Ellen Siegel: Tell Me a Story

Ellen Siegel, Busted Barrel , 2022, Mixed media, 6" x 6" x 2"
January 21 - March 10, 2024

We all have stories, real and imagined, and many ways to share them. Our personal and collective stories unite us and highlight our differences; they are an essential part of what makes us human. Although storytelling predates writing as a primary means of sharing knowledge and beliefs, it has evolved to encompass the written word as well as images, music, and theater.  

Objects also carry stories, which is part of their attraction for Ellen Siegel. As an assemblage artist, she collects everyday objects and debris from her own life and uses these “non-art” materials to make art. Siegel takes seemingly mundane elements like figurines, fabric scraps, vintage advertising, toys, sequins, buttons, and a myriad of other small objects and combines them in unexpected and even humorous ways. Knowing that the objects she finds are already embedded with their own histories and identities, she sets each little “stage” as a silent tableau with its own story to tell.

We may recognize the iconic Dutch Girl figurine, but when Siegel places her under a glass bell jar next to a seemingly giant parrot, we begin to imagine their conversation and the story it suggests. Siegel’s other assemblages are full of similarly provocative juxtapositions and open-ended questions. While some of her content explores ideas and archetypes that interest her—domesticity and female empowerment, challenging the patriarchy, the “Me Too” movement, folk art, pigs, cherubs, and cowboys to name a few—most of the works remain open to the interpretation of the viewers, who are free to invent their own stories. 

Believing that storytelling is a conversation between individuals, Siegel invites the viewer to imagine—along with her—the possible stories these assemblages can tell. Like countless parents around the world, Siegel has often heard the universal and timeless request, “Tell me a story” from her children and grandchildren. This exhibition offers her response.

 Mary Birmingham 

Ellen Siegel, Busted Barrel , 2022, Mixed media, 6" x 6" x 2"

Artist Statement

Story telling is as old as time.
It is a vehicle to pass on history, share experience, and connect.
No two people interact with a story in the same way.
Story telling is a conversation.

I am always collecting and sorting things I find.
These objects, scraps and debris have their own stories.
I may not know their stories, but they capture and inspire me.
Like all children, arranging them in new ways is play.

I tell only one part of a story.
Is it the beginning, middle or end?
There is no wrong answer.
It is a jumping off point.
It is an invitation to create a fuller story.

Ellen Siegel

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In addition to inspiring people with our classes, we spark imaginations with world-class art installed on our terrace and in our galleries. We maintain the beautiful stone mill that deepens your ties with the past and provide a gathering place for your family and friends on the Toshiko Takaezu Terrace. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation so that we may continue educating, challenging, and inspiring community through the arts.

The Hunterdon Art Museum is barrier-free and accessible to people who use wheelchairs. Patrons who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired may contact the Museum through the New Jersey Relay Service at (TTY) 1 (800) 852-7899. Visit our Accessibility page for complete information.

Programs are made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; Hyde and Watson Foundation; The Large Foundation; and The Holt Foundation, along with other corporations, foundations, and individuals. 

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