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.