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Each work, is an integral part of a larger, more cohesive body of work that tells a continuousstory.
MARTHA JACKSON JARVIS
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A dark, womblike atmosphere pervaded Martha Jackson Jarvis’s “Ancestors’ Bones,” an exhibition of
recent work at the University of Delaware’s Mechanical Hall Gallery. More than a group of individual
pieces, the show offered a complete staged environment. ( AM Weaver : Art In America Review)
The sculpture Nest Stones (2010-11) straddled most of the central space. A tangled web of cured
wisteria- and grapevines, anchored by large pod shapes made of petrified pine bark (pressurized bark
found below the earth’s crust) and mortar, rested on the oak floor. Digital enlargement of the
artist’s Ancestors’ Bones #1 (2010-11, mixed mediums on paper) covered one wall. The 20-by-26¼-inch
drawing was also on view. It is a sepia-toned group portrait of African-Americans assembled in front of a
one-room wooden schoolhouse. Hovering above them in the area of the sky are large monochromatic
photo transfers of coral clusters. Intrigued by the engravings of Albertus Seda, an 18th-century pharmacologist, zoologist, and collector of plant and animal specimens, Jackson Jarvis used images of coral in
most of the two-dimensional works in the exhibition.
A series of photo collages lined other walls. These feature shots of Southern vernacular architecture,
some inhabited and some not, as well as renderings of skeletal pears, leaves, and maple seeds. The
photos were taken from a discarded family album of vintage images, picturing blacks from the turn of
the 20th century.
The exhibition’s title speaks volumes about the works displayed. Jackson Jarvis, who is based in
Washington, D.C., and has been making artwork for more than three decades, intends to evoke
ancestral visitors, and always pays homage to the spirit realm in her work. The installations, sculptures,
and works on paper in this show reflect her interest in spirituality as well as her love of nature, both
flora, and fauna. Like the ancients, Jackson Jarvis believes everything animate and inanimate possesses a
Of note, in two adjacent rooms, were additional mural-size details of her photomontages, along with 35
abstract mixed-medium ink drawings that spin-off of Seda’s coral engravings. The most compelling of
these are from the “Free Spirit” series, in particular Free Spirit I and IV (both 2011, 42½ by 60 inches).
They are a lyrical abstraction at its best and enliven the sepia tones, predominant in smaller drawings
created between 2010 and ’11, with splashes of yellow ocher, blue and red.
In one section of the show, Jackson Jarvis juxtaposed a mural featuring a detail from one of her gestural
drawings and a 76-inch-wide sculpture, Umbilicus (2008). The latter consists of a giant version of a
spherical sycamore pod, made of volcanic stone and glass, attached by a wooden vine to a long, narrow
pod shape. The metaphor of birthing is evident here and coincides with Jackson Jarvis’s use of symbols
of life and living.
One was left with a sense of mystery, enhanced by the dramatic low lighting. With this exhibition,
Jackson Jarvis brought together works reflective of a sensibility that she has nurtured for years,
establishing her process and theme as a cyclical evolution. The term “environment” truly encapsulates
the spirit of this exhibition.