PORT TOWNSEND — An exhibit of 1845 — 1,845 glass potatoes — is coming to the Museum of Art & History, with a preview for Jefferson County Historical Society members Wednesday, July 3.
The exhibit, “1845: Memento Mori,” is a memorial dedicated to the Irish Potato Famine.
Showing for the first time at the Jefferson Museum of Art & History at 540 Water St., the work from Seattle artist Paula Stokes will be installed in the Women’s Jail at the historic City Hall museum and consists of 1,845 handblown glass potatoes piled into the form of a cairn.
The exhibit will be shown from Wednesday, July 3, through Aug. 26, and Stokes will provide a public presentation at the Museum of Art & History at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25.
The Member’s Preview/Artist’s Reception for famine memorial will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 3, and the museum will be free and open to the public July 6 for Port Townsend ArtWalk.
For historical society membership, go to jchsmuseum.org/Support/MembershipBenefits.html.
Stokes on the installation:
“As Alexander Betts stated in a recent article in The Guardian about human migration, ‘Whether they are fleeing armed conflict or economic deprivation — or both — people will continue trying to cross borders in search of a decent life, and the global community needs to address this.’
“I have created an installation made of 1845 handblown glass potatoes that are piled into the form of a cairn. A cairn is a pile of stones that serves as a land marker, but in this case, it suggests a burial monument, and instead of stones, I am piling potatoes.
“The number of the glass potatoes, 1845, also the title of the project, references the year that the potato blight came to Ireland, marking the beginning of a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration. Over 1.5 million people died, and a further 1 million emigrated to Australia [or] Canada but mostly to America.”
Dan Mulhall, Irish ambassador to the U.S., commented, “About two-thirds of all Irish emigrants in the last six decades of the 19th century came to the United States. Most of those who today identify as Irish Americans are likely to be descended from post-Famine immigrants.”
Stokes is a native of Ireland who moved to Seattle in 1993.
“Despite my full integration into a new world, I have never managed to shake the intense longing of living so far away from “home,” she said.
“In creating this work, I honor my Irish heritage and culture, and all immigrants who have come before me.
“I also want to throw light on historical events that have shaped the present and open a dialogue on how we can learn from the past. I hope to create a bridge between the old and new, the past and the present. And in doing so I hope to elicit compassionate reflection that transcends the polarizing politics of our current time.”
In addition to the installation of glass potatoes, the exhibition will feature a video with Stokes discussing her work and further resources curated by Stokes to give the public additional context to the installation.
The exhibit will be shown at METHOD Gallery in Seattle from Oct. 18 to Nov. 30 and will include an artist’s catalogue. The installation will travel to multiple venues in Ireland in 2020.
Stokes co-founded METHOD in 2013, and simultaneously began her work as manager of glass artist Dale Chihuly’s hot shop and special projects.
Her educational background has been specific to studio glass and printmaking at the University of Washington, National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Ireland, and the International Glass Centre in Brierley Hill, England.