'Hauling' together at the Currier: Artist, team creating immersive display honoring hand work

New Hampshire Union Leader
August 31. 2018 9:14PM
Jamal Thorne, helping artist Ethan Murrow on his immersive drawing installation at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, uses markers to shade a tracing of the photo at his right that has been projected onto the wall. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
If you go...
WHAT: The exhibition "Ethan Murrow: Hauling" opens Sept. 15 and will be on display into next spring.

WHERE: Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester

NOTABLE: Museum visitors can see the artists at work every day through Sept. 14, except Sept. 8. Murrow will meet guests at an after-hours reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, with paid admission.

MUSEUM ADMISSION: $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $10 for students, $5 for children age 13-17 and includes the exhibition.

HOURS: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesday.

MANCHESTER -- Ethan Murrow is relying on many hands -- and 900 Sharpie markers -- to help capture Manchester's history and explore the theme of work done with one's hands.

He and his artistic co-conspirators are using 15-foot-tall walls inside the Currier Museum of Art as their canvas.

The art installation, titled "Ethan Murrow: Hauling," also includes a 52-foot rotating scroll and two separate pencil and paper drawings completed beforehand.

Murrow, a Boston-area artist, spent more than two years on the project, including hiring actors to stage scenes that were photographed and later incorporated into the final drawings.

The project is "very much about handwork and what we can do with our hands," Murrow said during a break last week at the Currier.

The wall drawings depict groups of people working together to push, pull and haul large accumulations of objects that are symbols of human labor, including wagon wheels, century-old medical equipment and Native American fishing nets.

The museum's CEO and director, Alan Chong, said the project has a rich sense of dialogue with the community.

"I don't believe that the Currier Museum should really be just taking finished works of art from the international circuit and plopping them down," Chong said while several artists worked on the mural nearby. "There are plenty of museums that do that very, very well, and we need to become more embedded in our community. We need to respond to what's happening around us."

Since Aug. 26, museum patrons could observe Murrow and some of his six assistants tracing and shading the drawings, which were initially created digitally and then projected on to the walls.

The artists will be at work every day through Sept. 14, except Sept. 8.

The exhibit officially opens Sept. 15 with a closing date expected in spring 2019.

The rotating 52-foot scroll made out of Tyvek, a synthetic protective barrier used on houses, contains drawings of "jumbled and knotted rope," said Murrow, who produced the scroll with an assistant.

"I couldn't help but think, 'What are the primary tools, what are the things most of us have in our homes and most of us use and our grandparents and great-grandparents used?'" said the 42-year-old artist.
Artist Ethan Murrow is the creative engine driving the new installation underway at the Currier. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Rope seemed like one of those essential tools, he said.

"Some of it is about this presence of handwork and craft in our lives," Murrow said. "There's an inescapable need for all of us to have skills in order to have jobs."

The installation also includes two 4-foot-square pencil-on-paper drawings drawn by Murrow, including one that has three women maneuvering oversized punch cards used for automated looms to program a pattern for weaving.

Murrow "plays to scale a lot" and sometimes likes to exaggerate images, said Assistant Curator Sam Cataldo, who worked with Murrow on the exhibition.

John Clayton, executive director of the Manchester Historic Association and the Millyard Museum, stopped by the exhibition last week.

"It was more than a year ago that the artist was able to visit the Millyard Museum and pretty much immerse himself in Manchester's manufacturing history, and clearly, that provided a lot of inspiration," Clayton said.

"There's a sweeping quality to his work and he celebrates the many products that came out of this city - textiles, shoes, rifles, steam locomotives - as well as the tools used in the manufacturing of these products," he said.

Clayton noted the exhibit's fleeting nature.

"He does a lot with perspectives and proportions that bring a playfulness to the entire room, and the notion that the wall murals will be painted over when the exhibit ends in May is very intriguing. I can liken that to the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company," Clayton said. "It was here one day and then it wasn't, but in the same way that vestiges of Amoskeag will always be with us, so will Ethan's murals be at the Currier. They'll just be beneath a coat of paint," he said.

Nick Papa of Manchester, one of the artist assistants, said the biggest difficulties in working for days at a time on the wall drawings were a contorted body and a testing of his patience.

"I think personally it's patience, but it's also the most rewarding part, watching something slowly getting revealed in front of you," he said.

Papa, 22, actually took drawing classes at the Currier about a decade ago, but didn't think he would one day be contributing art there.

"How could I have imagined that?"

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