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Whitfield Lovell's current installation at the Hand Workshop is ambitious.

Stepping Back in Time


This internationally renowned New York artist has been creating rooms that resemble those found in early African-American communities across the country. Lovell breaks through stereotypes to reclaim that perspective, demonstrating the graceful manners of his subjects home lives, and inviting entry through rough-hewn or peeling doors into a reenacted private sanctuary.

Lovell arranges his dioramas by borrowing materials from the scrap-yards and flea markets of the localities. In this case, Caravatti's is the generous provider, and Jackson Ward materials and style are particularly represented. Lovell hunts down old discarded boards, era-appropriate furnishings and fragile, fading personal items from which he summons the ghosts trapped within. In various manifestations they assume the evidence and the role of family. The latter Lovell has created from composite photographs and other historical documents. He renders them beautifully and lovingly on the walls of their reconstructed household, solemnly stepping forth from another dimension singly or as couples and groups, and usually in their Sunday best. In the front gallery of the Hand Workshop installation a disembodied voice reads their names like a guest registry.

For their homecoming, Lovell sets a simply appointed dining table in the center of the back room. It is surrounded by genteel domestic objects that indicate order and caretaking. As viewers enter they should be mindful that the table they encounter has also been set for them. Whitfield Lovell would want all his visitors two- and three-dimensional alike to feel welcome.

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