Kenyon College
 

Shelby Lee Adams

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Artist: Shelby Lee Adams
Title of Work: The Napiers with Dogs
Year: 1988
Dimensions: 14.5″ x 18.5″
Material: Photograph
Photo Line: Ross Art Museum
Collection Credit: Permanent Collection/ Richard M. Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University

With sharp clarity and striking contrast, Shelby Lee Adams focuses upon the Napier family and their dogs in front of their house in the Appalachian mountains. Although the figures are clearly posed, their postures and smiles are unforced—frank, intimate, and inviting. With dirt upon their ragged clothes and their home decrepit and crumbling, the Napier family poses with pride, and Adams praises their hardworking and honest way of life with this one powerful image.

–Caitlin Cook ‘12 Gund Gallery Associate

Artist: Shelby Lee Adams
Title of Work: Self-Rising
Year: 1993
Dimensions: 20″ x 24″
Material: Photograph
Photo Line: Ross Art Museum
Collection Credit: Permanent Collection/ Richard M. Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University

Born in Eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains, Shelby Lee Adams has made its residents the subject matter of much of his work. In Self-Rising, we see a mother and two children. Adams pushes the figures into the foreground so that they spill forward into the viewer’s space. The mother gives a half-smile, and her weathered hands support the unclothed infant who stands on a table with tears streaming down her face. The toddler beside her slumps over, showing the dirt caked on the soles of her feet. The immediacy of the image forces us as viewers to examine a familiar family structure translated through photography. Behind the figures, we see a large bag of self-rising flour, a symbol of American domesticity and mass-production that still reaches the isolated families of Appalachia. By titling the image Self-Rising, Adams not only references the flour, but also calls our attention to the practice of childrearing. The children represent a contrast: the infant, physically held up by her mother, poses against the toddler who seems to be the manifestation of neglect. Despite the messiness of the scene, Adams dignifies these people with size, scale, and the honesty of their emotion.

–Natalie Karic ‘12 Gund Gallery Associate

Self-RisingNapierFamilyWithDogs88jpg Shelby Lee Adams
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