This project was inspired by the works of Hugo McCloud and Lucia Hierro, whose pieces were displayed in an exhibition at The Aldrich. As a group, we walked through each room and collectively analyzed their works. Some concepts centered on the experiences of American immigrants from around the world, thus prompting us to focus on the subject as well. As a group, we brainstormed the extent to which we would investigate the immigrant experience and decided on interviewing an immigrant and creating a piece complimentary to the audio. In doing so, it forced us to think interpretatively about how that person might have felt as a foreigner in a new country. The interviews were intended to give the audience a greater understanding of the inspiration behind our pieces. I spoke to my mother who is a Portuguese immigrant but ultimately interviewed my grandmother who revealed to me more deeply the struggles of immigrating to a new country. Next, we used cardboard as our medium to create sculptures each individually different, and were assisted by sculptor John O'Donnell who provided tips and tricks for our works. In the end, each person's final piece was a different perspective of the immigrant experience. In my sculpture, I tried to convey the overwhelming feeling of moving to an unknown and more modernized community. The main house is modeled after traditional Portuguese architecture, while the buildings engulfing it are less distinct in detail to convey a more uncertain future. In Portugal, drying machines are uncommon, so the majority of the population dries their clothing outside, hence the clothing line attached to the veranda. The tiles surrounding the walls of the house are azulejos, which are traditionally painted ceramic tiles that are a common decoration in every building. Creating these small details was very tedious, but I am proud of the work I was able to display.
Immigration stories are deeply personal and influential. By going back in time, hearing stories from our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, I think we all learned something new about our family, the uncertainty of immigration, and even about ourselves during this project.
We started by leaving our work space to stand in front of Hugo McCloud and Lucia Hierro’s work, only a few steps away. The two artists addressed topics that represented pieces of their lives; whether it be the contents of a grocery store run, or using metals and plastic bags to create something beautiful, they made art out of the mundane. When we look at these items we see waste, but these artists saw potential and another life to them. I was really impressed when I saw plastic bags stretched over canvas, and images pasted on a mattress. Both of those items are seen as strictly functional, not artistic, to other people, but not to McCloud and Hierro.
I think we all saw an overarching theme in both artists’ works and connections to labor and immigration stories. There is a silent honor to labor and blue-collar workers, and Hugo McCloud especially demonstrated this by depicting those workers and their work.
When we sat around the table discussing topics, everyone had something to interject about their families’ immigration stories, and how that made them who they are today. We brainstormed for a bit, thinking of ideas from digital models, interviewing immigrants from an agency, and finally landed upon making our own version of a “mundane” object or scene that had significance to our family.
When I went to interview my dad about my grandmother who recently passed, he told me things I had never known before. It made me feel closer to her, and making a watch, the only thing she and my grandfather had when they arrived to America, made the item have a huge amount of significance to me.
My grandparents did not speak English and many other immigrants were on the exact same path as them, so coming to America was brutal. They thought that America’s streets were paved with gold, and that hard work would equal success. They were wrong and disappointed, and finding work and a place to live was extremely difficult. But it was those two wristwatches that allowed my grandfather to get his first job in America, selling life insurance, and my grandmother worked in a bakery. They both went to school in the nighttime to learn English. Eventually, my grandfather ended up working as a butcher, builder, and real estate developer, and my grandmother was a nurse.
My grandfather became successful as a real estate developer, but before that my dad had to pay his way through college and medical school, working as a mailman and helping my grandmother who was sick during the time. I think my story connects with McCloud’s and Hierro’s, because without the difficult work and optimism that my family had I probably would not be the person I am today.
When deciding what material to use, we landed on cardboard after John O’Donnell’s visit. He showed us the versatility of cardboard, and it provided the same effect as using plastic bags–to symbolize the hidden potential in objects we think of as not worthy to make art out of. I thought it was really amazing how he made such large and elaborate sculptures out of it, and I was excited to do my own.
I approached the watch in a slightly difficult way, now that I have the hindsight to assess my work, and I think using cardboard to make a circular shape with curves that need to stay in place was really tricky. The hot glue would not really hold the curve of the watch, and that was probably the hardest part of making the sculpture. Other than that, I had a lot of fun working at such a large scale and bending the cardboard to make interesting shapes. I decided to paint the watch face as a sky, which I remember was the first symbol of a new life in America.
We also took part in a college fair about portfolio building. Especially as a senior applying to college for the following year, I thought that these admissions representatives taking their time to demonstrate what a good portfolio should be, and what they are looking for, was really helpful and an amazing opportunity. I took some notes home to apply to my own portfolio in progress, and I think that everyone should take part in it if they are submitting a portfolio, not just if you are applying to art schools.
I think that this was a really fun, exciting, and informational semester program, and it was really cool having an experienced artist like Tara as a teacher. I think everyone learned a lot about ourselves and one another from this project, and I’m really glad I did the project.
During our first few meetings when we started brainstorming project ideas, Hugo McCloud and Lucia Hierro were a good source of inspiration. Their art was based on their identities and background, turned into a unique style of artwork. Hugo McCloud had an interesting approach to creating his works using plastic bags, while Lucia Hierro had a more surrealist approach in her hispanic-identity based themes. These were themes the members and I agreed would be an interesting topic to look into and led us to our theme of immigration, conducting interviews with people who have immigrated to the United States. This would give a unique, closeup of their stories that we would then make into pieces of art.
To begin, the group members had different ideas in mind of what material we would use to create our pieces so we had to work together to combine our ideas on the medium we would each use. Exploring many ideas, pondering ways of creating an animation to illustrate the immigrant’s experience, we decided on making a 3-D piece we could present in-person.
I believe immigration is a crucial part of the culture of the United States. With many different countries represented, those who immigrate to this country bring their traditions and backgrounds with them and contribute to creating a more diverse nation. The varying values and traditions that live in the U.S. creates diversity in our identity as a nation. Immigration is an important topic to me because it means the intermixture of my Japanese roots and cultures into my own life. This aspect of my identity is important in making the person I am and while each experience is different, I think the culture and traditions each person grows up with has a kind of impact on them.
I interviewed my mother because I wanted to represent my mother’s experience of immigrating to the United States. While I had heard pieces of my mother’s story as a child, I liked listening to my mother talk about her experience in depth moving from Japan to the U.S. as she worked with language barriers and cultural differences. My project is based on my mother, Akiko Matsuki, who immigrated from Japan to the United States. Carrying her Japanese heritage and lifestyle with her, she settled in Florida to begin a new exploration in a new country. The last gift her grandmother sent before her death was an elephant figure, which my mother carries to this day as a symbol of the bond with her family and Japanese culture. Listening to my mother’s story and seeing Hugo McCloud and Lucia Hierro’s works, I was inspired to create a surreal, abstract piece.
Making it was an exciting process because at one of our meetings, artist John O’Donnell taught us how cardboard can be used to create art and that inspired me to both use cardboard and work large. This created the perfect opportunity to not only work with a hands-on approach, but it also let me work more freely since most of my work consists of detail and precision. I learned to work with more flexibility and make use of common material to transform it into a tangible piece of artwork.
The college fair was helpful in understanding what college admission officers at an art institution are looking for in art portfolios and provided insight into how students could present a part of themselves through the portfolio in varying mediums and techniques.
America today is a melting pot of nationalities, cultures, faiths, and traditions. And the more we are able to tell our stories, the more culture we are able to preserve and integrate into the ever-growing tapestry of our nation’s history.
The idea of my personal story was relatively straightforward, but the execution was another matter. I was a little nonchalant, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it served to delay my process and led to some disconnect on how I was to go about relating my story. (Fun fact: we all were originally on board to do an animation, but we decided much later it wouldn’t work for everyone).
To derive inspiration, we wandered The Aldrich, noting the exhibitions of Hugo McCloud and Lucia Hierro. I noticed both their installations had similarities. Both exhibitions were inspired somewhat by their own stories, and their works include aspects of labor, culture, and community. McCloud in particular shows incredible amounts of synthesis through his works. The pounding of tar paper, for example, suggests the artmaking process can be more than the dainty stroke of a brush, but also the laborious pounding of a hammer.
I felt the visit from sculptor John O'Donnell was a huge help in our process. He taught us techniques of making sculpture from cardboard. We all took to the medium of cardboard sculpture instantly. As we all developed confidence, we began taking more risks with our designs. In my project, the fringe grass was a last minute decision, as I felt more confident with my materials and saw more opportunities to improve my piece.
I modeled my project after an interview I had conducted in 8th grade with my grandpa Albert. He talked about our family’s origins and how our ancestors came to America to escape oppression. While I didn’t recycle the original audio, I revised the questions from the old transcript. Grandpa was again interviewed. Most of what was answered was not new, but interestingly, this time was more in depth than 4 years ago. Now that I’m older, perhaps I understand more of the nuances in his story.
***And yes, you heard right. We came from Dokshytsy, (pronounced “duck-shits”) Belarus.
I used cardboard, acrylic paint, felt, tissue paper, acetate, and modeling clay to construct my piece. The rhythmic process of cutting, sculpting, and painting allowed me to work with focus and efficiency for 2–3 meetings. As in McCloud’s pounded tar paper, I incorporated my own emotions into my project, when I was clipping fringes into the felt for the grass. I remember Tara pointed out that I looked pretty relaxed and somewhat nostalgic. And she was right. As I was working, I was lost in pleasant old memories of my grandpa and I going for long walks. He would teach me the brand names of cars as they passed. Of course, the focus of the project is centered on the life of my great great grandfather Moishe. But my grandpa plays just as important of a role as a liaison to the past, as he knew Moishe and several other of my ancestors.
I had the pleasure of being a guest artist and mentor to a wonderfully inspiring group of young people from October 2021-January 2022 at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. It has, and always will be, an honor to be a part of young people's lives at such a crucial time in their development. This group of young people are part of a special and unique program at The Aldrich called Teen Fellows. Teen Fellows have the opportunity to learn about and be a part of the inner workings of an art museum. My goal for this time together was to create a supportive environment for them to express their thoughts and feelings about a variety of subjects. I was most interested in supporting and creating opportunities for them to see themselves and their own stories in a contemporary art museum setting; to act as a bridge between the museum walls and themselves. How do we see ourselves in a museum? Through dialogue around the work, discussing what themes relate to our own lives and what ideas might be new to us, as well as, meeting people whose lives revolve around the Museum. In an art museum such as The Aldrich, it's exciting to be a part of this process of exploration, as all the artworks are contemporary and speak to relevant cultural experiences which relate to our present day existence.
The Fellows began as a group of five, which evolved into four. We decided to focus on the works of two exhibiting artists, Hugo McCloud and Lucia Hierro. Through a collaborative process that included discussion, writing, mind-mapping, and art-making, the theme of immigration stood out as one that the group could explore more in depth as it related to the works of the exhibiting artists, their own lives, and the culture at large. The final project that was decided by the group was an exploration of their own stories of immigration through interviewing someone in their family and connecting that interview to a sculptural piece that served as a physical manifestation of that story. It was a project with heart and depth which typified the thoughtful way the group approached the program and the final project. - Tara Foley
Top image: Fall 2021 Aldrich Teen Fellows with teaching artist Tara Foley. Photo: Walker Esner