When Bill Pope, executive director of the Zullo Gallery Center for the Arts in Medfield, found out that his town had chosen the book “Outwitting History,” by Aaron Lansky, for its inaugural communitywide reading project, he saw an ideal opportunity to combine art with literature and aggregate some of the area’s cultural resources.
“The book is a nonfiction account about a young man from Massachusetts whose effort to gather Yiddish books turns into a far-reaching mission to help preserve a dying culture,” Pope said. “As he picks up books from an older generation of immigrants he hears stories of family, homeland, politics, religion, language, and art.”
“Andrea Fiorillo, at the Medfield Public Library, and I began sharing ideas on how the gallery could collaborate with the library on this theme, and we came up with the idea of having an exhibit in which we asked artists to submit works based on their own cultural legacies.”
In the gallery’s call for submissions from artists for an exhibit, Pope underscored the theme of heritage.
“Our publicity for the juried exhibit said that entries should reflect on the theme of the artists’ own personal cultural legacies,” he said, “by answering these questions: Where do you come from? What is your heritage? Who are your people? What is your past?”
The response was impressive, with 42 artists from across New England selected to show their work in the exhibition.
More than 80 works of art appear in the exhibition, reflecting a wide spectrum of responses to the questions about heritage. Medfield artist Amy Dolan, for example, based her work on a piece of bacon whose with a resemblance to a whale, which she noticed just before putting it in the frying pan, but her choice of subject has at least three different meanings tofor her.
“My sensitivity to the whale image comes from growing up around the ocean, part of a beach culture,” she said. “Also, our country’s fascination with bacon, from breakfast to bakeries, has turned it into a staple of American culture. And there’s an attractive quality to something that looks like something else.”
Meanwhile, Justine Berti said she took the theme more literally.
“My work in the show presents a direct image of a piece of history,” she said. “Peletiah Morse’s Tavern, located in the center of old South Natick, is one of many local 18th-century buildings. The history of this area involves the interaction of the native Natick Praying Indians and settlers like John Eliot, to whom Morse’s land was gifted. After it was built in 1748, Peletiah’s tavern served as a meeting ground forRrevolutionaries during the war. By calling attention to a subject straight out of the past and documenting its existence in the present day, I work in respect of history with a goal of human preservation.”
For example, Michelle Lavallee looked north for a geographical exploration of her roots; a plein air painter, she depicted La Route du Mitan, which stretches across the plateau on the historic Île d’Orléans in Quebec’s St. Lawrence River. And and Marlayne Brace reached back into her ancestry with her image of the Penobscot Bay coastal region in Maine.
Pope said he hopes that the same people who immerse themselves in the book and the related discussions of culture and heritage sponsored by the library will explore the art exhibition to expand their thinking on the theme.
“Culture is the summation of who we are collectively, the pieces that were passed on to us from past generations, and what we in turn pass on to the next generation,” he said.
A reception featuring the artists will be held Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the gallery, 456A Main St. (Route 109) in downtown Medfield. “Outwitting History” will be on exhibit through June 24, during regular gallery hours,Saturdays and Sundays noon to 5 p.m.
For more details, call 508-359-3711 or visit the gallery’s website, www.zullogallery.org.