This past week, I met Rebecca Wolfram, a prolific painter and curator of the “The Museum of Objects Left on the Sidewalk.” Several of her paintings depict a variety of violence perpetrated by humans against one another and even against animals. I asked her about this choice to depict these activities. She told me this absolutely incredible story about the origin of her series “We Are Capable People,” that depicts the dark side of human activity. She told me: “ “One night, I was walking along and there were these two guys. One was down on the sidewalk and the other one was over him ready to smash him. They were fighting... And so, I kinda froze and I said something like: ‘Is everything okay?’ trying to intervene a little bit. The one who was ready to pop the other one, he turned to me, very savage, he looked very bestial and savage, almost drooling, and he says, ‘We are capable people here! We don’t need your help. We are capable people here.’ Okay...So I backed off. But I loved what he said. That’s what it means to me. We are capable people. Yeah, what are we capable of?” What an incredible story.
We also talked about her series of drawings and paintings of dead rats. She told me that “People really respond to them. Some people hate them.” The inspiration behind the series originated when she came across a dead rat in the snow, “almost iridescent cause it was rotting.” It struck her that this was a living creature so she drew a picture of it. “People treat this rat like it’s garbage. They don’t treat all animals like garbage. It’s certain rats, especially rats, are just treated like garbage. People hate rats. ‘Just kill them. Get rid of them.’ Disrespect them completely. Yet, it’s common knowledge that rats are very intelligent…” The distinction between rats and other reviled creatures and beloved creatures seems so arbitrary. When she sees a dead rat, she feels compelled doing a drawing of in her sketchbook. This remarkable series of painting and drawings is giving dignity to the animal and its death.
Inside her home, Rebecca Wolfram also showed me some incredible wooden sculptures that she built from found wood. One was human sized person that originated when she found a discarded accordion folder. Now it serves as the guts of this beautifully painted sculpture. The outside is painted like skin, while the inside shows the internal organs. She showed me a painted wooden dog on a skateboard that had began when she found a piece of wood that looked like a dog’s head. Very neat!
I asked about “The Museum of Objects Left on the Sidewalk.” The museum started in 2005 when she found some items to display. She found it irritating to see garbage just thrown on the street. She had the inspiration to put exhibits of the things found on the streets. She aptly said, “When you make something an exhibit, suddenly it takes on a quality of specialness.” She found some a headboard from a bed from the alley and put it on the fence and put exhibits up. She told me, “It was a big hit.” People in the neighborhood would contribute things; she made labels with her next door neighbor's’ kids. Over time, things began to decay. A few years ago, she and a neighbor built some solid shelves that are still there today.
Wolfram explained that the museum has become sort of a landmark in the neighborhood. She was surprised that everyone knew about the museum. Initially, she didn’t think of it as art project. She thought of it as “a museum, a community museum of stuff on the sidewalk.” Some of the more unusual things left included a dead lizard, a beautiful wooden box of sea shells and polished glass, and a shark made from hanger wire. Wolfram also talked about how proud people are about the things they contribute to the museum.A wooden plaque of a beautiful bird was one day left in the museum. Later, she got a visit from two ladies who wanted her to know that they had left it for the museum. People take a special pride in it.
At the end of my visit, I got a lovely guided tour of the Museum. She showed me a man’s grey/brown shoe that had been in the museum for awhile. Then it disappeared one day and then reappeared. There was a small drawing that she had done of the shoe above it. Two boots had dirt and plants growing out of them. The two Frida Kahlo paintings that had been placed there a week ago had disappeared since the morning. Alas. That’s how the museum goes. I decided that I had to contribute something to the Museum. I had a John Hancock Swizzle stick in my bag that I offered up as tribute to this wonderful museum.
Check out her work at her website: http://benigngirl.org/