Chasing Shadows: The Magical Realities of Elly MacKay

July 9, 2016 to November 6, 2016
"Chasing Shadows: The Magical Realities of Elly MacKay" at Longwood Center for the Visual Arts (LCVA)

Chasing Shadows: The Magical Realities of Elly MacKay showcases the artist and illustrator’s miniature shadow theatres, prints, original hand cut renderings, curiosity cabinets, and a large-scale site-specific installation created for LCVA’s Main Street gallery. MacKay, a rising star in children’s illustration as well as an artist, is the author of three books and illustrator of more than a dozen others, including the complete Anne of Green Gables series. Her stunning, whimsical works are created using paper, pen-and-ink figures, an open-sided “theatre,” and a very old-fashioned manipulation of sunlight and lamplight. Chasing Shadows includes new work, including a large-scale installation created specifically for LCVA’s 30-foot long Main Street window gallery.

MacKay, who grew up in an old stone church in Big Bay, Ontario, Canada, finds inspiration through Victorian entertainment devices, and is particularly drawn to tunnel books, magic lanterns, stereoscopes, paper theaters, and zoetropes. Chasing Shadows is the first in a new annual exhibition series organized around the Virginia Children’s Book Festival. MacKay will return to the LCVA in October to lead workshops during the Virginia Children’s Book Festival.

A section of the exhibition also features MacKay’s rarely exhibited simple theatre boxes. Here visitors are able to experience what is normally fleeting—scenes that normally MacKay quickly dismantles once she has experimented with light, adjusted the background, the props, and the characters and captured the various permutations in photographs. MacKay is the first to characterize her work as play, a practice that is very evident here.

While MacKay’s work is aesthetically pleasing and unendingly relatable, it also has a strong narrative quality that lends itself to carefully considered examinations of literacy, education, science, and rural vs. urban environments and economies. Each of her books, especially If You Hold a Seed and Butterfly Park, instills the value of planting and nurturing small acts of kindness, as well as the power of individuals and community to generate meaningful change. In short, the core spirit of Elly MacKay’s art is perfectly aligned to the community centered missions of both LCVA and Longwood University.

The exhibition and related programming are made possible through the generosity of Candice Jamison Dowdy ’69 and Charles H. Dowdy III, Northwestern Mutual, the Sansom Foundation, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Yupo Synthetic Paper.

You can see more of MacKay's work on her website.


North Main Street

The LCVA is a 20,000-square-foot exhibition center featuring two rotating galleries that have shown works of worldwide importance, including the award-winning Reflecting Centuries of Beauty: The Rowe Collection of Chinese Art, the nationally traveled Pre-Columbian Art from the Mississippi Museum of Art, and a steady stream of solo and group exhibitions for nationally known artists such as Faith Ringgold, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Lesley Dill, David Macaulay, and Kojo Griffin.

The LCVA also dedicates one gallery to a permanent exhibition of stunning African art, part of the Ziegler and Brumfield Collections of African Art. In 1997 Robert Ziegler, a longtime resident of Africa, established this collection with twenty-six important pieces. In 1999, Thomas and Donna Brumfield donated an additional eighty-eight works of African art. The collection includes an impressive array of statues, masks, drums, baskets, and garments, covering four geographical areas, twelve countries, and twenty-seven cultures. A catalog of this collection, Telling Objects: African Art from the Permanent Collection of the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts, is available.