Visual commemorations: New McDaniel exhibit inspired by funerary customs

Amy Boone-McCreesh talks about her art during her opening at Rice Gallery at McDaniel College in Westminster Tuesday.
Amy Boone-McCreesh talks about her art during her opening at Rice Gallery at McDaniel College in Westminster Tuesday. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

When loved ones gather to mourn loved ones in the United States, they arrive dressed in black for what are, typically, somber, dark affairs.

The sad occasions are brightened up with flowers and wreaths that serve as a tribute to the deceased.

Those colors and traditions fascinate artist Amy Boone-McCreesh. She is inspired by the bright colors and shapes associated with funerary and celebratory customs from all over the world.

Boone-McCreesh's sculptures are featured in "Ornate Organics," the latest gallery exhibit at McDaniel College's Rice Gallery. Her sculptures feature nearly every color in the rainbow. Some are bright pink, others an understated teal and green.

Boone-McCreesh is influenced by traditional ceremonies in other cultures, ones that tend to be more vibrant, including the colorful marigolds and sugar skulls that are part of Mexico's Day of the Dead. A trip to Versailles in France also intrigued her.

"It's so over-the-top and decorative and ornate, which I love," she said of Versailles.

She also draws from the Chinese New Year. Some of her sculptures seem to have characteristics inspired by Lion Dancers used in Chinese New Year celebrations.

"I feel like human beings have this ornate desire to commemorate things visually," Boone-McCreesh said. "If you think about birthday parties, there are always decorations. At Christmas, you have decorations. There is something sincere about non-art people making something they think is beautiful."

When Boone-McCreesh studied fine arts at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, she started as a painter who dabbled in three-dimensional works.

Eventually, she felt compelled to take on mixed media instead. She still draws, but her sculptures are her main focus when she's not teaching at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and at Howard Community College in Columbia.

Boone-McCreesh is a Hamiltonian Artist. The Washington-based organization offers fellowships for young artists who have not been represented by a gallery, said Steven Pearson, an associate professor of art and art history at McDaniel College. The fellowship prepares artists for their future outside of graduate school.

Boone-McCreesh draws in her spare time, as she continues to focus somewhat in the two-dimensional. But at her studio, she works mostly on her sculptures created largely with fabric second-hand or reused objects.

As it turns out, she is giving to new life to materials used for sculptures inspired, in part, by funerary customs from outside the United States.

"The United States is very much a melting pot of all these other cultures," she said, "and yet, I feel like we don't have a lot that's culturally sacred. ... I'm almost jealous of these cultures and these tribes and these places that have this culture that is sacred and are visually beautiful."