Vestiges of the Tide

by Cynthia Germain

There’s a rare, new exhibit at the Miller Art Museum in Sturgeon Bay. Ask Helen del Guidice, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections, what’s unique about this exhibit and she tell you it’s the topic, one relevant to our community…aging. And not just aging but the hard truths about it. Two artists, Mary Porterfield and Ellen Holtzblatt, join forces in a powerful display, offering images of the struggles of the older adults and their caregivers.

Mary Porterfield’s background as an occupational therapist has given her the inspiration to create life-sized images, using family members as models, that pull hard at your heartstrings. These images convey the loss of identity as aging affects abilities as well as the difficulties experienced by care partners. Mary’s work intends to share her parents’ story, one of perseverance, hardship, and love.

Ellen Holtzblatt has been motivated by the subject of aging through her 100-year-old mother, who experiences advanced memory loss. It is this experience that is displayed through portraits both large and small, highlighting the lacking sense of time at this stage of life and the need for human contact and touch. Ellen titles her works from the biblical text Song of Songs to convey the truth that love and desire is not limited by age.

Helen del Guidice says of the exhibit, “I’ve never seen anything quite like it”. Perhaps pushing the envelope by tackling the subject matter of these two gifted artists, she knows that it takes a certain level of maturity to face this topical showing. And it separates the Miller Art Museum from other artistic venues across Door, proving that beauty can be found in difficult content. Helen also touts that this exhibit offers interesting techniques for artists to learn, using Dura-Lar and glassine paper alongside exceptional oil on linen.

It is a truly moving experience as you step through the first-floor main galleries. Ellen Holtzblatt’s images of blending of her mother into the landscape communicates a sense of the fleetingness of life as we age. And Mary Porterfield’s large-scale images of the burdens of caregiving definitely gives pause. To add to this wonderful exhibit is work form Charles L. Peterson on the Ruth Morton Miller Mezzanine. An artist hailing from Ephraim, his exquisite watercolor pieces include his Memories Collection, presenting nostalgia with the message of the importance of the past for future generations.

I strongly encourage you to visit the Miller Art Museum while these exhibits are on display. Art isn’t just something to look at but to consider what it intends to convey. And this exhibit’s topic is one near and dear to our heart as we work to transform the aging experience in Door County.