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Books: Bench Press

Multimedia exhibit at the Public Library is a collaborative effort

By Elizabeth Wu · September 20th, 2001 · Books
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  Brian Joiner�s painting, �The Bench,� features poet Pamela Myricks (left) sitting with her grandmother.
Brian Joiner�s painting, �The Bench,� features poet Pamela Myricks (left) sitting with her grandmother.



What does the word "bench" bring to mind? A lonely assemblage of chipped boards and faded paint waiting perpetually at the bus stop? A splintering seat soaked with years of excitement from Little Leaguers waiting their turn to play ball? The elaborate wrought iron sentinel at the top of the hill from which you can get the absolute best view of the city?

For most, it's a humble, unnoticed and often under-appreciated object, more likely to serve merely as a convenient resting point on the way to somewhere else. For Pamela Myricks, it's not only a place to relax and muse over a cup of chamomile tea, but somewhere to connect, in a distant yet intimate way, with every person who sat there before her. She shares her source of inspiration in The Bench, a multimedia collaboration of poetry, painting, pictures and collage by Myricks and Brian Joiner, in addition to children in grades three through six, senior citizens and developmentally disabled adults.

Together, during public workshops funded by a City of Cincinnati grant, they created 18 posters, six paintings and 14 collages in addition to the main exhibit of Myricks' poem and Joiner's acrylic interpretation, all on display in the atrium of Downtown's Main Public Library.

The bench in question belonged to Myricks' great-grandmother, which still sits in a family garden that has been enjoyed by multiple generations. That bench, pictured in a 1925 photograph, now serves as her favorite place to brainstorm. Originally, the garden belonged to ancestors who were slaves. "You have to have a reason to get up in the morning, no matter the adversity": That's the message she takes from the bench. There is a sadness behind the beauty, a fragility that is reflected in Joiner's accompanying paintings.

The six floral paintings began as blank surfaces that Joiner encouraged workshop participants to cover with their favorite colors. He then cut the wood into pieces and rearranged them into what would become the picture and frame. The flowers have a three-dimensional quality, and also resemble a jigsaw puzzle of old memories pieced together. Joiner intended to remind viewers of the delicacy of the flowers and the transience of existence in addition to the garden theme of the exhibit.

The children who participated in the workshops demonstrate an early understanding of the bittersweet beauty in life. After sharing her poem and works by Alice Walker, Van Gogh and Rap icon Tupac, Myricks asked them to express themselves on paper by writing and drawing about things that made them happy or sad. There were no rules.

"I wanted the work to be raw, sort of like graffiti," she explained, " ... not (for them) to feel like they had to spell correctly to express themselves."

Given the chance, these grade-schoolers addressed complex issues, sometimes with voices that sound wiser than their 8 to 11 years:

· "My skin is bronze. Do not fear me. I am a manchild. Hear me."

· " ... I love my life even though it's hard."

· "There's always something incomplete in my life. When I think about my grandmother dying in front of me, I cry."

· "Nobody can replace Momma's love."

· "Rhyme at the time that you shine."

In less than 55 words, five young people captured life's contradictions: prejudices, uncertainties, losses, love, optimism. Myricks added collages from family photos, grandparents' love letters and drawings and writings from her adult workshop participants. Having served as a special educator for 22 years, she wanted everyone -- regardless of age or background -- to feel they could use art to express themselves. Although the children and the adults were separated into different workshops, the final product shows the interconnectedness of their lives.

So when you visit the library, gaze up at the lush pool of aqua and green, the vivid blossoms, the dew almost dripping off the frame. Imagine you are there with two women in the garden, savoring scones and sipping tea. Maybe you'll mistake the air conditioning for a cool late-summer breeze. When you approach the exhibit, come to be refreshed.

After all, a bench is a place to rest, regroup and gather your strength for the rest of your day.



THE BENCH will be on display at the Main Public Library through September.
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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