"Meadow" by Bonnie Hull. (Courtesy/Hallie Ford Museum)
Bonnie Hull is constantly drawing. The Salem artist prefers focusing her attention on a sketchbook or two she keeps in her purse rather than watching TV or sitting idly with friends.
Hull will peruse her drawing books and find an idea that appeals to her in a particular moment.
In the spring, she began making drawings that she would later call the “Corona Series” – 18-by-24-inch drawings hung in a grid with a red circle representing the virus.
It’s part of her latest exhibit at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, which is reopening after a five-month closure on Thursday, Aug. 20. The museum is opening with modified hours, social distancing and a mask requirement.
“I firmly believe art saves lives,” Hull said. “I think it’s a key element in a way of thinking about the world and everything in it.”
In the exhibit, titled “Memory as Myth,” Hull said she started with a poem she wrote that referenced childhood memories growing up in Illinois and used that to inform the art pieces featured in the show.
One of the pieces, called Pop’s Floor, evokes a vivid memory of sitting on her grandfather’s linoleum floor and looking at National Geographic magazines. The smoke made an indentation in the linoleum and when creating the piece, Hull researched linoleum patterns and tacked prints on the wall.
“All of that kind of went out the window because of some random thing I saw,” she said. “This random thing I saw that had nothing to do with my memory embodied the feeling of what it was like for me without being the literal translation of linoleum.”
The resulting painting has a yellow background with black circles and gray stripes that run across the bottom.
Many of her pieces are abstract acrylic paintings, but some of her fiber and wax art will be on display as well.
Narrative is important to Hull’s work and the other pieces in the show reference other memories, like learning to swim or making snow forts.
“I like the notion of using the memories of things that are in our minds,” she said. “As an artist they’re pretty visual as a starting place for making new work.”
In Hallie Ford’s artist summary, Hull said the art transforms a mundane memory into something that represents the memory but is not the memory itself.
“It is this process that has become powerful and electric. To look at a painting, a quilt, a drawing and to understand where it came from but to see a different story emerging . . . this becomes the goal in the making process for me,” the summary reads.
Hull, 76, moved to Salem fifty years ago, hauling a VW Bug behind a U-Haul on a drive from Chicago after her husband, Roger Hull, got a job at Willamette University.
After living in London for a year, they decided they wanted to own a historic home.
When they moved back to Salem, they found a historic home on Court Street. Hull started researching the history of land development in the neighborhood from the time of settlement and discovered her house was much older than she initially thought – built in the 1860s.
After three years of research, Hull was able to get the Court-Chemeketa Residential Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Hull worked at the Willamette University Library and Salem Public Library and established and co-owned the now shuttered Arbor Café.
Throughout her time in Salem she’s created art, whether through drawing, painting, wax or quilting. Her first solo exhibit was at Willamette University in 1976.
She hopes visitors to the museum can see pieces that they can relate to in her latest work, which will run until Oct. 17.
“I’d like them to think of the work as interesting, attractive and that all the different things that are going on relate to one another,” Hull said.
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