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Kathleen Daniels ’73, director of The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery for 23 years, shares highlights from her personal art collection. This group of works, acquired over the last five decades, presents a variety of media including photographs, paintings, ceramics, drawings and prints. Featuring a range of artists including Clement Haupers, Indira Freitas Johnson, Barbara McIlrath, Duduzile More, Bela Petheo, Holly Swift, Petronella Ytsma and Rina Yoon, this exhibition reveals the heart and mind of the curator. Daniels explains, “making the selection for this exhibition has given me pause and pleasure as I recognize the various factors that informed my choices.” Kathleen will greet gallery visitors on Saturday, September 11, 1–3 pm; Friday, October 22, 1–4 pm and Saturday October 23, 11am–2 pm.
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How do you create an exhibition from a collection of art assembled over a span of 50 years? What are the considerations and criteria? Is there a theme, a focus on one artist, or on a specific medium? These were the questions I asked myself as I endeavored to select the artwork for this show. Many of these pieces feel like old friends to me—they come directly from the walls of my home, so of course, I want to share all of them in the exhibition. Eventually, I settled on 65 pieces made by 40 artists.
As former director of The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, it is not surprising that 27 of the selected artists had previously exhibited in the gallery during my tenure. Nor is it surprising that 28 of the 40 are women artists, given the gallery’s mission to maintain a powerful, women-centered presence in the local, visual arts community. As viewers can see, I have always been drawn to a variety of media including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, ceramics and more. There is no dominant theme or predominant subject matter, however one can detect the repetition of two motifs: nature and the figure can be found in various works throughout the installation.
The figure is suggested, but not present, in Ipek Duben’s Sherife Series, where three dresses hold the shape of the figure, though the figure is absent. Having recently lost my father, I’m reminded that his clothes still seem to hold his spirit though he no longer occupies them, just as Duben’s dresses seem occupied by the previous wearer. Patricia Olson’s Looking at Art: Krista Kelly Walsh WAI 2006, captures my attention not only for the way the figure is looking at art—something I do often—but also because of how Olson has rendered the figure’s form. The ambiguity of what the viewer is viewing, and the light that emanates from the unknown artwork, keeps Olson’s piece shrouded in mystery. Krista Kelly Walsh’s Chairman IV is another work with a figure that engages my interest; the figure is precariously perched on a chair, balanced on top of a chair, on top of a table with unclear footing. And yet the figure appears relaxed, almost unaware of the unsteady situation. Candy, by Bela Petheo, the largest figure in the exhibition, depicts two figures, though at first glance, the viewer is only aware of the adolescent girl dominating the composition. The second, less evident figure, is a self-portrait of the artist directly to the left of the young girl. Rina Yoon’s intaglio, Memory Mapping, appears to bridge the figure and nature motifs. Yoon’s truncated figure encapsulates elements of nature within the form.
Nature, the other motif prevalent throughout my collection, is found in various media. In Petronella Ytsma’s photograph, Om Mani Padme Hum, Tibetan prayer huts become a link between heaven and earth; in the foreground, large boulders cover the desert-like floor while in the background, boulder-shaped clouds hover just above the horizon. Two artists appear to use nature to express a sense of solitude. Kelly Povo’s silver print, Arcadia Park, Maine, captures a companionless conifer in an ocean of fog, while Gaylord Schanilec’s wood engraving, Hard Maple, places two lone figures standing apart from one another in the woods. Both images conjure a sense of quiet seclusion that is intimate and meditative.
As I finished compiling my selections for this show, I realized approximately a third of the exhibition features drawings … I wondered, why drawings? Edgar Degas said, “Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see.” For me, Degas articulates the essence of what happens when pencil, pen, charcoal, or even a paintbrush, touches the paper to make a mark, and the mark becomes something that holds our attention. Sometimes it is the simplest marks that heighten our awareness. One moment there is a blank piece of paper; in the next moment, a few quick strokes of the lead pencil reveal a galloping horse dominating the composition, as seen in the small drawing by Clement Haupers.
One of my favorite parts of this installation highlights drawings of all sizes, from large charcoal works on paper to modest, gestural images and tiny illustrations on wood blocks. Barbara McIlrath’s larger-than-life drawings of Paper White Narcissus bulbs are almost confrontational. One might feel a bit like a Lilliputian from Gulliver’s Travels while viewing these energetic compositions. The artist adeptly rendered these fragrant flowers while leaving a trace of where she was the day(s) before, thus giving insight to her process, as well as a sense of passing time. Drawings by Carol Lee Chase and Holly Swift, both executed in charcoal, are made in very different manners. Chase seems to embrace the softness of the medium to capture the pliability a Magnolia flower. Swift, on the other hand, demands crispness and sharpness while utilizing an underlying grid of lines to direct the medium as it branches across the page. The smallest drawings are done with lead pencils, sharpened to varying degrees. One of the things I love about these drawings is that one needs to step up and peer into them to really see them. This is especially true of the three little block drawings, where modest use of fine lines within an extremely small area unfolds into a full story.
My collection is as varied as the years that have passed since I first started to acquire artwork. And though much has changed over the last 50 years, and especially in the past couple of years, what has remained the same for me is that I continue to return to art as a place of beauty, solace, contemplation and even for a bit of mirth.
About the Curator
Like most young children I read images before I read words, however, as I grew I found that my love for images was greater than my love of words; I was extremely disappointed when books no longer contained images. Fortunately, throughout my life I have been able to nurture my love of art through my scholarship, professional practice, and my role as an art collector and an artist. –Kathleen Daniels
Kathleen (Kathy) M. Daniels received her BA in Studio Arts and Education at the College St. Catherine (St. Catherine University), 1973. She received an MA in Art History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1991. Her MA thesis on Isabel Bishop’s painting, Dante and Virgil in Union Square, became the central theme of a major exhibition, Between Heaven and Hell, Union Square in the 1930’s at Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 1996.
Prior to graduate school, Kathy was co-founder and president of Daedalus Fine Arts in downtown Minneapolis, MN, 1981-84. This experience, along with her academic background, prepared her for her role as curator and then director of The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN, 1993-2016. During her tenure, she curated exhibitions; taught and gave lectures on art history; coordinated and cultivated the Friends of the Gallery (a gallery support group); and led art tours throughout the United States and Paris, France. In 2014 she participated in “Expanding A Shared Vision—The Art Museum and the University,” a Conference at Yale University. Prior to her retirement she was awarded the Anne Joachim Moore, CSJ Lectureship Award for outstanding educational leadership.
Since her retirement in May 2016, she curated the exhibition, De Mundo: The Small Fascinating World of BJ Christofferson, November-December 2016; participated in the Women’s Art Institute (WAI), June 2018; led art tours in Tuscany, Italy, June 2019; and was juried into both the Fine Arts Exhibition at the 2019 MN State Fair and the exhibition celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the WAI. In 2020-2021, she participated in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Foot in the Door 5: The Virtual Exhibition, held once every 10 years.
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