By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – When Sidney Waller first looked at Robert Seward’s submission to the “Dust Off the Constitution” project, she thought the red circles on his version of the 14th Amendment were wax seals.
“Looking at it closer,” she said. “I realized they were bullet holes.”
Waller, owner of the Art Garage on Beaver Meadow Road, partnering with Ashley Norwood Cooper, invited artists to submit works inspired by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery, granted citizenship to all people born in the U.S. or naturalized, and guarantees the right of citizens to vote.
“Ashley and I were both interested in current events, and she expresses her engagement and concern through her artwork,” Waller said.
The idea to focus on the constitution was inspired by Amy Snider, professor emerita, Art & Design Education at Pratt, who used to show her work at Waller’s gallery.
“Amy used to invite her neighbors to hand write amendments from the Constitution,” she said. “The average person only knows freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the right to bear arms, but this was a way of connecting with it.”
Snider died in 2018. A few of her early works are for sale at the gallery, with proceeds benefitting the NAACP.
Submissions were collected Friday, June 19, in a ballot box designed by Cooper. “Ashley thinks of life in America right now as a phoenix, rising from the flames,” she said.
More than two dozen submissions came in from artists across the region. “Louise Fishman had done a piece on the preamble and wanted to submit that,” she said. “So we put that on the wall as well. There were some really wild interpretations.”
Charlie Bremer, Otego, submitted his own spin on the 15th Amendment, which reads, “The right of citizens of this Earth shall not be denied or abridged by any nation or state on account of race, color, sex, spiritual belief or political view.”
“Some artists got really upset as they were writing them,” she said. “They could see the spirit of the law, written by white people, was so clear. But the creativity that came out was really a kinetic exercise of recognition.”
In addition to the Amendments, Cooper’s painting “Crying Man” is on display. “Her gallery in Seattle is selling prints of the painting, with all proceeds going to voting registration organizations,” said Waller.
Cooper also lit candles representing “Justice” and “Truth,” and purified the gallery with sage in a Native American ritual.
“I got a lot of emails from people who wanted to do it, but couldn’t come on the 19th,” she said. “But it was crucial that we do it on Juneteenth.”
Initially, the plan was that every artist who participated in the project would then draw a name from the ballot box and take that work home with them.
“We couldn’t bear to put them back in the ballot box,” said Waller. “We want to keep them on display.”
Currently, the plan is to keep the display at the Art Garage, by appointment, through the end of July, with potential for an additional show being discussed.
“We didn’t know what it was going to be until we did it,” she said. “But what we got was very exciting.”