‘Keeping House’: A legacy; Lifetime of family memories commemorated through art
HOLLIDAYSBURG — The smells, textures and repurposed remnants of the Wolf family — a local, multi-generational, philanthropical and economical presence — are portrayed in sculpture, recipes and reminiscences of family and friends through an exhibition at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art-Altoona, opening Sept. 14.
Artist Sarah Wolf New-lands is a fourth-generation descendant of Charles and Annie C. Wolf, founders of the Wolf Furniture Company and her multi-sensory exhibits honor her family’s history as parents, artists and art patrons.
A Blair County native, Wolf Newlands, 54, lives in Portland, Ore., and returned to Hollidaysburg as an artist in residence in a studio/apartment along Allegheny Street. She received a sabbatical from her position as an assistant professor in the University Studies Department of Portland State University.
“I wanted to make the art here and retreat to Hollidaysburg to create here,” she explained.
The two-part exhibition, entitled “Keeping House: Prints and Sculpture” focuses on her sculptural works and a community recipe screen-printing project. The works spring from Wolf Newlands love, grief and healing processes following the deaths of her parents. Her art represents home as material things and as an imaginary concept entangled in time and memory.
Wolf Newlands is one of several artists in the family: A golfer’s portrait painted by her great-grandmother Annie C. is on permanent loan to the Blairmont Club from SAMA’s permanent collection. The artist’s great-aunt Margery Wolf-Kuhn played an integral role in the early years of SAMA and the Loretto Museum’s balcony gallery is named in her honor. Margery was the fourth of Charles and Annie C. Wolf’s five children and her siblings were George, John, Herbert and Dorothy. Wolf Newlands’ exhibit takes place in the George A. and Herbert T. Wolf Gallery — named for her grandfather and great-uncle — through Jan. 12, 2019.
Her father, Herb Wolf II, died in 2002 and her mother, Nancy (Hobson) Wolf, 83, died on Christmas Eve of 2015, following a massive fatal stroke.
“Since then,” she said, “I have alternately cared for and preserved, and transformed and destroyed memory-laden things from our family’s collections. I carefully chose source material from the house for assemblage sculptures and installations. It is a pleasure for me to show this work transformed from the remains of my parents’ home here where I grew up.”
The couple’s six children collaboratively cleaned and stored items from the Linden Street home where her parents moved later in life. Growing up, the children were raised in the Oak Knoll section of the borough. All children left the area, but Wolf Newlands’ brother Peter Wolf, returned to teach philosophy as an adjunct professor at Penn State. During the sorting process, Wolf Newlands said she kept asking, “How can I use my mom’s stuff and how can I connect to her and integrate her into my art?”
The sculptures and recipe screen print art represent the fruits of her discoveries and musings about the meaning of home.
“Now House,” an installation piece located in the lower Wolf Gallery, recreates her fond memories 0f the blanket forts she created in the back of the family station wagon or in the living room.
“Now House” is made up of accumulations of fabrics embroidered by the artist with the words “Now” and “This,” as Wolf Newlands “reflects on time, the persistence of presentness and memory. The words refer to the present, while the materials refer to other times in this installation,” she said. Two photos brought back fond memories of family’s trips in a station wagon to see her maternal grandmother in Kentucky.
“I want the ‘Now House’ to convey something of the feeling of being in that nest in the back of our parents’ station wagon,” she said
Wolf Newlands previously served as an artist in residence through Portland’s GLEAN project, where she created art from materials salvaged at the city’s transfer station.
The experience provided Wolf Newlands with a new perspective on society’s excessive cycle of consumption and waste.
“Keeping House” is supported in part by Oregon Arts Commission, Portland State University, Ford Family Foundation and the Wolf-Kuhn Foundation with special thanks to Gallery 321, Jen Cherry, Terry (TJ) Geist, Barbara Hollander, Barb Leiden, Roxanne Montero, Jamie Powers, Steve Sloan and Neil Young. The exhibition will include artwork on loan from the collections of Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation and Oregon Metro Regional Government.
One sculptural works on view will be “Dress for Artemis,” a piece composed of a salvaged cotton dress, used socks, metal hanger and cotton thread to honor the ancient Ephesian cult statue of Artemis.
“Archeologists dig through discarded remains of the past in order to determine key facets of ancient cultures,” she said. “As an artist, I mine contemporary artifacts in search of meaning, in an effort to transform ordinary things into compelling objects that invite deeper examination.”
Another installation on view in Altoona is “Chariot for the Elysian Fields” a mixed media sculpture of dirty socks, buckwheat hulls, caddie cart, wood, textiles and upholstery thread. The artist collected abandoned, dirty socks left behind in her home by her sons’ friends and “represent children’s play, the messiness and fertility of domestic spaces,” she states in a description of the work.“Socks are often neglected,” she explained, but a worn sock retains the “residual shape of the wearer’s foot; it holds a memory of the foot. (Just as) the idea and memory of home remains in my head.”
The inspiration came from discovering her Aunt Marge’s unused checkbook ledger repurposed as a recipe diary. Her maternal grandmother’s handwriting stirred the artist’s soul.
“Handwriting is so personal and time-based,” she said. “There is a bodily relationship with the physical writing and handwriting changes as we age.”
Wolf Newlands’ collection of about 50 recipes come from her own family, friends and community members willing to share tasty treats and associated memories. The visual elements of the screen print reflect the associated story and or memory. For her Aunt Marge’s handwritten apple butter recipe, Wolf Newlands created a vibrant green shrubbery border representing the boxwood shrubs at her home.
“I will always associate the smell of boxwood with Aunt Marge’s house,” Wolf Newlands said. “Shrubs lined the sidewalk leading to her modest kitchen where two chairs faced a window. The view outside celebrated apple and pear trees and an incredible view of the Allegheny Mountains. We used to pick fruit during family visits and often left with apple or pear butter from her kitchen.”
SAMA Trustee Emerita Joan W. McCreary submitted her mother’s Prune Upsidedown Cake, according to a news release.
“During the Second World War, many foods were rationed so the ingredients for many recipes were either unavailable or costly in terms of food rationing coupons,” wrote McCreary. “Mother adapted the recipe to fit whatever could be obtained. She used a single egg rather than the regular two eggs, cut back on the amount of sugar and and used oeleo margarine rather than butter. Because we had a plum tree in the backyard, the plums were free, so she used them for the fruit. They were black plums (used for dried prunes) so we referred to them as prunes. We still use this recipe and, 76 years later, it always brings back tasty memories.”
Staff writer Patt Keith can be reached at 949-7030.