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Ah Bea Nettles… When I first arrived to the Akron Art Museum, I went up to the gallery to view her work and was immediately drawn to her Life’s Lessons, A Mother’s Journal; I always have a pull to art that has some sentimental backing and I thought that was what I would like most about Bea and her endeavors.
Throughout her lecture (given Thursday night, April 12th) while I intended on note taking, I constantly found myself fixated on listening to her. She has a very calming tone to her voice like most mothers do. Her work is very personal. The desire and possibility for Bea Nettles to share it with the world, was equally an honor as it was for the audience on Thursday night to hear from Bea herself.
She introduced her work chronologically, beginning with her youthful twenties. In her early work we catch glimpses of Bea as a young women with long brown hair, parted down the middle; I promise you, throughout the lecture, that was the image we all saw of her for the extent of the evening. “I still feel twenty-three,” Bea says “… and then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.” The soul of Bea Nettles and the inspiration for her work is timeless.
Speaking of time, Bea’s art (whether she meant to or not) is almost a direct reflection of where she was at in her life. Mountain Dream Tarot Cards were done in the 1970’s and were actually the first-ever photographic tarot cards made in history. Escape was her first major sequential work. As a young artist she moved to the city and often felt lonely and trapped in her new lifestyle. The series expresses her feelings as well as how she coped.
Life’s Lessons, A Mother’s Journal began just as soon as Bea was able to figure out what it was that she wanted to share and express as a young mother. Complexities was next. This collaboration of photography and text (which Bea usually incorporates into her work) is about what it is like for a woman juggling professionalism as an artist and teacher, as well as being a mother and wife. She also produced a second deck of cards that dealt with womanhood. While Mother Nature slowly crept upon her young daughter, Bea created a twenty-eight-card deck as a humorous way to deal with the life long cycle.
Other works include Flamingo in the Dark, Knights of Assisi, The Skirted Garden, String of Hearts, Turning 50, and many more. Bea Nettles used and array of peculiar photographic techniques through out her work: multiple negatives, multiple exposures, dye transfer, light sensitive paint, 16 x 20 pinhole camera, photo etchings, photo sewing, Polaroid camera, Instamatic camera.
To the viewers who are unfamiliar with such techniques, Bea’s work may seem a little out there. But the moment you sit down and read through the work in its proper context, you realize she is just like any other woman dealing with the world’s trials… and has this beautiful and unique way of showing it.
Being able to hear from Bea herself is what really made all her work come together for me. The only unsettling feeling I have towards the museum’s exhibition is that when you only see pieces and parts from a collection, it takes away from the work as a whole.
What a pleasure it was to have Bea back in Akron!