Wilson’s artwork details the passage of the pandemic
The summer exhibition “Passages” was titled, literally, to refer to the island of Conanicut as it divides the Atlantic Ocean into two channels of Narragansett Bay.
Metaphorically, “Passages” refers to the city of Jamestown as it evolved from native farmers to European settlers to colonial ranchers to wealthy vacationers to contemporary families.
As envisioned by local artist Amelia Wilson, her installation for the Jamestown Arts Center’s second biennial Outdoor Arts Experience reflects the metaphorical reference as it evolves through the coronavirus pandemic. According to its artist’s statement, the two-structure interactive installation “pays homage to the natural beauty of Jamestown while subtly encouraging visitors to reflect on how the past two years have changed the way we live.” It’s also a depiction of how I searched for peace during lockdown, escaping to feel-good movies, then swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction to disconnect, switch off, and step into the nature. All the while, gathering inspiration and using the uninterrupted time of lockdown to put my heart into my artwork.
‘Look Outs and Letters’ was installed at Godena Farm as part of the center’s exhibit which features 13 installations at 13 publicly accessible sites on Conanicut Island.
Until October, these installations will populate the landmarks of Jamestown, and while there is a map that identifies these sites, other people have embarked on an artistic scavenger hunt. Visiting each facility is like a plot study in the complexity of the 35 square mile island.
Back to childhood
One such point of interest is the 26-acre farm that sprawls across North Main Road, which serves as Wilson’s temporary work residence. The whimsical structures incorporate the natural beauty of Jamestown, but also show how much the past two years have impacted his life. Seeking peace during lockdown, Wilson found herself in the dichotomous position of reveling in comfort watching movies while yearning to return to nature after the screen.
“Look Outs and Letters” includes “Look Out” at the farm entrance and a “Letter Station” near the Pollinator Garden.
“The theme was ‘Passages’ and I love that because it can mean so many different things to different artists,” she said. “I think these stalls are a passage into a quiet space filled with objects that take you back to childhood in Jamestown. It almost feels like a movie set. I want it to be a passage into nostalgia, and happy memories .
Both pieces feature a mix of vintage items interspersed with hand-painted Wilson objects. They’re meant to be a fun window into the island community past and present, and it was inspired by childhood nostalgia.
“The objects in the structures are a mix of vintage and found objects,” she said. “Some I found at my house, or at my dad’s, on the beach, or vintage pages on ETSY. Some of the things I did. The childish drawings, I took photos for postcards, the felt streamers, the graphics on some of the suitcase labels, other things were things I found at Savers and modified: painted picture frames, painted the chair red, painted the tapes.”
Wilson designed the cabins and his father built them at his grandmother’s home in Jamestown.
She then painted them there before moving the facilities to Godena Farm in June.
“Once they were installed, I decorated them,” she said. “It took about a week to complete all the decorations and details.”
A cinematic look
Along with childhood nostalgia, Wilson has used the movies she watched during the pandemic for inspiration, especially those shot in Rhode Island. This includes films written by the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby. The Providence natives were responsible for “There’s Something About Mary”, “Dumb and Dumber” and “Me, Myself & Irene”, which has scenes filmed in Jamestown.
The one place that stands out for Wilson, however, is Fort Wetherill, the dream location that served as the location of Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” where Wilson originally envisioned placing his artwork. This proved too difficult, however, due to the risk of vandalism, particularly graffiti, which resulted in the fortuitous decision to transport them to Godena Farm.
“I originally wanted them in Fort Wetherill because it’s the location of one of my favorite movies, and both rooms fit the theme of that movie and that particular site,” he said. she stated. “But we were concerned about vandalism as Fort Wetherill is a popular place for graffiti. Thus, they were designated to Godena Farm. Now that they’re here, I love this place. It’s so quiet and peaceful, and the red of the cabins really pops in all the vegetation. I think it’s good that a lot of walkers visit Godena, be curious about what’s inside the stalls and enjoy a beautiful piece of art on their walk.
Full of contrasts and complementary colors with desert and tropical elements encompassed in a mix of media, the artistic cabins also evolve, including a functional bulletin board and a specially designed external mailbox where more messages can be dropped off. Part of the experience is discovering the secret elements that give “Look Outs and Letters” internal life, including a vintage desk with writing supplies hidden away for people to leave new messages.
“I hope it brings a sense of happiness and reminds visitors of simpler times,” Wilson said. “There is an interactive message board where visitors can leave notes, and every time I check it there are positive messages expressing how much they love Jamestown, love the art, love Godena Farm, and that makes me always happy because I share the same feeling. I hope others will feel what I feel when I read the bulletin board. I also want it to feel cozy and familiar since all the pictures are from Jamestown, the designs are Jamestown inspired, and a lot of the found objects are from Jamestown.
Wilson, a Prescott College graduate with a major in environmental science and a minor in visual arts, hails from a “very small country town in Massachusetts.” She moved to Jamestown in 2004 and can be seen working in her family business, Grapes & Gourmet, in East Ferry Wharf.
“I just remember how special I found Jamestown,” she said. “The people were different, the views were amazing. This island was so exciting to me, and I still feel the same way. I feel so in love with this island as when we first moved here.
Along with “Look Outs and Letters”, Wilson painted an exterior mural at the arts center as part of the “Rising Tide” exhibit.