SRU students tell “artful” stories through Polish exhibit

A woman looks at jewelry box art.

A Polish citizen admires the work of Ashli Barron, a Slippery Rock University senior developmental psychology major from Greensburg, at the “Book-NOT-Book” exhibit at the Station Culture in Rumia, Poland.

July 13, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Can stories be told without words?

To "hear" Ashli Barron tell it, yes they can.

"Every person has their own unique story to be unleashed into the world," said the Slippery Rock University senior developmental psychology major. "The best way to tell my story has always been through art."

The Greensburg native had the opportunity to share her artful story, along with other SRU art students and faculty from the fiber art studio, as part of a unique storytelling exhibit titled "Book-NOT-Book".

The exhibit, spearheaded by Barbara Westman, associate professor of printmaking and fiber art, was on display during late June and early July at the Station Culture in Rumia, Poland.

This prestigious cultural center, located inside the city's renovated railway station, serves as a venue for a variety of exhibitions, theatre and film workshops and artist talks. It contains a library, reading room and conference rooms, and offers workshops for painting, sculpture and photography. In 2016, the venue won an international award for the best design of a small public space.

Representing a non-conventional approach to the idea of telling a story, Book-NOT-Book works are crafted using materials including textiles, plastic, wood or even denim to convey personal stories, often without writing a single word. Topics can range from personality traits and hobbies to emotions and struggles.

Westman first launched the initiative in 2013 as an international collaborative with the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, Poland, causing the non-traditional books to also break a cultural barrier.

"Thus far, my students have had the chance to present their artworks in 13 exhibitions in Poland and in the U.S. It is a great opportunity for them to learn from their peers abroad, to learn new ideas and to gain confidence," said Westman, a native of Poland.

Barron's "My Book" was one of 30 "books" to be included in the exhibition's fourth edition.

Using an ornate glass box covered with moss at the base, she included unique items such as a small mirror, a flower in an enclosed vase, an agate geode, a British pound and two miniature corked glass bottles with handwritten text inside.

"I used personal objects and typed verses to portray different aspects of my personality," said Barron. "One of my handwritten messages reads, 'You are enough.' It became an expression from my own life."

While Barron's work exemplified personality and interest, Anna Custer's project, which featured a glass jar rather than a page, focused on personal memories and secrets.

"Unlike most art pieces, this one was meant to be interactive," said the senior psychology major from Erie. "The viewer unravels a scroll to reveal an illustrated memory of mine such as finishing a favorite novel or going for a drive without a destination.

"The secret is that the viewer would never have known the memory unless he or she had interacted with the piece."

Joining Barron and Custer in the exhibit were:

-Alexis Walker, a freshman art major from Pittsburgh.
-Caitlin Guillot, a senior art major from Irwin.
-Julia Rismiller, a sophomore art major from Pottsville.
-Travis Sallack, a senior art major from Dubois.
-Nicolette Wakefield, a senior art major from East McKeesport.
-Kaitlin Cliber, a senior theatre major from New Kensington.
-David Gordon, a senior dual art and theater major from Mars.
-Marion Kennedy, a post-baccalaureate exploratory major from Slippery Rock.
-Alyssa Pauletich, a senior art major from West Pittsburg.

Westman said a location and opening date for a Book-NOT-Book exhibition in the U.S. is in the planning stages.

MEDIA CONTACT: Maizee Zaccone | 724.738.2091 | mxz1016@sru.edu