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.