When Sag Harbor artist Jeanelle Myers sent several of her multi-media works to the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) for an exhibition last year, she never expected that she’d receive burned tidbits in return.
Myers is known around the East End for her intensely detailed pieces that incorporate small found objects, mementos and embroidery into works as divergent as four-foot dolls, soft wall hangings and constructions that feature secret spaces. “I put things in there that are important to me, or significant to me for some reason, usually, not obvious. Important things like friendships, WWII, family,” says Myers.
Last spring Myers showed her work at the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor. It was a popular show that invited patrons to examine a range of her works from decades past. Several of those works featured hidden objects. One such object was a transcription Myers made of a heartbreaking interview she recorded with her grandmother hidden in the pocket of a wall hanging. In the interview, her grandmother talked matter-of-factly about how and why she adopted Myers’ mother. “I just wanted it on there. I didn’t even want someone to find it,” says Myers.
What one often finds in Myers’ works are layered memories of things past. The works displayed in the Nebraska exhibition struck a cord with a viewer. This woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, asked Myers if she would accept a commission to make a new work from old objects, pieces of her past life recovered from a California fire. Myers welcomed the challenge.
In December, Myers received melted necklaces and rings, damaged glass buttons, and some crochet pieces made by the fire victim’s grandmother. “I can do old and melted, that’s what I do,” Myers says. At press time she was puzzling over the perfectly preserved linens and said she was likely to return them unused. “I don’t know very much about her. She’s starting over, living in Wisconsin. She didn’t tell me what fire these are from, which is really okay, I don’t need to know that,” Myers says. “I’m going to have to add some stuff to it. She suggested something about nature so I think I’ll use some dried plant specimens in it. This piece has to be melding me and her, combining her with me. It’s not to be passive and sweet.”
In addition to found objects, which might be pieces from nature like flowers and insects, and figural depictions, letters and words play a part in Myers’ assemblages. “Some pieces include letters to people I don’t know, she explains. “When you write things down there’s a presence. When someone finds it, it becomes their responsibility to do something with it. If I cut the letters into strips and paste them back together in a different order, the letters are still there, they still exist, but other people can’t snoop.”
“I’ve collected a lot of things over the years that are treasures to me and that’s what I put in my work. When a viewer sees my work, I don’t even want them to consider what’s personally significant to me—just look at the work as a whole and decide what the significance is to them. An example is a cicada shell. When I was a kid, every once in a while I’d find this treasure.”
You can check out jeanellemyersstudio.com to see more of this artist’s finished works and, later this year, to see the new work she has created from the California fire pieces.