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Spirits and Their Stories

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For the first time, on October 6, 2019, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art (LRMA) started displaying Deborah Masters’ “Spirits” exhibit. The exhibit brings the spiritual world to life by displaying Masters’ differing sized sculptures and paintings that represent special people in her life who have passed away. On November 16, 2019, the LRMA Curator, Christine Renc-Carter held a tour to share the stories behind the massive sculptures and Masters’ background. The tour began at the museum from 11:00 A.M.-12:00 P.M., followed by a small lunch break from 12:00 P.M.-12:30 P.M., and then continued at the Cycadia Cemetery until 3:00 P.M. where reenactors portrayed historical figures that were buried there.

The tour began with a short description of the artist’s background. Deborah Masters was born in Harrisburg, PA in 1951 but spent most of her childhood living in Mexico and New Mexico, where she was fully exposed to traditional Mexican art and Native American culture. Masters earned a BFA at Bryn Mawr College in 1973, and later moved to New York and attended Haverford College to continue her education in art history. In New York, Masters found a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she was given more motivation to pursue a career in art. Deborah Masters started to apply her studies to create a variety of artwork to connect real life with the spiritual life.

Masters has a collection of more than13 massive sculptures that hang from the ceiling, as well as over 50 smaller sculptures of animal and human spirits. The large sculptures are presented as huge heads, sometimes up to 5 feet in height, with their bodies covered in robe-like garments and a talisman hanging around their neck. Renc-Carter, the Curator, was explaining how the talismans represent the spirits’ identities. For example, in the exhibition, Masters’ good friend Erin, has a saw hanging around her neck to signify that she was a carpenter. This explanation finally answered the attendees’ questions as to why all the sculptures had different objects on their necks. A member of the audience pointed out that the “most interesting part of the tour was learning why each sculpture had a talisman around their neck”. Masters’ simplistic form of art portrays the sculptures in a straight-forward manner by summarizing their lives in talismans.

Along with the giant sculptures, there are smaller sculptures that look like they could be decorations in a house. The smaller sculptures were described mainly as a memory and celebration of animals that Masters had known throughout her life. These smaller sculptures wore robe-like clothing but contained no talismans around their neck. The heads are painted in differing colors, unlike the bigger counterparts which only use the color gray for the heads. They also have variation in the colors of the robes. These adorable sculptures are an essential piece to Masters’ collection.

The painted crosses were slightly different from Masters’ other pieces of art. The crosses are painted usually in bright colors such as light green, yellow, red, etc. The crosses were painted as a way for the artist to create a memory for events that had a special meaning to her. Renc-Carter spoke about a significant cross that displayed waves that carried people. She explained that Masters had painted this cross to represent the Thailand Tsunami, which was a huge devastation for Thailand. There are several more crosses, each with their own unique colors and art to represent a story or event in time.

Once audience got an opportunity to learn about the stories behind spiritual artwork, they were given the chance to be fully immersed in it. Following the lunch break, the tour continued in the Cycadia Cemetery, where reenactors would reconnect the crowd with historical figures that were buried at the cemetery. This part of the event seemed to be the most exciting part for the attendees. The actors were able to add a level of interaction to the stories, which combines information with entertainment, creating a fun environment for the attendees to further immerse themselves in the spiritual world.

Overall the tour was a very entertaining and informative experience. The Curator did a great job with explaining the stories and describing details that otherwise would go unnoticed. One attendee, when asked about their favorite part of the tour, responded with “I enjoyed the interactive element of the cemetery, and I also really liked how Masters’ art was so simple, yet was able to tell a meaningful story.” The event was a great learning experience and an overall success.

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