During November and December of 2006, the Warwick Museum of Art presented Languages of the Land: A Dialogue with Salter Grove, a visual and sound history portrait by artist Holly Ewald and folklorist Michael Bell. The audio compilation and installation of black and white monoprint/collage landscapes on rice paper, hung in the central space of the main gallery, celebrated and honored the history of Salter Grove, a cherished public park on the Warwick waterfront just south of Pawtuxet Village. As visitors walked through the space, suspended paper images moved in their wakes while voices of both long-time residents and newcomers shared their experiences of Salter Grove. Found objects and personal photographs taken by visitors to the site rounded out this captivating show.
Integrating community engagement in art with personal studio work has been integral to Ewald’s work for more than thirty years, and Languages of the Land builds on this foundation. She merges her interest in narrative, bookmaking, collage and painting with the perspectives of history and folklife she has developed through her four-year collaboration with Bell, who during his thirty years as a public sector folklorist, has recorded hundreds of community-based interviews and narrative accounts.
Languages of the Land presented Bell with the challenge of becoming a silent ethnographer, collecting and editing the voices of those who experience Salter Grove into an audio collage that, in conjunction with Ewald’s visual portrait, would illuminate this special landscape. Together, Ewald and Bell created an enveloping visual and audio book, whose “pages” artistically incorporate several hundred years of the beauty, history and lore of a community’s treasured space.
An opening reception was held on Friday, November 17 from 6 to 9 p.m., and the show ran through December 30. In conjunction with the exhibit, a series of free public panel discussions sponsored by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities were held on November 29, December 6 and December 13, encouraging audiences to consider how the landscape of Salter Grove influences and, in turn, is influenced by memory, imagination and creativity.
Languages of the Land: A Dialogue with Salter Grove was made possible with a New Works Grant from the Rhode Island Foundation as well as support from the Rhode Island Council of the Humanities, Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, Pawtuxet Village Association, Voices and Visions of Village Life, the City of Warwick's Department of Tourism, Culture and Development and the Warwick Museum of Art.