Katy Traughber, Rebeka Sweetland and Aberlyn Sweetland-May (who prefers to go by “Aberlyn”) have more than just their friendship in common. The three are graduates of Indiana University Southeast, reside in Indiana and work as fine artists.
They remain close not only to continue their bond but also to fuel each other’s fire when it comes to creating.
The three are hosting their first joint exhibition titled “Spawning Grounds” at New Albany’s Carnegie Center for Art and History, and it opens Friday, Aug. 3.
After college, the women relocated, married and began starting families of their own, so they say their friendship became more important than ever to encourage their artistic endeavors. That’s where the theme of the show came into play.
“We were all fading a bit into our roles outside of being makers,” Traughber tells Insider. “We needed to root down into one another and push back against all the distractions. Also, there’s this wonderful fuel for growth between the three of us, which happens to be this very healthy competitiveness. One of us would have a couple of great studio days, post the progress in our group chat, and the other two would get up and start manically making the next day.”
The three women essentially kept one another rooted and thriving artistically, which helped them navigate everything else in their life.
Traughber had met Carnegie Curator Daniel Pfalzgraf a few years back, and the two stayed in touch throughout their careers. She says he reached out about a year ago to check in on her work, and she mentioned the two other women who brought her inspiration.
That’s when the idea of “Spawning Grounds” came to life.
When the three got to talking about a theme, it became apparent they were all struggling with the same conflicts.
“All of us were dissecting womanhood in the psychological environment of Southern Indiana,” explains Traughber. “We were pushing the edges of what our identities as mothers, makers and women were to be — what our focus was, what held meaning in those roles for us individually and collectively.”
And that’s when Aberlyn came across a quote from poet Audre Lorde.
For women … poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we can help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.
As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and Darien of ideas. They become a safe house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action. Right now, I could name at least 10 ideas I would have found intolerable or incomprehensible and frightening, except as they came after dreams and poems this is not idle fantasy, but a disciplined attention to the true meaning of “it feels right to me.”
The three realized that they created a safe house for each other.
“We created the ‘Spawning Grounds’ to enable us to creatively reach out into the world in radical ways,” says Traughber. “There’s an unspoken language you’re dealing with as a visual artist, and to travel through the unsaid with them so effortlessly is a gift. It’s a connection I have with very few people.”
Traughber hopes the show provides a spawning ground for the viewers — giving them inspiration to express their own narratives and ideas.
“I think it’s less about taking in the art and more about letting the images pull pieces of ourselves to the surface,” she explains. “I hope what we bring to the viewers is solidarity, and that the human experience, the female experience, is so layered and diverse. Every layer of it is valid and worth exploration. We want the energy of the show to feel empowering and uplifting, and I hope it leads to some amazing conversations opening night and long after.”
“Spawning Grounds” opens Friday, Aug. 3, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibit continues through Sept. 22. The Carnegie Center is located at 201 E. Spring St. in New Albany.