One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Or in this case another woman’s treasure. If you live in Easton and you happen to check out one of the three new shows at the Academy Art Museum you just might recognize some of your trash featured in the Heather Harvey exhibit “The Thin Place.”
Harvey, a Washington College associate art professor, prowls the streets, alleyways and parking lots of Easton on what she calls “urban beachcombing” expeditions. She searches for debris that comprise her installations, three of which hang at the museum through Sept. 30.
Harvey, a Syracuse native whose undergraduate degree from the University at Buffalo—“I’m an upstate New York girl,” she says—is in anthropology and archaeology. She regards herself as a science-inspired artist. Harvey earned her MFA in art from Virginia Commonwealth University and now chairs art and art history at the Chestertown college. She lives in Easton with her husband, who teaches history at Salisbury University—splitting the geographical distance from their academic venues.
At the Academy museum, her installations are accompanied by about a dozen paintings, watercolor and acrylic, that reflect a different side of Harvey’s exploration of “areas where we don’t have everything figured out, re-inculcating childlike enchantment and wonder.” These are “thin places,” a Celtic expression for permeable divides between living and dead, sacred and profane, commonplace and extraordinary—even extraterrestrial. The science part of that enchantment, she says, are “invisible ordering systems” that define our life on this planet—astronomy, gravity and weather, including wind (“we only see its effects”) as well as magnetic fields. Other paintings are metaphors for certain effects on our lives, such as emotions, or even more defining biological or sociological realities, including gender, race and class.
Among the most personal of her paintings is “Hope Sound,” the name of the place in Florida where poet Mary Oliver passed away, it expresses, Harvey says, her grieving and her appreciation for the poet’s work. By contrast, another painting derives from scientific curiosity, inspired by her trip with her husband two years ago to South Carolina to experience a total solar eclipse.
“There’s a little bit of Baroque in my pieces,” Harvey says, referring to a suggestion of exaggerated motion and detail to produce drama and a sense of exuberance. But she also goes for the sublime. “That’s beauty mixed with awe that borders on terror. An eclipse is like that,” she says. “An unsettling tension between the two.”
As for the trash you may or may not recognize, Harvey on her nocturnal sojourns seeks surprise in whatever she finds. “I’m not looking for anything in particular,” she says. “I don’t get the idea first and then go out and look for something to complete it. The objects themselves inform my work.”
Not all the objects are recognizable. Twisted pieces of metal. Shards of plastic or rubber. Others we can guess at, such as a bit of green-and-red ribbon. A discarded piece of Christmas wrapping? Maybe a tree decoration. Still others are unmistakable. A child’s sandal missing its mate.
Whatever, Harvey endeavors to create aesthetic treasure out of it.
For Heather Harvey, who has exhibited from New York City to Los Angeles, this is her first show in the hometown where she gathers most of her material. The other two shows coinciding with Harvey’s at the Academy Art Museum are Amze Emmons’ “Pattern Drift” and James Turrell’s “Mapping Spaces.”
Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.