Alison Hildreth has one of the finest literary imaginations of any artist I know. Her deeply personal, intuitive paintings, prints, drawings, and installations are often informed by her readings of visionary writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, and W.G. Sebald.
So it does not surprise me that The Feathered Hand, Hildreth’s wondrous exhibition at the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland (through April 3) takes its title from a poem by Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert entitled “Chosen By The Stars.”
It is not an angel it is a poet
He has no wings only a right hand covered by feathers
he beats the air with his hand flies up three inches and immediately falls again
When he has fallen all the way he kicks with his legs Hangs for a moment Waving his feathered hand
Alison Hildreth is not an angel. She is an artist. The Feathered Hand is a finely conceived and elegantly articulated exhibition in which she employs prints, drawings, and hanging glass and paper puppets in her own attempt to fly back to her childhood imagination.
“The installation is based on an interest I have had for a long time in puppets,” Hildreth writes. “They are not presented as marionettes so much as inanimate objects that I remember investing much imagination in as a child. The time in our lives when the real and the imaginary are so intertwined.”
Portland glass artist Ernie Paterno helped Hildreth fashion the puppets and other glass ampules and vials that are suspended from the gallery ceiling by fine wires.Some of the puppets sprouts feathered wings, while others seem to have slipped into bat wings. The puppet installation resonates in its imagery and its aspirations with past bodies of Hildreth’s work which have been filled with bats and insects, airplanes and angels. Indeed, the torsos of some of the little glass figures are filled with dead bees.
“An important part of being human,” Alison told me a few years ago, “is that our reach exceeds our grasp. We fly. We know we may crash, but we do it anyway.”
With The Feathered Hand one of Maine’s most serious and accomplished artists takes off and takes the viewer with her. Absolutely not to be missed.
[University of New England Art Gallery, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland ME, 207-221-4499]