Bonnie Hull’s ‘Little Me’: Memories of a life

A sympathetic curator helps connect the dots for the Salem artist's Minthorne Gallery show in Newberg

Not to be hyperbolic about it, but my first impression stepping into the Roger and Mildred Minthorne Gallery at George Fox University in Newberg was one of visual perfection.

Occasionally, one walks into a show where a cavernous space swallows up everything — installed, perhaps, by a curator who wants the pieces to “breathe.” The other end of the spectrum, of course, is to cram too much in.

But with Salem artist Bonnie Hull’s Little Me exhibit, showcased in the Minthorne through July 19, one finds a happy balance. The show comprises about two dozen pieces, mostly paintings and a couple of quilts, which fill the small cube-shaped room, with neither dominating the other. Outside, through floor-to-ceiling windows, you see the greenery of the 134-year-old campus. Perfection.

The Minthorne Gallery strikes a happy balance between space and content in its exhibition of Bonnie Hull’s work.  Photo by: David Bates
The Minthorne Gallery strikes a happy balance between space and content in its exhibition of Bonnie Hull’s work. Photo by: David Bates

Hull is well-known in Oregon artistic circles. A painter, preservationist, gardener and quilter, Hull, with her husband, Roger, is affiliated with Willamette University in Salem. A list of her shows fills several pages of single-spaced type. A few recent, local highlights: In 2010 and again in 2017, Hull was artist-in-residence at Bush Barn Art Center in Salem. This is her second Minthorne show; in 2015, she and fellow Salem artist Kay Worthington showcased quilts here.

We’ll get to the circumstances leading to her return in a moment. First, here’s Hull’s words on the show: 

“Memory and image define my work from the last two years,” she writes. “All the ingredients of the work I’ve been making all my life are here: narrative, pattern and texture, the drawn line. The addition of memory and the interpretation of memory in the process of imagining new work has made this an interesting period for the maker: me.”

"Suburban Girls" by Bonnie Hull (acrylic on paper). Photo by: David Bates
“Suburban Girls” by Bonnie Hull (acrylic on paper). Photo by: David Bates

“Childhood mixes with travel and pain and delight, everything filters through the interpretive process of making, certain moments are called forward while others shove back,” she continues in the exhibition notes. “This past year in the quiet of the studio, the memories and images have combined interestingly, reminding me that going your own way is always best.”

Absorbing it all takes a while, in part because of the so-called “satellite” pieces — smaller paintings mounted next to or even overlapping with a main piece. After perusing the collection, which includes a couple of interesting triptychs, I embarked on a kind of revisionism as I meandered back to each. One cannot possibly discern the content of a memory that gave rise to one of Hull’s images, but it’s possible to connect a few dots.

The gouache work Founding Fathers practically demands engagement with history and current events; it prominently features a quote from James Madison: “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” The juxtaposition of images hinting at a colonial America is followed by two Home Alone pieces, which include scenes of both domesticity and an African-American man with a blue handprint over his mouth.

The show came about as a result of a chance meeting Hull had in 2015 with a George Fox student, Sarah Cuevas, who also worked in fabric and was studying arts administration. Cuevas was working as a gallery assistant and got to know Hull during the installation of that show.

“Bonnie’s work, along with Kay’s, fascinated me,” Cuevas told me. “I was very unsure of myself as an artist and was still trying to find my voice, and their work calmed me when I needed to be put at ease.”

Bonnie Hull’s "Fort Bragg Trio" (acrylic on paper) consists of (from left): "The Tracks of My Tears," "Trickster Moon," and "Naked Ladies." Photo by: David Bates
Bonnie Hull’s “Fort Bragg Trio” (acrylic on paper) consists of (from left): “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Trickster Moon,” and “Naked Ladies.” Photo by: David Bates

Three years later, Cuevas was approaching graduation and faced a practicum requirement: curating a show. She and Hull had kept in touch via Instagram, so Cuevas asked her if she’d do a solo show at the Minthorne. Little Me, featuring Hull’s work almost entirely from the last year and a half, is the result.

The curation process began with Cuevas and Jennifer Salzman, the university’s director of exhibitions and collections, visiting Hull’s Salem studio. “It was such an exciting, happy visit,” Cuevas said. “She was playing with pattern and paper and pinning them to the walls. Each piece was inspired by something as intimate as a personal story or as simple as a found pattern of a flower. I could again see Bonnie’s careful — I would even say sacred — attention and care for the small and simple things in life that we often look past.”

She went on to explain how she selected and positioned the pieces.

“I wanted to invite the gallery to have a conversation with Bonnie’s quilted pieces and her paintings,” she said in an email exchange. “As all of the work showed up in the gallery, all spread out on the floor, I felt that the painted installation pieces needed to stare at each other. With their corresponding quilts caringly placed next to them, like a supportive friend, the opposing walls had such a quiet power to them. Bonnie’s use of a limited color palette amplified this even more. I feel as though her work sneaks up on you, in that it appears simple and straightforward, but underlying the limited color palette and wandering lines, she really makes you think and try to ‘connect the dots’ in a way.”

Salem artist Bonnie Hull (left) and Sarah Rosella Cuevas, a 2019 George Fox University graduate in arts administration, take a break during  installation of Hull's "Little Me" exhibit at the university, which was curated by Cuevas.  Photo courtesy: Bonnie Hull
Salem artist Bonnie Hull (left) and Sarah Cuevas, a 2019 George Fox University graduate in arts administration, take a break during installation of Hull’s “Little Me” exhibit, which was curated by Cuevas. Photo courtesy: Bonnie Hull

Cuevas grew up in a family where the women sewed, knitted, and quilted for pleasure. “Making things was a good and precious thing in my family,” she said. “Being familiar with the medium of fabric, I, for some reason, didn’t view it as an art form that I could pursue in my own practice until I saw Bonnie and Kay’s work.”

The public will have a chance to see Cuevas’ work this summer at the Blackfish Gallery in Portland. She and another student, Mick Hangland-Skill, will represent George Fox University at an exhibition featuring the work of recent graduates. That show will run July 2-Aug. 3. In the meantime, check out the delightful space of the Minthorne. The gallery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays in the Hoover Academic Building, and there is no admission fee.

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation.

One Response. Have your say.

  1. Corrie says:

    Cannot wait to see the work! Such a wonderful write up, great images
    Coxo

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