Throughout most of his career, artist Patrick Donley has collected images and photographs. Some of them are from his own life — vacations, milestones, etc. — but some are of complete strangers.
His wife, Terri Burt, owns the Nitty Gritty consignment store and often brings him treasures from an estate auction or garage sale. A few years ago, she picked up three photo albums that spanned the life of a woman and her circle of friends from the 1930s through the ’60s. Donley was so intrigued by the photos, he knew he would have to incorporate them into an exhibit.
Donley tells Insider there are about 40 pieces in the show that feature some of the photos but also explore the post-World War II era of American culture. The people in the photos posed with their cars a lot, and they often took day trips to places near and far.
“These folks loved to take pictures of themselves by their cars, they loved to drink beer, and they did a lot of regional car travel to places like Tell City and took lots of pictures there,” says Donley. “They were military folk, and I think the freedom the post-war era provided is all contained in their story. Their’s really is the story of America before, during and after the war.”
Donley decided to focus on their love of the automobile in this exhibit, mainly because it was a notion common in the ’50s that’s not really prevalent today. Nobody is posing next to their Honda Accord or Prius.
“People just do not worship their cars like they did in that era. Back then, your car was your symbol of freedom (and status),” he says. “With the money that returning vets had in their pockets, many of them were for the first time in their lives buying a house and a car, and the cars were things of beauty. You did want to proudly pose beside them to have your portrait preserved.”
He also points out that cameras were becoming a household item at about the same time, so people were photographing as much as they could. And while cameras are now in the hands of just about anyone with a smart phone, photography has changed.
“Folks still love their cars, though they do not have that regional/small-town-travel lust like the other generation did,” says Donley. “People today are just so much more selfie-ish.”
Which makes “The Memento Series” that much more compelling. A time capsule of sorts that reveals a country’s hope for a new and exciting future told through images of one American family.
The exhibit opens Friday, March 3, with a reception from 6-10 p.m. during the Republic Bank First Friday Hop. It continues through March 31. CRAFT(s) Gallery is located at 572 S. Fourth St.