Boxed In/Break Out is an annual call to artists at the Jepson Center that began in the spring of 2016. For the past four years, the project has continued to offer local Chatham County artists the opportunity to create a museum-sponsored public art installation that involves activating six windows facing onto Barnard Street at the Jepson Center. The artist is chosen by a guest judge based on the criteria of creativity, originality, feasibility, visual appeal, as well as resourcefulness and suitability in the space. Boxed In/Break Out is part of Telfair Museums’ #art912 initiative, which is dedicated to raising the visibility and promoting the vitality of artists living and working in Savannah.
Folklore is a site-specific installation by Jessica Pope (American, B. 1983) for the 2019 iteration of the project. Her installation consists of six large-scale paper quilts centered around the Kodachrome slides, filled with stories of the past that evoke a comforting sense of nostalgia. Each quilt consists of 96 tissue paper blocks made up of 3,000 hand-cut pieces with varying color schemes and patterns that focus on specific chapters in the family’s history. The memories, once hidden, will come alive as they are illuminated by light passing through the images.
Below, Jessica explains how her project for Boxed In/Break Out was inspired by her childhood as she was surrounded by stories and craftsmen.
“My childhood was filled with handicrafts. My father, a woodworker, was always in the garage with his father tinkering around, creating things for the home or a friend. My grandmother and her mother were always crocheting, knitting, quilling, and quilting and taught me to keep my hands busy early in life. My mother, a painter, was encouraged to create by her mother, a costume maker who always had about a dozen projects in the works. Through quality time spent with each of my elders growing up, I learned techniques with thread and fabric, paper and wood. During time spent making together, they also shared stories and pieces of their lives with me. I cherish the retelling of how my grandparents met and the letters they sent to one another during the Korean War, the awards my great-grandmother got for dancing the Charleston in Los Angeles, the first time they all went to Hawaii together in the 1960s, and the time my parents were on Hollywood Squares. I got little snapshots of the highlights, and I can see them all clear as day when I remember those moments together.
My foundation in craft led to my education in textiles and printmaking at the Savannah College of Art & Design where I gained a more solid understanding of how the hours spent making with my family could translate into commercial and fine art. Over the past 17 years in Savannah, I’ve come to collect and create using artifacts from estate sales and secondhand stores. In 2016, I came across 500 Kodachrome slides chronicling the life of one family from 1948–1954. The quantity thrilled me and the imagery intrigued me – hundreds of snapshots of the past in a giant dusty box with no way to view them. I took them home and looked at every single one in the light over my kitchen table. Each shows a millisecond in the life of the photographer and it’s obvious that life was full of memorable and simple moments. It reminded me of the saved memories I have from my family – I could relate to the time spent together in a simpler time. The slides show trips to a fish camp, a bountiful succession of Christmases, views from the river, sunrises, the mighty ocean from the deck of a ship, waterfalls, hugs, new houses, monuments and museums, a car crash, a steam train, laundry hanging on the line, a cold winter, a new car – time standing still in little 2×2” squares. The family documented reminds me of my father’s family so it was easy for me to imagine what they told their children and grandchildren, probably my age now, about these microscopic memories.
Quilts seemed like a natural way to present these slides since they are also objects filled with stories of the past. I chose traditional quilt block patterns and dug in my collections to find supporting pieces of ephemera to hint at the subject matter of each story. Vintage maps, children’s books, handwritten letters and envelopes I’d collected became my background materials for these unique chapters.
In putting the quilts together, I connected with a group of strangers who seem as if they could be my own family. I am hopeful that the viewer, given the opportunity to see hundreds of moments simultaneously, will also find something kindred in the retelling of these forgotten stories.”