NORTH KINGSTOWN, RI – A few years ago, portrait photographer Erin Walsh bought a mannequin at an end-of-life sale at a store in Providence Place, thinking she would pose it to help her work of portraits.
But she ended up buying a second model from Facebook Marketplace, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, inspiration struck: Walsh began posing the two figures in natural settings across Rhode Island, eventually creating a series of photos.
The completed series – titled “The Mannequin Project” – became Walsh’s submission to the Wickford Art Association’s Juried Artist Invitational exhibition, which is currently on display at the gallery.
Walsh is one of 10 members of the Wickford Art Association whom the gallery has invited to participate in the exhibition, which runs until June 26. WAA welcomes the invitation every year and each year invites a group of artists to submit eight pieces.
“We chose the artists randomly while considering the incorporation of a variety of media and subjects. Oil, watercolour, acrylic, gouache and photography are included in this particular exhibition,” said WAA Gallery Director Maria Masse. “It’s a real honor for the artists to be chosen and highlighted.”
Walsh said she was “very grateful” to have been chosen for this year’s exhibit, which she used as an opportunity to complete The Mannequin Project.
The photo series puts the two models, whom she named Lilith and Eve, in a variety of poses and settings. She loved the idea of the sleek man-made mannequins juxtaposed against natural backdrops, she said, and the eight photos tell a complete story.
“The footage I was getting was kind of conveying this, like, ‘Were they jealous of each other, or was one wanting the limelight and the other scared of the limelight? says Walsh. “I really started creating these different poses and compositions to express different feelings about how these two models might have felt about each other.”
Although Walsh described his series as “a bit avant-garde”, other artists submitted more traditional photographs to the exhibition. Photographer Donna Horan, for example, displays a group of images that are mostly from the natural world.
Among them, Horan said, are photos of a bald eagle with eaglets, a snowy owl, swans, a butterfly and even a sunrise taken just outside the Wickford Art building. Association.
But Horan said she didn’t want to be typecast in photos of the natural world, so she submitted an abstract image as well.
“I do a lot of nature photography. But that’s not all I’m limited to. And I kind of wanted what I presented to reflect some of the other things that I do,” Horan said. “I didn’t want to limit myself and be seen as an ‘ornithologist’.”
And artist Jill Tyler, a pastel painter, submitted a group of still lifes she created especially for the show.
Tyler planned to show some pear paintings she had done during a pastel class at the gallery, but when she learned she couldn’t submit any pieces created during a class at the gallery, she had to pivot.
And she ended up creating eight still lifes, each taking her two or three hours to complete.
“I had to find a body of work quickly, so I kind of followed the trend I started in my class and focused on fruit,” Tyler said. “And actually, it was good exercise, to do a body of work so fast.”
Works by Walsh, Horan and Tyler are now on display at the gallery along with pieces by seven other artists. Art created by students from North Kingstown High School is also there and will be on display until June 14 (Masse thanked Janice Strain, Mia Thompson and Ms. Callahan for their help with the high school exhibit).
Walsh said she would encourage the community to watch the show because of her diversity of work.
“The other artists also chose art representative of their medium. So it gives you a really good insight into an artist’s work,” Walsh said. “You can see a lot of their work and the things they’ve done. I think the show is beautiful and really well done.