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Melinda Steffy: Remnants and Residual Memories

Melinda Steffy“Remnants and Residual Memories,” an exhibition of artwork by Philadelphia artist Melinda Steffy, is featured at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, from January 11 to February 11, 2010.

A reception for the artist will take place at the gallery Thursday, January 21, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. An artist talk will begin at 7:15 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Steffy’s current painting/textile/objects draw inspiration from her interests in memory, mythology, alchemy, geology, family history, and music.

Items like antique lace, the spice turmeric, tarnished copper, dead ladybugs, and found barrettes make their way into Steffy’s rhythmic visual compositions, which consider questions of memory, the loss of memory, and the construction of systems that sustain memory.

This exhibit is, in part, a look into the nature of her grandfather’s memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease. “Memory defines who we are,” reflects Steffy. “As my grandfather gradually lost his memory, he also lost his gentle personality, his confident identity, his profound sense of purpose. The small, vivid details that formed his life diminished to minuscule pinpoints surrounded by a vast blankness of forgetting.”

“I imagine him sitting in a stark white room watching helplessly as the once familiar scenes around him are slowly erased, leaving behind only a few incongruous and Steffy Artworkmeaningless objects-the memory remnants of a once vibrant life.”

“I like the word €˜remnants’,” says Steffy of the exhibit’s title. “They’re fragments that you’re rescuing from a former life. What they were used for in that previous life is somehow being carried through. It’s not the end of the story.”

Carrie Flaspohler, director of the Finlandia University Gallery, notes that the poetry of Steffy’s work lies in her ability to translate philosophical concepts into visually complex and abstract compositions. The materials she chooses to use in her art-making are an integral part of the finished piece.

“For me,” Steffy says, “untraditional or re-used materials carry with them meaning from their previous lives or original purposes, and so add conceptual complexity to artwork.”

To enhance the meaning of the materials she uses, Steffy makes her own dyes and pigments from plants, nuts, and spices, which often have medicinal properties or applications beyond their common uses. Steffy says that the tediousness of the paint-making process, as with the stitching, sewing, papermaking, and other repetitive tasks required in her artwork, invests her even more deeply in her art.

“The repetition and the monotony, even though I may cringe at them, become ritual and rhythm,” she adds. “They make me part of the meaning of my work and add elements of time and spirituality.”

Melinda Steffy ArtworkIncluded in the Finlandia University exhibit are the compositions: “Fable (Loss and Its Recovery),” with more than 350 found barrettes on individual paper pieces stitched together by the artist; “Fugue (Grandmother’s Favorite),” featuring ink drawings on paper hand-made from 80-year-old sheet music; and “Aubade (Mnemosyne Sings),” comprising nine five-foot-square canvas panels dyed vibrant yellow using turmeric.

Steffy received her master of fine arts degree in painting in 2006 from the University of the Arts, Philadelphia. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Steffy’s work has been exhibited in Philadelphia at the Sam Quinn, Rosenwald-Wolf, F.U.E.L. Collection, and Highwire art galleries. It has also been shown at Villanova (Penn.) University; William Paterson University, Wayne, N.J.; the MicroMuseum, Brooklyn, N.Y.; the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington; and the Lancaster (Penn.) Museum of Art. Her mural, “In Remembrance,”, hangs at the Tshwane Leadership Foundation in Pretoria, South Africa.

Steffy will be on the Finlandia University campus the week of January 19 to 22, providing individual critiques to students.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturday 12:00 p.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment. Please call 906-487-7500 for more information.

Photo Cutlines:
Photo 1: The artist Melinda Steffy
Photo 2: Funeral March, 2007 glass spice jars, antique and new corks, buckeye nut given to the artist as a child, pill casings, 80-year-old sheet music of Chopin’s “Funeral March,” dead ladybugs
Photo 3: Apothecary, 2007 glass jars, medicinal spices
Photo 4: Marking the Passage of Time, 2007 92 used teabags from daily cups of tea at work, latex house paint, thread, antique and new quilting pins