‘Document’s & Dwellings’ is a fascinating exhibit at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas

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Anderson-Staley grew up in an off-grid cabin in Maine built by her parents, Tom and Ginny. When she was 12, she discovered that Tom was not her biological father. This caused her to reassess what she knew about her life – a reassessment that continues throughout her work.

“An Incomplete Family Story: Baking Pan Series,” from 2000, is the first work in the series. The book is striking in its simplicity. Using a liquid light process, where she adds an emulsion of liquid silver to a surface, Anderson-Staley incorporated photographs of people gathering, playing, posing – the kind of photos you can find in scrapbooks in every house. She scavenged the baking pans for two years from stores, friends’ parents’ kitchens, and trash. Images are often “broken up” or hard to discern exactly what is going on. They are captured memories but in the sense that the memory loses sharpness over time and becomes less clear. Some have no photographs on them and just show the rusty patina of age.

A baking dish is distinguished mainly by its absence. The pan includes two edge pieces which contain no more than 20% of the whole, the rest being lost over time. It perfectly captures the missing elements of a story that will never be found, lost to history. Anderson-Staley said she deliberately left it blank to portray the father she never knew.


In 2014, she connected with her biological father Bill, and he appears in “Father, Dad: Bill, Tom (Grid of 44)”, a collection of tintypes of both men. The pair are physically similar, and the images collected are often dark or unclear, requiring the viewer to carefully examine each image. Who are these men? What made them tick?

There is a nature versus nurture aspect to the piece. Anderson-Staley was influenced by these two men in very different ways, but what part of her personal story does she get from each? I often find myself thinking about this piece. The tintype process requires the model to be completely still for 20 seconds, which is why people in old photos look so serious (it’s hard to keep smiling for that long). The lack of emotion in the 44 images adds to the enigmatic quality of the piece.

Another noteworthy piece (in a featured series) is the most recent piece, which Anderson-Staley completed recently.

“Origin Stories with Double Sun” works on many levels. From a distance, the composition is touching and engaging. Anderson-Staley said that when she composes the works, she is concerned with the visual presentation rather than the meaning of each element. And the visual is certainly appealing. The muted blues and yellows of the collage form a quilt-like patchwork, which is an apt analogy as quilts are often a collection of treasured fabrics, second-hand items that embody family histories.

As we approach, we are confronted with a collage of images and texts collected from Tom’s archives. Anderson-Staley collected the materials before the original log cabin was burned down by the new owners. She said she was looking for a way to present the archives, to tell her side of the story, and the pandemic gave her the opportunity to spend time sorting through the material. Using color prints, inkjet prints, black-and-white photos, cyanotypes, screen prints on new and found paper, Anderson-Staley said she is reliving a family heirloom that had vanished into pieces – chapters of a longer story.

During the gallery talk, Anderson-Staley pointed out the meanings, but not having the artist there to explain it doesn’t take away from the power of the piece. All the viewer has to do is allow the image and text to work together. It’s the artist’s story, but the idea of ​​the story is universal.

The sight is worth a visit just to see “Shelter in Place” – a wood-frame building covered in 540 tintypes that Anderson-Staley created after Tropical Storm Harvey. The artwork depicts the damage to his home and studio during the storm (while also echoing the loss of his family cabin) as well as a visualization of what community can look like. It’s an impressive and imposing piece of work but don’t let it distract you from the intricacy of the collages.

“Documents & Dwellings” is as much an intellectual feast as it is a visual one, although there is plenty to please the eye. I recommend several visits. Like a good book, there’s a lot to savor in the epic Anderson-Staley story – and the telling is wonderful.

“Documents & Dwellings” is on display at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, 500 Main St. in downtown Beaumont, through September 18. A catalog is available.

Anderson-Staley will lead a workshop on cyanotype, from 1 to 4 p.m., August 27. The workshop is free and limited to 20 participants aged 5 and over. RSVP is required. Email [email protected] for reservations.


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