bringing this kind of work to life was perhaps part of the vision of Hassinger, but sustaining its life were all who gathered for “Making Do.”

Article by Natalie Pesetsky

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