SUNY Cobleskill Grosvenor Art Gallery’s year of firsts continued Thursday, with the opening of Kristen DeFontes’ exhibit “After the Storm.” The exhibition features
mixed media assemblage and prints inspired by the rebuild efforts of those in the local community, including the artist, following Hurricane Irene in 2011. “After the Storm” is the first exhibit on display in Grosvenor Art Gallery created by an outside public artist (not a member of the immediate campus community). The Gallery previously hosted a Faculty Biennial Art Show and 2019 Graphic Design Senior Show.
Utilizing raw materials collected from her family home, which suffered major damage in Hurricane Irene, the Schoharie-based DeFontes creates with natural elements such as wood, charcoal, copper, steel, and sand. Her pieces “Vestige” (2015), “Harvest” (2015), and “Fountainhead” (2015) blend rope, bronze, and stone into their wood foundations. “Storm Window” (2016) and “Storm Window no. 2” (2018) maintain their frames and paned glass, and are layered with nails and wood.
DeFontes identifies the theme of community togetherness as central to both the pieces in the exhibit, as well as the thought process she harbored in creating them. “Storm Window was a catharsis,” says DeFontes. “I harvested all the wood. I hammered every nail. I was renovating as I made the art.”
Much of the wood that has transitioned from family home to now on display dates to the 1850s and 60s. For more than 150 years, it maintained a singular, structural purpose. As she sifted through debris in Irene’s wake, DeFontes says she balanced notions of “rebuilding while building” and “focusing on a rebuild while feeling compelled to do my work.” It is a sensation she – and many touring the exhibit’s opening – shared in 2011 and again on this evening eight years later.
“Wood for me is a very humanlike material; I feel a connection to the material. In Upstate New York it is in abundance. What we do with it, and what I am doing with it is [shared]. Someone hammered this nail in 1860, and now I’m rehammering it.”
The devastation of the storm, and the will to rebuild after the storm, is unifying today for members of our community. Bonding around a common recovery comes to light in DeFontes’ art. The community has not arrived quickly to this point.
“In the moment it was about survival. This was not a time to [immediately] decompress,” says Defontes. I talked to my neighbor [recently] and we realized we had never really talked about the storm.” In Grosvenor Art Gallery until Decemeber, “After the Storm” aims to bring out the dialogue that rebuilding has long-eclipsed.