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Lauren Visiting Artist Response

This past Thursday I went to listen to the visiting artist Allison Smith. Smith focuses her art surrounding the American Civil War and really gets her inspiration from that time period. She mainly makes her art related to the Civil War because of her background and how she grew up. In her household, she describes her parents as fulfilling the traditional and stereotypical roles with her mother being more domestic creating crafts such as candy making whereas her father worked more with tools in the garage and even worked for the government creating spy weapons. Growing up in this environment Smith also became creative and worked with crafts herself. Her work with the Civil War also stems from the fact that she grew up in Virginia and her family took her to many Civil War sites and reenactments. Smith also mentioned that she makes this kind of art because she had Civil War guilt as some of her ancestors were involved in instigating the war itself. With this in mind Smith’s working methods involve studying a history as well as using her personal history. Smith also likes to work with space and she enjoys when one can interact within the space. When making her art she uses a wide range of mediums including textile, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, basket weaving, weaving, metal work, wheat weaving, and many others. Though she mainly works with textiles and crafts, she also specified that she has the desire to learn many other different types of media including knitting.

Smith’s work involves looking at a history and she incorporates her own history and experience as well. She attempts to explore the past, her own past, but also is able to incorporate the public as well. Smith does this by creating spaces that the public can interact with and participate with whether they simply walk through the space or interact with the art itself. One of her pieces was a muster where each artist created a costume and a tent in response to her question “what are you fighting for?. With this specific piece Smith was able to take a personal question and an historical past and share it with a wider audience enabling the wider art world to personalize the question and her piece.

One comment that Smith made during her presentation that stuck with me was that she says she starts with her art thinking about her personal life and experience but then when she presents it, it grows into a group dynamic and enables others to personalize it and take it beyond what Smith had begun with. For me this really resonated because I think that for many artists their work is so personal and the viewer has a hard time relating to the work and making it their own. However, with Smith’s work the audience is able to interact and even participate in interpreting the work in their own way like with the muster in New York.

Overall, I really enjoyed her presentation. I didn't know what to expect just from the brief description on the blog. I didn't know how she worked with the Civil War period but she certainly made it very interesting for me. Another interesting aspect of her presentation was how she made connections with so many artists and craftspeople around the world who were able to teach her dying crafts. Smith is certainly the "jack of all trades and the master of none".