At Erector Square for the third and final weekend of Artspace’s annual “City Wide Open Studios,” artist Martha Willette Lewis constructed a rudimentary planetarium in the office of the former factory’s owner, A.C. Gilbert, inventor of the Erector Set train toy.
In a nice coincidence keeping with CWOS’s theme of “dwellings” this year, Dr. Gilbert had entrusted his office’s design to the same architect who drew up his house plans.
But now the office was Lewis’s. Her installation, “Method of Loci,” crowned the exhibitions that sprung up throughout the labyrinthine Erector Square for CWOS this past weekend.
“I like the sense of everyone being lost” in Erector Square’s twisting space, Lewis said, as visitors filed through to see her work. The artist has had a studio in the former factory since 2007 and has long been fascinated with the building’s — and Gilbert’s — history. The factory at one point manufactured electric transformers for train engines, she noted. Meanwhile, in addition to inventing the Erector Set, Gilbert was a magician, a doctor, an Olympic athlete, and a big game hunter. Lewis insisted he maintains a very strong presence.
“Method of Loci,” inspired by a mélange of shamanistic traditions, occupied the office’s central axis. The hut takes after the kivas of the Hopi, which were entry points into the fourth world, the home of the spirits. Lewis invited visitors to enter the meditative space and view the stars inside for themselves. In a nod to the building’s past, she used parts from an Erector Set to finish her project.
The dome itself functioned as a kind of memory palace, invoking womb, sky, and cellular memory at once. The skyscape inside was inspired by the stick charts of the Marshall Islands, abstract maps of currents and islands made with shells and sticks. Entering the structure, the viewer became yet another layer in this Russian Doll set of dwellings. “Method of Loci” reminded us how illusory some boundaries — say, between us and distant suns — really can be. Invoking Carl Sagan, Lewis said, “we are the stuff of stars.”
Another local artist, Jan Cunningham, explained that she had recently invited the arcs of circles and ellipses back into her life and work. “Time creates space,” she said. Her charcoal drawings echoed themselves.
Jacqueline Jones, on the other hand, paints stunning oils of coastal New England. If Stony Creek Brewery did oil paintings instead of beer, they would resemble Jones’s art.
In “Carpe Diem.” the elements swarm in full riot, a call for environmentalism. Her work often suggests nostalgic, dreamlike memories of childhood, even as she draws from Baroque art and luminous landscape painters.
“Whatever the subject matter, I’m energized by the way light reveals essence and form,” Jones said.
Her award-winning landscapes are drawn from life, and she uses photo reference for character work. Often family members send her pictures to incorporate. Her brother, an area fisherman, sends photographs of his catches.
Personal symbolism plays heavily into Jones’s work as well. “Things all mean something to me, even if it’s something else to the viewer,” she said.