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Inner Worlds

Art and Artists
 Arthur Dove
 Anthony Green
 Richard Hunt
 Cheryl Laemmle
 Betye Saar
 Kay Sage
 Yves Tanguy
 Jane Tuckerman

What is Art? Environment Identity Designing Spaces and Places
Cheryl Laemmle
Cheryl Laemmle, The Outsiders Click to larger image
Cheryl Laemmle
The Outsiders, 1984
oil on canvas
84 x 72 in.
Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation

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Laura, New York Mills H.S.


About the Art

Cheryl Laemmle's art relies on memory, childhood recollections and fairy tales as inspiration for its dream like imagery and melancholy moods. Her paintings often include faceless figures, allegorical animals, still lifes and landscapes. Laemmle describes her work as symbolist because she uses images to tell the story of her childhood and its impact on her life as an adult.

One of Cheryl Laemmle's most successful series is called the "birch-bark" paintings. The series began in the early 1980s during a three-month stay in the Adirondack Mountains, one of her first opportunities to return to the country after moving to New York. This visit reminded her of summers spent during her childhood with her grandparents in Ishpeming, Michigan, near Lake Superior.

The paintings in the birch-bark series almost always include a faceless figure made of the wood from a birch tree. The birch-bark figure represents a kind of self-portrait. The figure may also draw its origins from Laemmle's grandfather, who used to carve toys for her and her sister from the birch that grew in the forests around Ishpeming. The paintings have a feeling of nostalgia and perhaps sadness in remembering these days past. There are no features on the face of the figure, but the entire figure is scattered with knothole "eyes" that are natural characteristics of birch bark but also could symbolize inner sight.

In The Outsiders, the figure seems to be supported or maybe trapped between two oversized bird-like forms--perhaps a woodpecker and bluebird. Again a reference is made to Laemmle's grandfather's hobby of carving bird decoys. After the birch paintings, she began a new series of these faceless decoys, or "lures," as the artist calls them. The purpose of a decoy--to lure and trap live animals--leads to speculation their significance in Laemmle's art.

Another avenue of interpretation for these paintings, may be Cheryl Laemmle's strong concerns about the environment. The vast, empty landscape and the strange out-of-scale birdhouse, sitting on the rock, remind us of similar dreamlike spaces in the work of Yves Tanguy or Kay Sage, but here may also refer to the depletion of natural resources by earth's inhabitants.

Cheryl Laemmle's paintings, while carefully and clearly painted, remain mysterious. They tell a private story about Laemmle's life, memories, and struggles, while at the same time leading us to speculate about our own dreams, emotions, and memories.

Vocabulary Terms

allegorical--Having the quality of an image, mythical figure, or story that refers to something else entirely--usually large concepts such as good and evil or the human condition.

symbolism--The practice of using something, usually an object or sign, to represent something else, usually intangible, such as an idea or concept.

symbolist --An artist uses symbolism in their work.

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Inner Worlds | What Is Art? | Environment | Designing Spaces and Places | Identity
About the Art | About the Artist| Discussion Questions/Activities| Teacher Lessons