A period of grieving brought about the latest project for an exhibit focusing on the artistry of Susan Aaron-Taylor.
Aaron-Taylor’s mother, Fran Aaron, had hospice care during her last weeks of life, and those circumstances motivated the idea for the artist’s “Threshold Series,” on view Sept. 9-Oct. 14 as part of “Infolding/Unfolding” at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC) in Birmingham.
The associated pieces relate to community interests of work being shown in another exhibit, which was planned to raise funds for the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network.
“I thought a lot about the tenuous threshold of leaving this realm and passing into the next,” explains Aaron-Taylor, a longtime artist and art teacher who impacted students at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
“My mother was 96 when she died last Sept. 11, and at the shivah, and seemingly out of nowhere, my 5-year-old granddaughter said, ‘This is a mess of a threshold.’ That did it, and I knew I had to do a series about the line that separates two territories of spirit.
“It took several months of grieving before I could go back into my studio to begin the series with an exploration of death and resurrection expanded to include environmental issues: the seasons, energy and the elements. It is my belief that all natural objects have a spirit.”
Aaron-Taylor, working out of a studio in her Pleasant Ridge home, made felt altar cloths with images of shells, crystals, minerals, feathers, birch, bark, coral, bones, teeth, fossils and handmade items, matching them to altars. Each altar has the objects represented in the cloths to blend the physical and spiritual worlds and create rhythm, balance and harmony to invite the viewer’s participation.
The other pieces in the exhibit come together to span more than 30 years of her career. Most is sculptural with some wall reliefs. While figurative forms dominate some 40 pieces on display, abstractions can be found.
Because Aaron-Taylor taught basketry, there will be representations based on ancient techniques used by Peruvians and Native Americans. Animal forms, shown in multi-media sculptures, appear individually and as teapots with ideas for them generated by dreams holding symbolic meaning.
Aaron-Taylor, 69, who enjoyed artistry since childhood, earned her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University and her master’s from Cranbrook Academy of Art before joining the CCS faculty. She was appointed chairman of the department specializing in fiber arts, teaching three days a week and devoting the rest of the week to her own projects.
Since retiring three years ago, she has conducted workshops and lectures while also participating in exhibits. Her most recent solo exhibit was this past June at N’Namdi Gallery in Detroit, and her most recent group exhibition was at the BBAC.
Aaron-Taylor’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States and is part of numerous collections, including those at Cranbrook Art Museum, Kmart Corporation and Westin Hotels.
“My work is very much about concept and bringing out things I’m thinking about,” she says. “I don’t like frivolous art, so I like my art to be about something. I’m not making art that’s just beautiful.
“Because I’d much rather make something that has an idea, I worked a lot with my dreams, which come from things unknown in conscious life. They tell about things repressed, and that’s why some of my things come out dark.” *
The opening reception for “Infolding/Unfolding” will be held 6-8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center in Birmingham; the exhibit runs through Oct. 14. It is free and open to the public, as are all BBAC exhibitions. (248) 644-0866;
By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer