Artist Portfolio Magazine’s 20 Art Competition
Claudia Wilburn is a mixed-media artist currently living in Northeastern Georgia and teaching as an Associate Professor at Brenau University where she is the Department Chair for Art & Design and Program Director of Studio Art. She received her Masters of Fine Art from the University of South Carolina and her BFA from Clemson University. She grew up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and has lived throughout the South. Her work draws on the connections, paths, family and community present in the Southeastern American experience. Her academic research has been presented internationally and her work has been exhibited all over the US.
Much of my art is autobiographical; I often draw on my life experiences, emotional journeys, and memorabilia. For the body of work, Navigate by Reckoning, I am drawing on another element: oral histories.
The first three pieces are approximately 36” x 48” mixed-media pieces including: digital prints, found objects, acrylic paint, relief printing and encaustic transfers. These pieces tell the story of my grandparents. I knew each of them personally, but over the years since their passing, their history has become an oral one, one which my family tells at gatherings and other social occasions. Some of these stories are simple, some dramatic and some complicated, but all are interwoven in my memory with the complex evolving tales told around the family table. These pieces serve as a material translation of these histories and use
ephemeral source material to bring the transitory biography passed back and forth between family members
into a fixed pictorial realm.
Eight years ago I became very interested in my family history and began to research the branches of my family tree from the present to the Revolutionary War and back to the Old World. I have researched and found photographic portraits of my great-grandparents and I am in the process of developing nine prints using these portraits as references. These pieces begin as blackline woodblock prints, which are then impressioned onto different types of paper and collaged back together into a unified image on a panel.
A few of the source photos for these pieces have been damaged or lack specific details; when this happens
I have used secondary, period-correct, source images and artifacts to help realize the image. One example of this is in the piece “Ethel Almond Roberts (Wilburn), 1894-1932.” The portrait of her has a soft focus, and the details of the Victorian Mourning Garments with their black, velvety texture are unclear. To assist me with filling in the surface and pattern of the clothing, I used similar garments from an appropriate time period and with a similar style from the Brenau University Historic Clothing Collection as a model for the missing details of the dress.
As the generations progress back in history, hard sources will fall by the wayside, and I will have to pull more of the people and situations represented from the shadowy past based on the available sources. These source may include historic clothing collection, cultural ideas, records and archived materials. The facts on the census ledger may tell of the the individual, but the stories and legends contained in a spoken narrative tell about the person. In this way, with a combination of facts and shared general histories the
subject no longer belongs simply to me or my family. Rather, they become a touchstone that can be a part of everyone’s story. My hope is that when viewing these artworks of my ancestors you are reminded of your own historical connection to your forebears and the stories shared that connect us all.