Fourteen works of art that usually would not be displayed together are on view this month at the Wichita Art Museum to illustrate “The Things They Carried” for this year’s Big Read event.
The novel by Tim O’Brien, published in 1990, is a collection of fictitious short stories about soldiers during the Vietnam War.
That’s why a collage portraying political and pop icons of the 1960s is hanging near a softly hued Impressionist-style painting of a woman in the museum’s River Lobby Gallery. That painting, in turn, is hanging near a stone relief of twisted, battling figures.
The Wichita Art Museum has participated in the Big Read — an annual project that promotes literacy and is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts — each of the three years Wichita has been involved.
Stephen Gleissner, the art museum’s chief curator, has delved deep into the vaults of the museum’s permanent collection to create a coordinating exhibition of works of art evocative of O’Brien’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
The book revolves around the theme of soldiers in Vietnam and their stories as told through “the things they carry” with them, whether it be photographs, gum wrappers, love letters or arms.
“We looked at different ways that works of art in the collection evoked parts of the text and paired specific quotes from the book with certain pieces of art,” Gleissner said.
“I thought that the untitled Gary Jo Gardenhire painting played in very well with this concept. It is a painting made up of several layers, which mirrors the way in which the stories in the book are layered. It also evokes the notion or impression of things being carried, moving, jostling, the lights and darks, and metallics.”
Another standout painting titled “Blue Woman,” by artist Reginald Murray Pollack, is shown to illustrate a scene in the book where a soldier is remembering his girlfriend in a mystical image where she floats in and out of his mind.
“One of the things that has been so much fun about the Big Read is that it has given us the opportunity to display works that have not been seen in years and also would never otherwise be on view together in the same exhibition,” Gleissner said.
Other local organizations involved in the Big Read have included the Wichita Public Library, which leads the event; Arts Partners; Wichita State University; Friends University; and Wichita Professional Communicators.
Each organization promotes the chosen book in different ways, including book discussions, special lectures, exhibitions and art projects. The idea is for an entire community to rally together around one common theme while promoting literacy.
“It is such a wonderful and worthwhile event for Wichita to be involved in,” Gleissner said. “The NEA has cited us a couple of times as being a model of community participation. They have really been very complimentary in the way Wichita has handled the program. We are very proud to take part.”
WICHITA ART MUSEUM’S BIG READ EXHIBITION
What: An artistic representation of “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, a novel that examines the Vietnam War from a variety of perspectives. The exhibition is part of Wichita’s Big Read event.
Where: The Wichita Art Museum’s River Lobby Gallery, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.
When: The exhibition is on display through Oct. 23. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
How much: Admission is temporarily $3 (due to roof repairs) and free on Saturdays.
For more information, call 316-268-4921 or visit www.wichitaartmuseum.org.
ADDITIONAL BIG READ EVENTS
The Big Read will last through Nov. 15. The following events are free, and no registration is required unless noted:
-- Book discussion: Friday at Mead’s Corner, 430 E. Douglas, with decorated Marine Corps officer and popular lecturer Will Fahey, said Jennifer Heinicke of the Wichita Public Library. It will be from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Registration is required by calling 316-261- 8500.
-- Lecture by historian Gretchen Eick on “What Have We Done to War? Vietnam and Its Successors,” 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 16, National Center for Aviation Training at Jabara Airport, 4004 N. Webb Road. Free copies of the book, a reader’s guide and posters also will be available at the event while supplies last.
-- Appearance by author Tim O’Brien, 7 to 8 p.m. Nov. 3, Wichita State University Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th St. North.
For information on all the events, see the website www.bigreadwichita.org.
— Annie Calovich