At the center of an enormous, lushly green landscape sits a bright white sheep, head cocked in interest, staring directly at the onlooker. The animal is on the other side of a metal fence. Separate from the flock, the animal couldn't have known that when Letitia Huckaby captured him through the lens of her camera that he would be blown up nearly life-size as a centerpiece of one the loveliest art exhibitions on display in Dallas right now.
LiIiana Bloch wanted to give Fort Worth-based Huckaby a solo exhibition in her namesake space for quite some time, but with this piece as a primary example, her small gallery within a gallery couldn't quite accommodate the scope of the work. Now, in her large, white-walled space on Monitor Street, next door to rather than conjoined with the Public Trust, Bloch exhibits Huckaby's Bayou Baroque, and it is well worth the wait.
This exhibition comes from the time that Huckaby spent at the Sisters of the Holy Familiy Mother House in New Orleans, a groundbreaking institution founded in 1842 by Henrietta Delille, who wanted a new place for women to live out their days of service. This was an African-American congregation that allowed women to serve the young, the poor and the elderly, rather than simply wealthy white women.
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Like previous work by Huckaby, in this exhibition she prints photographs on fabrics. Her portraits of the sisters are filled with personality, each moment captured seems loaded with humanity and personal burden or levity. These portraits are then stitched into the fabric that serves as a canvas, sewn into the seams of wedding dresses or beddings, more ornate than the clothing worn by the sisters, yet somehow reflecting the reverence or the idealistic nature of their chosen lives.
The women sit in the same wooden chair, some facing the camera, others in profile, and when rendered on friendly, comfortable fabrics, their matronliness is familiar, cozy even. These aren't the Catholic nuns who smacked the back of your hands with a ruler, at least not anymore. They're the women who walk alongside their God, devoted, doting, patiently awaiting their chance to join him in heaven. These are the stories they inspire. The stories of grandmothers, memorialized in the quilts they made you.
The size of the works adds to the power created by the viewers' associations with the images and the personalities of the subjects. Some pieces are enormous and some quite small -- the art invites viewers into a warm, comfortable space filled with reverent beauty.
See Bayou Baroque through May 16. The gallery, 2271 Monitor St., is open 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. More at lilianablochgallery.com.