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3 Installation Art & Encounters: Extending the Invitation

January 30, 2011
Extending An Invitation

 ___________________ Dr. Maya Angelou__________________________

I would like to extend an invitation to Dr. Maya Angelou to sit at the table of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.  Angelou is a true Renaissance woman.  She was a musician, a mother, a cook, a cable car conductor, a dancer, and waitress.  All these things are more than worthy of recognition, but these are not the things for which she is best known.  Among her more lauded endeavors, she was a “poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.” (   She was also a world-traveler seeing such places as Egypt where she was an editor for a magazine and Europe while on tour for the show Porgy and Bess.  She worked with both Malcolm-X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural address.  She is also fluent in several languages, has published books, and is a professor at Wake Forest University.  All of her actions:  writing, teaching, traveling, orating, producing, and causes are proof that woman is not only capable and superior at these things but that all women can do these things.  Her great list of contributions started with humble beginnings, and through her strong will, she was able to accomplish and contribute so much.
_________________James Rickard________________
For Dr. Angelou’s place mat, I would include the blue and orange leaf pattern from her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  On her plate, I would include a rendition of a beautiful bird sitting within a cage.  The bird’s mouth would be open, and music notes would fill the space indicating singing.  Under the table, I would have recordings of her poems being read by her and others being pumped through a sound system.  Having not read this book, but reading the poem that is associated with it, I believe Maya Angelou is the caged bird.  I believe she feels the cage as the restrictions and limitations that she is met with as a female and as an African-American in a male-dominated, caucasian-dominated country.
Below is a second more personal invitation to my grandmother’s aunt (my great-great aunt) Dr. Elizabeth Ogden.
To: ___________________Dr. Elizabeth Ogden__________________________
My great-great aunt Dr. Elizabeth Ogden lived from 1877-1908.  In her short life, she traveled from her home in Clearfield, Pennsylvania to study osteopathic medicine in San Francisco under a Dr. Wentmer.  She then became an osteopathic physician in Clearfield, PA with the reputation for being able to quickly and efficiently cure pneumonia.  She narrowly missed the San Francisco earthquake and fire during her first visit and wrote about this in her diary.  A few years later she traveled to California a second time to visit her brother’s farm.  This was before the convenience of airline travel and the U.S. highway system.  Her younger sister, Della, was also successful as a banker and was the owner of two houses.  These two women, matriarchs in their own right even though neither one had children, taught their many nieces (and nephews) what a woman was capable of in a time when men dominated and ran society (even more so than now).  As a result of this, my grandmother’s siblings and their daughters were shown that there was no limit to what they could do.  My grandmother skipped two grades graduating from high school at 16, and finished college and started teaching at 19.  Among careers and achievements found in Elizabeth and Della’s nieces and grand-nieces are a veterinarian, a horse trainer, an English and drama teacher, a lawyer, an ordained minster, and an estate jewelry dealer/small coffee chain owner (aside from being successful mothers, wives, and friends).  Elizabeth’s life was cut short when she was killed from injuries sustained while being dragged a horse.
_________________James Rickard________________
For Elizabeth’s place mat, I would have my family’s coat of arms.  To be an Ogden is to have a strong family heritage, which Elizabeth references in her diary.  The name Ogden originated in an oak valley (Oak vale =Oak den = Ogden) in what is now South Lancashire, UK.  Our earliest American Ogden relative, John Ogden of Rye (Elizabeth’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather arrived in this country in 1638 and lived in Connecticut and on Long Island.  Daniel Ogden moved to Clearfield, PA in 1797 which is Elizabeth’s hometown.  On her dishes, I would have the caduceus, a pair of lungs, the state of California, and a fire.  The caduceus represents Elizabeth’s occupation in medicine; the lungs:  her pneumonia-curing abilities; California:  her destination for education and desire to be with family; and a fire for the San Francisco earthquake and fire that she narrowly missed that represents her impending doom anyway two years after.
The “Et si ostendo non jacto” found on the crest translates to “And if I show, I do not boast.” 
As a freshman in college, I was exposed to The Dinner Party in an art education class.  Due to the poor quality of the photos, I was not particularly interested in the piece.  The place settings were not made visible, and we were not presented with very much information regarding the attendees or the purpose of the installation.  I think for the full effect of this piece, like most installations, the viewer needs to be able to experience the same space.  With the additional information provided in the encounters and further reading, I was able to form more opinions and reactions toward the piece.  The next time I go to Brooklyn, I will make a point to visit the museum to try to experience The Dinner Party fully. 
“Global Renaissance Woman.”  Maya Angelou.  Web.  30 January 2011.  <>
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2011 3:23 pm

    What great invitations–Maya Angelou and your great-great aunt!

    Your last paragraph resonates with me. I won some art reproduction cards at an NAEA event a few years back. The pack included a poor image of The Dinner Party–dark, grainy, and no bigger than 10″x10″. Someone else was “Oh, it’s The Dinner Party! That’s awesome!” but I had no clue what I was looking at, and the picture was completely insufficient. I have since become slightly less ignorant, but it took hours (literally—part of that was loading the images with my VPN…) of looking at the Brooklyn Museum website to feel like I had a little grasp of the piece. I am so thankful for all the information they had online—pictures of the different components (entryway, settings, floor, etc.), pictures of each place setting (and detailed paragraphs about the woman and the symbolism), and databases to search the floor. But I completely agree–the piece needs to be visited in person!

  2. February 2, 2011 4:40 pm

    I really appreciate seeing an invitation to both Maya Angelou and your great-aunt. Although I got a bit scared after reading “She *was* a musician, mother…” thinking that she had died!

    I still didn’t feel like I got a good enough view of the Dinner Party piece, were you able to find close-up shots of settings? How did you use it in your other Art Ed class, and what would you change about that lesson to make it better?

  3. Heather permalink
    February 6, 2011 6:56 pm

    After reading your entry, I was equally impressed by your knowledge of Dr. Maya Angelou and your heart for your Aunt. By personalizing your invitation by inviting your Aunt and listing her significance, it made me reflect back on Maya Angelou’s life. I’m wondering if, in your mind, are the people that have influenced, pushed or inspired her equally as important to invite to the Dinner Party? I think so.

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