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‘MUM’ show explores Texas ritual

Kaleb Dixon, Beaumont sophomore, studies Rachel Newberry’s “MUM” photography at the Dishman Art Museum, Sept. 28. UP photo by Claire Robertson
Kaleb Dixon, Beaumont sophomore, studies Rachel Newberry’s “MUM” photography at the Dishman Art Museum, Sept. 28. UP photo by Claire Robertson

Texans viewing Nancy Newberry’s exhibition “MUM,” will experience deep nostalgia. Handmade, extravagant homecoming mums and boutonnieres are a tradition that amplifies the glamour of football season. Newberry captured this pageantry with her uniquely framed photographs that add humor and curiosity to this generational ritual.

“MUM” is on display at the Dishman Art Museum. A reception is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Oct. 12. Newberry will present a Q&A at 5:30 p.m. in the Dishman Lecture Hall, prior to the reception.

Dennis Kiel, Dishman Art Museum director, was born in Toledo, Ohio and said he did not grow up with this homecoming tradition.

“Supposedly, it’s only a phenomenon in Texas,” he said. “I read somewhere that it’s kind of drifted now to parts of Louisiana and Oklahoma, but I never heard of it.”

Kiel first saw Newberry’s work during Houston’s FotoFest.

“When I first saw these photos it caught my attention, because I didn’t know what I was looking at,” he said. “It’s just not pictures of mums. You’re looking at that photo and how she puts it in that rectangle, how she fits all the elements in there. “And then the mum just happens to be the subject. And then there happens to be a little bit of humor, which I like when I look at photographs. So, I wondered, how could I use this series.”

After meeting the artist, Kiel was able to bring the exhibition to Lamar for a showing beginning Homecoming Week.

“One of the things I like about (Newberry) is it’s just not your typical poses of people with mums,” he said.

Kiel referred to one photograph showing students posed on the back of the couch.

“The thing that caught my eye was the young woman that’s being photographed through the window, and she’s on top of her house,” he said. “That’s the sort of thing that caught my attention. Or, they’re down the steps to the basement but, you know, the basement’s a mess.

“One person said, ‘This photographer needs a lesson in good backdrops,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s not the point. She doesn’t want just your typical white or gray backdrops — it’s the quirkiness of the certain environments. She has basic reasons, like she’s trying to create chaos in the photos, but she’s basing it on her memories and also allowing the people posing to come up with their own ideas.”

Newberry pictures the subjects with their own mums and usually at their homes or schools.

Some photographs depict the models practicing sports or posing casually, while others take on a more surreal stance, like gymnastics on the back of a couch or hanging off a spiral staircase.

“One of my favorite photos is the young woman doing that back stand on that elephant bird bath,” Kiel said. “(Newberry) said she took gymnastics and she used to do that on her couch — and somehow that evolved into this. A lot of it is reality, but also unreality because it’s based on her memories, and you know how memories are. “Some of it is exaggerated, but that’s what I like about it and that’s what caught my attention. I like photos that have subtle humor and you just go, ‘Well, how did they come up with that pose?’”

Beyond the ornate mums, the cluttered backgrounds and the creative poses, the models raise questions.

“These students look so disinterested, and that says something right there,” Kiel said.

Kiel said Newberry’s work rewards careful study.

“With any art, you have to give it a chance, you have to spend a little time with it, even if it’s just a minute,” he said.

“MUM” is on display through Nov. 9.

The Dishman Art Museum is located at 1030 E. Lavaca on the Lamar campus.

Story by Claire Robertson, UP contributor

Category: News