In an ongoing series called “Gallery Exhibitions in Spaces but not in Space”, this past, past week, I delved into the work of Bailey Francis who created a truly meaningful show with rocks, branches, and wood based on her experiences when she was vacationing at her grandparents’ home. Although the experiences she had based the show upon was less than a joyful one.
I first met Bailey in Blacksmithing class, she had a hat equipped on her head and wore a “G4” shirt so I knew she was my kind of people (for those of you that don’t know what G4 is, it was a channel on basic cable that was all about technology and gaming. One of my favorite channel until they went under). Also, she was a new face in the metal scene and I was sure that she belonged to a different department/program. So I did what I do best, I got information. I found out she was part of a rare breed at our school that belonged to the elusive Wood BFA program (I didn’t know that the Wood program at our school only had like one BFA during the time I met Bailey, I thought each program had at least five BFA but hot damn I was wrong). Shortly thereafter we got to talking and became good friends because again she was my kind of people, geeky in nature, knowledgeable, and friendly.
And so the story goes like this, when this semester began and as I started this blog, it came to my notification that Bailey would have a gallery show on campus so I jumped the gun the week before she would have it and asked for an interview. She gladly said yes to my request. So fast-forward to the week of the show, I was completely clueless to what she would do for it. Knowing Bailey, it would be something functional, simple, and conceptual but not too artsy-fartsy where I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at. Let’s just say I was partially right with my assumption on the show. For first time visitors that walked into the Merlino Gallery, they were greeted with the doors swung wide open, nothing would be hidden and Bailey welcomed them as they enter. There were rows of tables that she had made from Douglas Fir Pine, the cheapo wood that you can buy any day of the week from Home Depot (there is a story to why this type of wood was used). Upon these tables and under them are compositions of rock, bits of trees and branches that she had arranged all around the gallery. The show’s rock/wood composition actually kept changing right up until opening day because as Bailey stated, when she thinks about a project’s concept too much she would get caught in a loop of self-questioning and constant change until she realized that all she needed to do was get her hands on the material because once she did it would be “nuts” (in a good way). However, before I delve deeper into this show, there was a problem that kept arising with some of the visitors. They simply did not read the artist’s statement which in turn led to no deeper impact of realization, ultimately missing the ah-ha moment of the whole show. Look at the blog’s image and then give the artist’s statement a read (it’s conveniently placed below for your viewing pleasure).
“The show Returning to Nature is a tribute to Walt Schirmer – Pa – my grandfather. Growing up, I was incredibly close to him and loved spending time with him in his workshop tinkering away and finding out how things worked. On June 12, 2015, he was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, a cancer that spreads rapidly and is typically fatal within weeks. I began collecting rocks and wood from his driveway, a coping mechanism that allowed me to free my thoughts and to take my minds off things, if only for a little while. I was fortunate enough to spend time with him before he was gone and those are the moments I’ll cherish forever. Pa passed away July 27, 2015 quietly in his sleep. With his last act on Earth, my grandfather was still able to teach me that in order to truly experience life, you must experience death.
Returning to Nature represents the life cycle of the Earth in various stages. Everything from plants and animals to rocks go through a constant cycle of change and destruction and rebirth. Although virtually impossible to detect, rocks are constantly changing; due to the driving forces of the rock cycle, plate tectonics and the water cycle, rocks do not remain in equilibrium and are forced to change as they encounter new environments. A rock may break down and dissolve when exposed to the atmosphere or melt as it is subducted under the continent. Wood as a living form grows, dies, and decays but creates a new ecology for other living organism such as lichen and the termites that currently reside within the tables. The cycle has continued for billions of years and will continue long after we too are gone.”
It changes the whole show doesn’t it? Also, remember the type of wood that was used to make the tables, Douglas Fir Pine, Bailey used to go to Home Depot with Pa when she was a kid and he would pick up that very kind of wood to do home projects. (Fun fact, in the show Bailey has favorite rocks that she displayed and those were her favorite because those rocks helped her take her mind off of the situation the most)
I’ll be honest with you, the reader, that when I first entered the show that it held me in an emotional muddle. We have all lost someone dear to us (a lot of the visitors spoke to Bailey on her lost and their own, which was a powerful thing to witness), and when I spoke to her about the subject, she spoke about how unreal it is. Near the end of finishing up the setup for the entire show, it don on her that when the show had reached the end of the week that Pa was finally gone because the show was going to be over. After hearing her feelings, I wanted to help her feel better and I have a way for you, the reader, to help too (more on that later). It’s this theory I have, so if you’ll entertain me and hear me out, the theory goes like this. People don’t truly part from us in this world because sometimes we only look at the physical measurements of what makes a person live, such as the time on this earth, our health, our appearances, etc. but this make us forget about the emotional magnitude that carries on with person that we love so much and this is what allows them to continue to live on beside us. The stories we shared with them, our laughter that followed their joke and vice versa, the smiles we participated in with each other. We tend to always remember what the measureable things about someone were, but we should remember what we couldn’t measure such as the love, respect, and memories we experienced with that person.
So this is where you, the reader, come in by kicking down the door and screaming “How can I help?”. See, I don’t believe people completely die as long as we know about their existence and what they chose to do with it. So here is the solution to my theory, the more of us that know something about the life of Pa, Walt Schirmer, the more he lives on. Naturally through natural conversation mind you, Bailey told me a story or two about Pa. Walt and his wife, Marg lived in Northern California, in a home that wasn’t close to other homes(the kind of homes that people get to have privacy and get closer to nature, you know big yards with the driveway that could park, oh let’s say, about 20 cars) and had a road with a sign named “Walt and Marg Pl.”(how badass is that? I strive to have my name on a street sign in my future now) that led up to their home. One day, Bailey took longer than her usual 30 minutes of collecting rocks and wood to get her mind off of the situation. The next time she went out on her collecting escapade, Pa told her that she should be careful since it was unsafe due it being snake season. Pa in his own badass way told Bailey to take his pistol on her walk, (this man is dope because think about it, he probably had to shoot a skinny slithery snake before on a walk and that takes some skills since your target is a skinny slithery snake) of course she laugh and told him that it wasn’t necessary but he insisted that she have some sort of protection so he offered her the next best thing, a machete (she took the machete on the walk by the way, it actually helped on her scavenge since she could poke and prod at stuff).
There you have it reader, you have helped Bailey (thank you for helping me as well in trying to cheer her up) by knowing a little bit about her Pa because at the end of the day we all have those people in our lives that are our rocks, part of our foundation that we were built upon and like rocks, when that person is gone they leave us feeling shaky and uncertain but just like rocks they leave an imprint with us that others also get to witness.
(Thank you Bailey for sharing a phenomenal person with us, and for you Mr. Walten Schirmer, take it easy, you deserve it.)