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Local artist debuts 'Portable Shelter' exhibit at Aylward Gallery, inspired by physical impact, moving

visitors observe art at Erica Hess gallery at UWO Fox Cities
Posted at 11:16 AM, Jul 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-01 12:16:04-04

MENASHA (NBC 26) — Erica Hess is an artist making a big debut.

For 20 years, she lived in Madison, until she made the move to Appleton. Unfortunately for her, that move came just ahead of the pandemic.

She found herself uprooted and struggling to set down new roots in her new city. But that uncomfortable feeling turned out to be a great inspiration to her.

"I know everybody makes art for different reasons, but for me, it's a way to figure out what is true for me and to think about certain ideas," Hess said.

Hess started work on new pieces and found that she had older ones that matched, thematically. The concept that tied them all together was moving.

"A lot of my work, and even my graduate work, had to do with moving blankets, that sort of thing. And so, I think it's just a way to process the last few years of living and being somewhat transient," Hess said.

Erica Hess sets up gallery
Erica Hess unpacks pieces for her Portable Shelter gallery.

Another big inspiration for her collection: trim.

"My ex-husband was a carpenter. And there was a period where... we were working on our house, and he was showing me, you know, how you would turn out a window or you would put baseboard up. And I remember asking him, you know, 'I see what's happening. You're just putting trim on top of your mistakes,' and he was sort of offended by that. And it was a bit of a running joke for a while, but I've always kind of been interested in that idea," Hess said.

Her new exhibit, titled "Portable Shelter" opened Friday night at 5 p.m. at the Aylward Gallery on UWO Fox Cities' campus.

portable shelter exhibit window
Visitors of Aylward Gallery at UWO Fox Cities campus gather for the opening night of Erica Hess's Portable Shelter exhibit.

She said the impact of her debut is more than just an emotional one.

"My favorite part of being in a gallery is experiencing work in relation to my body. So, that's why I think I like working really large — relatively large — because you're experiencing it sort of physically, you know," Hess said.

"I'm not looking at a picture and imagining what it's like to be something, I'm actually walking up to an object; that feels like a true experience to me, physically. I hope people feel something like that, like a bodily experience," said Hess.

She also said she knows that not every visitor will see her work the way she does. And she said that's alright.

“I think it's OK to not understand it," Hess said. "Someone doesn't need to know that this is about trim. They're gonna walk in and they're gonna, maybe they'll see something else."

Many people showed up at the grand opening to support Hess and interact with her gallery.

“It is definitely new work, work that I haven't seen really represented in this area. And what I love is that she uses everyday materials that we just have around us and kind of gives new life to them. So, it's kind of a breath of fresh air," said Elyse Mische.

Portable Shelter will be open for visitors through August 25. For more information, you can visit the Aylward Gallery website.