The soundtrack of a generation is on display at Friends University.
Tara Hufford-Walker has spent her summer re-creating album covers from the most popular records of her adolescence in preparation for her 40-year high school reunion. Before the works become backdrops for the Dodge City High School Class of 1973 celebration later this month, a special viewing is being offered at the Riney Fine Arts Center, with a closing reception Friday. It’s a chance for the public to commemorate a formative age in music and also to consider the broader social significance of the era.
“This current exhibition came about as an idea for my class reunion,” Hufford-Walker said. “I was always that kid in my class who was making posters and such, so I was asked to create a T-shirt design, and I got to thinking about other decorations.
“They wanted to play up the psychedelic era, and I thought how fun it would be to use album art from the early ’70s,” she said. “Album art was so important to our generation. The kids today don’t have an inkling of the impact the album art had. They just download music from the internet, often seeing no imagery at all. We only got our music information from the radio and magazines, so we’d spend many hours at the record stores looking at the covers. We’d read the lyrics, see who the musicians were. It’s a lost pastime, a lost art, really.”
For the series, Hufford-Walker choose top albums only from the years that she was in high school. This exhibit showcases the first 12 that she did, though she is working on creating more for the reunion at the end of the month. The works are large, constructed on 4 foot by 4 foot sheets of Masonite and painted with acrylics.
They run the gamut of popular music from the time and include Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Cat Stevens’ “Tea for the Tillerman,” Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Yes’ “Fragile,” The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” and Chicago’s self-titled second album, among others.
“I picked albums that were ones everyone had, not just the hard core rock fans,” she said. “I tried to pick ones that were pretty classic so that even if you were that person who only had two or three albums, you had one of these.”
Music and art are integral to Hufford-Walker’s life. She has been an art instructor for more than three decades and now teaches at North High School. Her husband, Mark, and son Alex are fellow artists, while another son, Adam, is a musician.
She said part of the reason she did this series was to highlight the impact that her generation had on shaping the culture. After a decade of rapid social change that saw advancements in racial equality, changing roles for women, and an unpopular war divide the country, it was music that helped everyone process what was happening around them.
“It wasn’t that long after the civil rights movement. It was right after the love fest in San Francisco, and also just after Woodstock,” Hufford-Walker said. “Music was super important, and everyone listened to the same music. We only had one radio station for kids in town. We all listened to KEDD. At our school dances, we all wanted to hear the same songs.”
Because these pieces are re-creations of others’ work, Hufford-Walker wanted to pay tribute to the artists who designed the original covers. Alongside the paintings is a statement about the artist and the story that surrounds how and why the cover was created.
“Album art is copyrighted art, so I did want to acknowledge the artists who created the original works used for the albums,” she said. “I realize I am only reproducing someone else’s art, in my own way. The research brought to my attention some interesting stories behind the art that I thought others might be interested in as well. Maybe that’s the teacher in me. There’s always so much more to every story.”
Hufford-Walker said she thinks her works will have relevance not just with her generation, but with younger music fans, too. She noted that a lot of popular music today has its roots in the songs from her era. She sees this show as a tribute not just to the tradition of album cover art, but also to what the words in those songs inspired.
“My hopes are that this might bring art to those who normally don’t really look at art,” she said. “It’s a form of pop art and advertising that no longer exists, but it had such an impact on my generation.”