January 4, 2024—The Miller Art Museum will debut its first exhibitions of 2024, Vestiges of the Tide featured in the Museum’s first-floor main galleries and Charles L. Peterson in the Permanent Collection on the Ruth Morton Miller Mezzanine. The exhibits open to the public at 10 am on Saturday, January 20, 2024, and feature the work of Mary Porterfield, Ellen Holtzblatt, and the late celebrated Door County artist Charles L. Peterson (1927-2022). A free artist reception with Porterfield and Holtzblatt will be held later on Fri., March 1, 2024, in conjunction with The Studio Door, a curator/artist conversation. The exhibition will be on view for the public through April 6, 2024.
Vestiges of the Tide features drawings and paintings by Chicago-based artists Mary Porterfield and Ellen Holtzblatt. Porterfield works in the medical field as an occupational therapist and is also a talented portraitist committed to rendering her elderly, infirm subjects with images that address recurring struggles in healthcare. In unison, Ellen Holtzblatt presents works from her Song of Songs series, a collection of portraits of her elderly mother that convey that love, desire, and the need for human contact are universal.
“Together, the two create an emotionally charged exhibit that will offer viewers a powerful, poetic experience in the reality that many of us in Door County are facing,” says Helen del Guidice, Miller Art Museum curator.
Porterfield’s figure drawings on transparent Dura-Lar and glassine papers are progressively layered creating images that address the internal struggles experienced by patients and caregivers that are outwardly hidden or forgotten. Using family members as models, she conveys the loss of identity that can occur as degenerative illnesses affect one’s ability to complete self-care and functional movement. The underlying layers represent the obscured sense of self that attempts to overcome those difficulties. The life-sized images, which are cut out and mounted to the wall, represent the substantiality of hardship and resilience.
“My drawings are influenced by my work and my interactions with patients and their caregivers. Recently, my drawings have become more personal as they depict my mother’s struggles to care for my father who has Parkinsonism,” says Porterfield.
Mary Porterfield has exhibited both nationally and internationally at venues including the Lim Lip Museum in South Korea, the Phoenix Art Museum, the San Diego Art Institute, the Hyde Park Art Center, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the Kohler Arts Center, the Dubuque Art Museum, the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, the Rockford Art Museum, the Figge Art Museum, and the Weatherspoon Museum. Solo shows have included the Hofheimer Gallery (Chicago, IL), the Packer-Schopf Gallery (Chicago, IL), Indiana University-NW (Gary, IN), the University of Illinois (Urbana, IL) and the West Valley Art Museum (Surprise, IL). Honors include three Illinois Artist Council Grants, a City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Grant (DCASE), a Puffin Foundation Grant, and three Chicago Community Arts Assistance Program Grants. Porterfield teaches at Northeastern Illinois University and received an MFA from Arizona State University.
Ellen Holtzblatt approaches the subject of senescence from another perspective––with a collection of portraits of her 100-year-old mother. The works vary from large-scale to very small and intimate and are steeped in emotionality. Holtzblatt sees society living according to linear time marked by birth, childhood, and aging, but the artist contemplates life in a world without time. The paintings are infused with a sense of this timeless world that her elderly subject lives within.
“In my art, I seek connections between the physical and spiritual. Through the process of painting and drawing my mother, I explore the power and vulnerability of mind, soul, and the passage of time,” Holtzblatt says.
Ellen Holtzblatt exhibits her work internationally and nationally at venues that have included the Jerusalem Biennale, the Museum of Biblical Art, Spertus Institute, the Rockford Art Museum, Chicago Artist’s Coalition, the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, Inselgalerie in Berlin, Yeshiva University Museum, and the Center for Book Arts. Recent one-person exhibits include Josef Glimer Gallery, Fermilab Gallery, and the Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery. Holtzblatt has been awarded artist residencies in the U.S. and Iceland and was a 2019/2020 artist resident with the Chicago Artists Coalition, where she exhibited in two-person and group exhibitions. Holtzblatt’s work is held in public and private collections, and she has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the City of Chicago. Holtzblatt earned degrees in visual art and art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“The two artists each take a uniquely visionary approach to contemplating a topic we prefer to avoid facing but will each independently experience. When Porterfield addresses the urgency inherent in the potentially all-consuming state of end-of-life health management, Holtzblatt takes a profoundly emotional and spiritual perspective of the person we are within our bodies in our final years,” del Guidice continued.
Together with Vestiges of the Tide, the work of beloved Door County artist Charles L. Peterson will be featured on the Ruth Morton Miller Mezzanine in an exhibit that pays tribute to the Door County legacy artist and long-standing contributor to the Miller Art Museum. Peterson, who passed away in 2022, is a fundamental part of the history of the museum and is represented in the collection with a total of 35 paintings and drawings in watercolor, oil, and graphite. This exhibition will illustrate Peterson’s love of maritime subjects–– scenes synonymous with Door County––and most notably his “Memories” paintings that depict ghost-like individuals of the past against a backdrop of an aged setting. The exhibition will also include a self-portrait, a portrait of the Miller Art Museum’s first curator, R. Charles Lyons, and a never-before-seen black and white watercolor of the interior of the Miller Art Museum during an event that includes museum founder Gerhard CF Miller and his wife Ruth Morton Miller.
The exhibitions are presented with support from Miller Art Museum sustaining members with additional grant and in-kind support from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.