One person’s trash is another’s treasure, and in the case of artists Sharon Bond Brown, one neighbor’s life proved to be an artistic gold mine.
In the late 1980’s Brown was living next to a married couple named Virginia and Ed. When Ed died and Virginia was taken to a nursing home, Brown and her neighbor came across a trash bag full of old photos and letters that had been thrown out during cleaning.
“I read the first letter and was amazed,” she said. “In the following year I became a detective, putting together a timeline of pictures and letters of these people’s lives.”
Ever since Brown has been painting Virginia’s life, based on these photos and letters written to her husband, from 1935 to 1945 while Virginia was living in New York City.
The Lakewood Heritage Center, 801 S. Yarrow St., is showing an exhibit called “Virginia: A Life” made up of Brown’s paintings, Virginia’s actual photos and letters, and artifacts and clothing from the 1930s and 1940s.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 18.
“I met Sharon at the Rino (River North Art) District downtown and heard about this series she had done of more than 80 paintings based on these letters,” said arts curator Lorene Joos.
“It’s really almost a social anthropology exhibit, because it’s not only her paintings, but we also have Virginia’s dance cards and photos on display.”
The letters that were Brown’s main inspiration spanned a 10-year period, including a period of time when Virginia was a secretary at McCann Erickson in New York City.
“I really only knew Virginia at the end of her life, so it was amazing to get to meet her younger self,” Brown said. “All painting is autobiography, but Virginia is something I can always come back to.”
Brown said the exhibit is fantastic, because of all the clothing and other artifacts the Heritage Center added to her paintings.
“We wanted to pull out as much as we could from the center’s collection of vintage hats, photos and other items,” said Meghan Ruble, marketing and promotions specialist with the city. “It’s a really fun and nostalgic exhibit.”
For Joos, “Virginia” is a way to show the power of one life.
“I think this is really special,” she said. “It captures an ordinary life and shows how extraordinary an ordinary life can be.”