AAM Announces Solo Exhibition, “Heirlooms”

The Academy Art Museum is pleased to announce HEIRLOOMS, a solo exhibition by artist Darlene R. Taylor. An artist talk and reception for Taylor will be held on Friday, April 5 at 6 pm. Taylor is a multidisciplinary artist based in Washington, DC and the Maryland Eastern Shore. Her work explores identity, race, kinship, place, and the journey from girlhood to womanhood. Remembering and reclaiming a record of Black survival are at the center of her practice.

“The Storyteller,” by Darlene Taylor

In HEIRLOOMS, Darlene R. Taylor (b. 1960) affirms the resonance of memory in material culture as she imagines portraits of Black women obscured in historical archives. History is a muse that guides Taylor to know the past from the women who lived it. HEIRLOOMS examines the presence of Black women in Maryland’s Talbot County communities and Taylor’s own ancestry and follows the artist’s experience researching and interpreting photographs found in archives and family albums. Taylor employs mixed-media collage using vintage linens, laces, cottons, and buttons collected and handed down from mother to daughter, friend to friend.

Taylor states, “I’ve been using antique textiles for some time, many of which I found in antique stores locally in Maryland. But the works in HEIRLOOMS have an even more resonant history. I had been thinking about the way the handkerchief holds so many emotions and experiences—sweat and tears, joy and sadness. When I shared that thought with my friend circle, they responded by giving me handkerchiefs and linens passed down through their own families. In this way, my work is becoming its own archive of Black women’s lives. The cloth holds memory, and when it is given to me, I am connected to an ancestor through that exchange.”

Her use of women’s personal effects also draws inspiration in part from artifacts unearthed during two excavations commissioned by the Museum at the former home of Henny and James Freeman, one of the earliest- documented free Black landowning families who lived on the Hill Community site from 1787-1828. This site was gifted to AAM in 2023, and the Museum has plans to rehabilitate the existing structure on the site and connect it to new construction of an annex that will provide needed administrative space, as well as commemorate the historical significance of Easton’s Hill Community. Part of the annex will be named The Henny and James Freeman Wing and showcase the objects unearthed from the excavations in outdoor displays that tell the story of the family and neighborhood. Of the more than 6,000 historical artifacts unearthed, the most remarkable finds were personal items including buttons, jewelry, children’s toys, a woman’s shoe buckle, and a hair comb. These unique objects offer a rare connection to Black domestic life in the eighteenth century— particularly the lives of Black women and children, whose stories were frequently lost to history.

The works on paper on view in HEIRLOOMS engage mid-19th century forms, including silhouette, dressmaking, and quilting. Weaving the language of prose and poetry in the collages, Taylor inscribes public records with reimaginings that reveal the interior longings of generations of Black women, terrain so often distorted or absent in archives. This hybrid form of history-mapping in poetic verse and fabrics once held by ancestors assembles an archive that remembers untold stories so that more can be known of what Taylor refers to as “the love, labor, and thriving of Black life and family.”

“In trying to imagine these lives, I am always asking what is behind each woman’s gaze. Much of my work is based on photographs of women I find in historic archives. Even though we can see their faces, we often know more about the objects pictured in the room than we do about the women. So I try to stand with each woman, to look at what she is looking at. I’m not staring at her; I’m seeing the world as she sees it and observing those elements that make up her world,” notes Taylor.

“Taylor’s HEIRLOOMS stitches together the forgotten stories of Black women, weaving memory and material into a vibrant tapestry of resilience and remembrance. We are thrilled to showcase Taylor’s beautiful works on paper and to amplify voices that have historically been silenced,” adds Interim Director Jennifer Chrzanowski.

A handmade paperback book HEIRLOOMS is available for purchase in AAM’s Museum Shop as well as a limited-edition fine art print of the image The Storyteller with an excerpt of the poem Porch Telling written by Darlene R. Taylor.

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