Recollection: Storytelling Through Memementos

Objects are powerful conversation starters. Personal objects store our stories, histories, and memories. Found objects reveal our experiences, dreams, assumptions, and values. Recollection: Storytelling Through Mementos is a project that explores how and why we collect and save objects. No matter our generation or age, we keep objects that hold meaning.

Storytelling workshops were conducted at six partner organizations. Participants were invited to bring a personally meaningful object with them and asked to share its history and meaning with a small group—often with acquaintances and community members that they see regularly, but may not know very well. Other participants were invited to join in a collaborative storytelling workshop where found objects were displayed on the table. Participants were asked to select an object and to start a story by identifying who owned the object and where. Participants then worked together, using the other objects on display to develop creative, and unexpected, stories. This exhibit was organized and under the creative direction of Michael Flanagan and Rebecca Mushtare. In addition, Seeley Cardone collaborated on the storytelling workshop design and helped to facilitate the sessions that provided the content included in the exhibition. Original Recollection branding by Stephanie Armour Dobrowolski. Photography and catalog by Julie Farquhar. Exhibition designed by Kelsi Bryden, Liliya Gapyuk, Kimberly Grunden, Nicole Lightfoot, Kayla Matthews, Rasheda McLean, Tyler Morgan, Ngan Nguyen, Miles Petersen, Hannah Sojka, and Carly Violante under the direction of Michael Flanagan and Rebecca Mushtare. Technical support from Steven Ginsburg.

Installation of exhibition at St. Luke Health Services in Oswego, NY.
Interior of catalog. Catalog designed by Julie Farquhar. Photo by Ngan Nguyen.
Collaborative stories piece designed by Liliya Gapyuk and Hannah. Sojka. Photo by Julie Farquhar.
Spin for a story designed by Kelsi Bryden and Miles Petersen.
One of ten posters meant to extend the extend the exhibit throughout the facility. Designed by Kimberly Grunden.

the polls are open

The Polls Are Open is a simulation of voter suppression.

When approaching the voting booth, visitors will see a two physical buttons (a yes and a no button) and computer screen with a question and graphs. The question on the screen asks the viewer to vote on whether or not they should have the right to vote in local, regional and national elections.

If the viewer chooses to vote no, the vote is immediately recorded and reflected in the graphs on the screen. It is likely that most viewers will not want to vote this way, however, to see what will happen, some will.
If a viewer votes yes, they will be alerted, on screen, that for the vote to be recorded the participant will need to visit a particular URL and use the provided access code. At this moment the viewer has a choice (1) abandon voting or (2)log onto the website provided on their mobile device or, later, on their home computer. If the participant chooses the second option and logs onto the site, they will be asked for their email address (to verify they have not previously voted — a privacy statement will be on the site indicating that the email address will only be used for this purpose) and the access code provided. If the participant attempts to vote during the designated (but not posted) hours their vote will be recorded and they will be provided with a url to see progress on the vote. If the participant attempts to vote during non-voting hours the participant will be alerted that her vote cannot be recorded because of the time and will be asked to try again when the polls are open (the poll times will be provided in the alert). To vote yes will require participants to overcome the following hurdles: access to the internet (i.e., access to the poll site), limited polling hours, and a valid email address and access code (voter id).

In addition to the voting question, participants will see the following on the screen in the voting booth: (1) how many yes and no votes have been cast and recorded; (2) a comparison of how many yes vote attempts have been made in comparison to how many have been completed; and (3) how many votes have been cast in comparison to exhibition attendance (that is, if this information can be made available, which would require gallery staff to enter attendance for the day or week via a simple web form).

While installed during the 2017 Give Us The Vote exhibition at ArtsWestchester, 715 people interacted with the voting system and attempted to cast a vote. 31% of votes cast were “no” votes. 69% of participants attempted to cast a “yes” vote, but only 2.25% of those attempts were actually cast (because few individuals were able to overcome voter suppression techniques implemented).

Voting booth installed at ArtsWestchester.
Screenshot of the software that poses the question, “Should you have the right to vote in US elections” for participants to vote on.

Nottingham Wall Hangings

For two weeks I served as an artist-in-residence at The Nottingham, an adult living community in Central New York. The Nottingham campus includes three facilities: Assisted Living, The Glens (Independent Living), and Skilled Nursing (Residential Health Care Facility). Residents and staff collected plastic shopping bags that were cut, collaged and heat-fused with the help of residents from The Glens and the Assisted Living facilities. My “studio space” was set up in a very public location in each space which facilitated regular interactions with residents as they moved from one space to another.

Three wall hangings (one for each facility) was created from the 37 unique compositions made by and with residents. Some compositions had strong narrative structures and others were more jazz-like in construction. During the work sessions over a two week period, I got to know the residents and they got to know me.

The final three wall hangings required editing, cropping, etc. of the components made. I strived to preserve the original intent of the participants and attempted to highlight vignettes that the contributors and observers to the project found particular successful. 

Snippets. 36.5″ x 42.5″. Installed in the assisted living facility.
Detail of Snippets.
Meditate on This. 42.5″ x 57″. Installed in the Independent Living Facility.
Detail of Meditate on This.
Stories We Tell. 61.5″ x 32.5″. Installed in the Residential Health Care Facility.
Detail of Stories We Tell

celebrate suffrage

These posters and buttons honor the impact Central New York, especially communities along the Erie Canal, had on history of suffrage and voting rights in New York and the United Sates.. The posters were made in conjunction with the 2016 AIGA Get Out the Vote initiative and were a part of the exhibition I co-organized, as a board member of the Upstate New York chapter of AIGA, at the Wesleyan Chapel at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls. The Wesleyan chapel was the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. Accompanying the exhibition was a panel presentation I co-organized titled, Populating the Polls: Then and Now.

The buttons included in this project were designed to accompany this project and other voting projects I was working on at the time.

Celebrate Suffrage. Vote.
Poster designed for the 2016 AIGA Get Out the Vote project.
Honor those who suffered for suffrage. Vote.
Poster designed for the 2016 AIGA Get Out the Vote project.
celebrate suffrage. vote.
Buttons to indicate commitment to voting.

after the yellow wallpaper

The “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a seminal feminist text originally published in 1892. In the story, the narrator has been diagnosed with “nervous depression” and “slight hysterical tendencies,” or what might label “postpartum depression” today. Her husband, who is also her doctor, prescribes a summer of absolute rest in an old mansion where the narrator spends her days in an old nursery with barred windows and furniture that has been nailed down. She smuggled a journal that she hides in a mattress and writes in when she has the opportunity to provide her mind relief. The wallpaper in the room begins to occupy her mind in an otherwise barren room. Throughout the text the narrator extensively describes her experience of the wallpaper, “The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smoldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow turning sunlight…. There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck with two bulbous eyes staring at you upside down…. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere… There are things in the paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will… And worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind it is plain as can be… I wonder if they all come out of the wallpaper like I did.” As the story progresses the narrator becomes increasingly fixated on peeling and removing the wallpaper from the room. This installation is an attempt to simulate the narrator’s manic experience with the wallpaper. Like the narrator, the viewer must become physical with with wallpaper. Rather than compulsive peeling, viewer must use the heat of their bodies to warm the wallpaper surface in order to reveal its secrets. ARVE Error: Mode: lazyload not available (ARVE Pro not active?), switching to normal mode
Detail of After the Yellow Wallpaper.
Detail of After the Yellow Wallpaper.
Detail of After the Yellow Wallpaper.
Detail of After the Yellow Wallpaper.
After the Yellow Wallpaper installed during SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at Arts Westchester in 2016.
After the Yellow Wallpaper installed during SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at Arts Westchester in 2016.
Detail of After the Yellow Wallpaper installed during SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at Arts Westchester in 2016.
Detail of After the Yellow Wallpaper installed during SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at Arts Westchester in 2016.
After the Yellow Wallpaper opening of SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at Arts Westchester in 2016.
After the Yellow Wallpaper opening of SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at Arts Westchester in 2016.
After the Yellow Wallpaper installed during SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at Arts Westchester in 2016.
After the Yellow Wallpaper installed during SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity at Arts Westchester in 2016.
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plastic specimens

Plastic shopping bags are designed objects and artifacts of commodification that are often discarded, ignored, and treated as objects of little or no cultural value. Each plastic specimen contains a composite of elements like color, typography, texts and images from discarded plastic bags for closer examination.

Plastic Specimens
Plastic Specimens
Plastic Specimens</strong. Detail. Plastic Specimens


Mandala was created after spending a couple of weeks traveling in Delhi and Dharamsala. Although the form is appropriated from Buddhist culture, the image is meant to be contemplative within Western culture. It is an image that I use to enhance concentration.



Film, as physical object, is a long piece of plastic with a consistent grid of variegated cells. A discarded pile of unwanted film off of the reel is akin to a pile of unwanted yarn that has the potential to be woven into something new and desirable. The layers of transparent film result in recombinant images and unexpected juxtapositions uncommon in the woven.

Woven. Detail.
Woven. Detail.

Recollection: A Memory Awareness Project

As life expectancy increases, and the overall senior population grows, we are faced with increased incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia, which impacts individuals and their support networks. Lack of interest, lack of training and perceived irrelevance by young adults are challenges that surface when addressing health issues related to aging. In 2012, Tyler Art Gallery at SUNY Oswego, began planning a project, Recollection: A Memory Awareness Project, to illuminate issues surrounding Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders and engage our community in a dialogue about its impact. The project included an exhibit in two galleries in 2014 (one at our main campus and one at a branch campus), film screenings, lectures and training workshops to introduce the arts into the care plans of local facilities. The initiative engaged students, faculty, staff, health care professionals, adult care providers, senior care facility residents and their family members to create content for the exhibit. Although not originally planned, the exhibition traveled to five adult care facilities and a public library throughout Central New York before “retiring” in 2016.

The true power of the project organically unfolded while the exhibit occupied these non-traditional spaces with non-traditional audiences. As the project gained traction, components were adapted to respond to the needs of the community and to better represent and amplify their voices. The structure of the project has allowed for fluid participation and a sustainable pace. We’ve deepened our partnerships and developed a reusable framework for future iterations of Recollection and other forms of multi-generational, multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional collaboration.

recollection logo is a purple bridge
Installation of exhibition at Tyler Art Gallery.
The Pathway and Cards for Compassion installed at Loretto’s Cunningham Facility in CNY.
Dear Alzheimer’s postcard and exhibition handout.
Individual opening one of the cards for compassion which included both a sound recording and text.
Cards for compassion installed at Loretto’s Cunningham facility in CNY.

Students collaborated on the work included in the exhibition, including two large-scale non-digital interactive works that engaged the spaces and participants in unexpected ways. One piece, Cards for Compassion (designed by Tim Ano, Mallory Eckert, Katherine Morelli and Evander Russ), is a collection of fifty greeting cards with sound modules that weave together the words, wisdom and experience of those locally impacted by dementia. Each card tells the story of dementia from a unique and personal perspective, many of which offer conflicting points of view. The second installation is The Pathway (designed by Katelyn Cardone, Sean Gnau, Tong Lu and Alan Wisniewski) is a series of 24 double-sided cards that hang from the ceiling and dance in the breeze. One side of each card contains either a photo or facts and statistics about dementia juxtaposed with a personal story on the reverse.

After traveling to the first adult care facility it became clear that the exhibition needed to have a component that would allow viewers to share and process their own stories. For this component a postcard was designed. The side to write on started with “Dear Alzheimer’s” or “Dear Dementia” and participants were asked to write a letter to the disease. Visitors included their stories in the provided album and helped to grow the exhibition in each space it traveled to.

These pieces and other components of the project are detailed in a short paper titled, The Art Gallery as a Platform for Advocacy and the Exhibition Brochure.