The LCVA’s newest exhibition, Take Care by Kerri Cushman and Laura Oertel, is a collaboration created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is on view through January 3, 2021. Amidst the uncertainties at the beginning of the pandemic, Cushman and Oertel worked together to make sense of the quickly changing landscape. Their work invites the viewer to consider questions of safety and protection, and is rooted in community.
Cushman incorporated quilt scraps donated from local community organizations and businesses, while Oertel strictly used fabric passed down from family. Cushman, Longwood University art professor and paper artist, created handmade paper artwork by beating the quilt scraps to a pulp, as is done in traditional papermaking. The resulting work is beautiful and delicate, but invites the viewer to consider serious questions about the pandemic. For example, Covidium Roulette, covers the Main Street gallery with colorful, textured circles of handmade paper, but, as the title suggests, invites the viewer to consider sobering questions about transmission of the virus. The title piece, Take Care, is handmade paper with the words “take care” sewn with silk thread through the paper. A highlight of this project for Cushman was the community connection; she noted that she “was honored to give these normally discarded quilt scraps a new life through her art work thereby create a link to the community during this uncertain time.”
Oertel’s beautiful Protection Quilts 1-4 are not only quilts but also intended as garments of protection infused with apotropaic symbolism, and have a strong connection to family, folk medicine, and magic. In addition to creating her works using only fabric passed down through her family, Oertel (an alumna of Longwood’s studio art program, as well as its Working Artist Program) has displayed her quilts on tobacco sticks gathered from her great-grandfather’s barn. Oertel noted that “living in an ancestral house that has held the lives of a hundred souls before me, I am picking up where my grandmothers left off, quilting.” Every stitch in these quilts is intentional—and symbolic—offering protection from the pandemic that has been omnipresent since March.
The questions that Take Care raises are relevant, serious, and relatable during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet this exhibition also offers a sense of communal comfort and protection.