Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Artists find art in tragedies

The two great natural disasters of 2005 that sent the people of two nations reeling are the focus of a compelling exhibit in downtown Toledo's newest art gallery.

"Reaction & Response" is the first exhibit at the Leslie Adams Gallery, a big, open space with exposed, 19th-century brick walls and a wooden floor, located at one end of South St. Clair Street.

Perrysburg photographer William Jordan took 10,000 photos in Pakistan during three weeks in the aftermath of the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed an estimated 86,000 people and left another 3.5 million without shelter. The 20 prints he's selected, shot with a Canon 35 millimeter digital camera, are 24-by-30-inches and in simple black frames.

Many were shot in dark 12-by-12-foot tents, where refugee-camp children are schooled. Jordan huddled quietly in tents for a few days, not shooting much until children grew accustomed to his presence. In close quarters with coughing, sneezing kids, Jordon got amoebic dysentery, which left him weak, 30 pounds lighter, and even more sympathetic to his subjects.

In one photo, a teacher holds a crying child; her brow is knit, her dark eyes intense above the veil she lifts across her face. Her school was flattened, said Jordan. "For a photographer to have access to women in that culture is tricky. Dosti allowed that to happen," he said, referring to the Dosti Foundation, which builds schools for poor children in Pakistan. Jordan accompanied Dr. Munir Ahmad, a Toledo physician originally from Pakistan who founded the charity.

In one photo, two widowers stand behind their combined six young children. With neither money nor jobs, they have scant prospect of re-marriage, so they're likely to move near extended family where female relatives will care for the children, Jordan said. "The earthquake is one trauma. And realizing you have to take care of these kids is another," said Jordan, a freelance photographer and stay-at-home father to children ages 4, 10, and 12.

"I would like people to recognize a little bit of themselves in the images, and how this ties into the New Orleans experience," he said. "How vulnerable and fragile our existence is. And how blessed we are to live in a first-world country."

Throughout the gallery are 13 white pedestals, each promoting a delicate, silvery sculpture on stilts. They are houses in disarray - blown apart, flooded, sinking. A week after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, Ken Thompson made them and a dozen more. It was sheer inspiration, fueled by infuriation.

"I got up that morning and I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it," said Thompson, owner of Flatlanders Gallery in Blissfield, Mich. "My displeasure with the government and the way they handled it had been growing. Where was FEMA? Where was the money? I was perturbed and I don't even live there."

He fashioned little houses and set them on slabs of "earth" made from Styrofoam. He added texture with tape and dipped bamboo skewers (the stilts) in hot wax to get a drippy edge.

Then he mixed silica slurry and dipped each piece in it, followed by a dusting with super-fine sand, and let it dry. He repeated the process nine times, dusting with coarser grades of sand each time. When a half-inch-thick coating had accrued, he set the items in a 1,450-degree furnace, which disintegrated interior material. "It vitrifies the shells and you have an empty mold."

Later, the molds were reheated until they glowed orange, and then 1,000-degree molten aluminum was poured in. As it cooled and shrunk, it made a "ping" sound, and finally, the mold was removed and the skinny 18-inch legs were attached.

"By the end of the week, we had them all in metal," said Thompson.

It's an unusual project for Thompson, president of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies and best known for large, rocky sculptures that can weigh up to 45,000 pounds. He made Peace Arch in downtown Toledo in honor of veterans of the Vietnam War.

Individual pieces from his Lightweight Dwellings for the New Era sell for $450 each. Jordan's framed photos sell for about $850.

The show opens Friday night with an invitation-only preview from 6 to 10 p.m.

"Reaction & Response" is at the Leslie Adams Gallery, One South St. Clair St., Suite 1A, Jan. 29 through Feb. 19. It's open Tuesdays through Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. Information: 419-255-4321 or

Contact Tahree Lane at:

or 419-724-6075.

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