The totality of this work is extraordinary. It is my good fortune to have seen, touched and sensed this piece of art.

Ann Hamilton, artist, 4/20/99 Guestbook, Windows ’95, Des Moines Art Center)

Both Windows 95 and Wisdom Passage is were non-profit community arts projects intended to expose participants and the general public to one approach to what critic Arlene Raven has called new genre public art or art in the public interest.

Both projects are collaborative projects intended to give seriously ill hospitalized children or adults access to nontraditional art forms for personal expression and to encourage use of the imagination as both a survival tool and as a means for creating a psychological home away from home. It is my belief that art can help make meaning of one’s experiences, particularly when those experiences interrupt everyday life.

Windows 95 is owned by The Des Moines Art Center and was funded by a grant from The Iowa Arts Council and The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. This collaborative work takes the form of a large, walk-in structure (built by artist Rick Edelman), covered inside and out with words and images on metal. In a series of weekly workshops over a one-year period, children from the Child Life Program of The Activities Therapy Department at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics were invited to create images and writing related to their experiences, feelings and fantasies while hospitalized. Since UIHC is a state medical facility, children came from variety of economic and social backgrounds. The equalizer was serious illness. Monitors on the outside of the structure show video images, created by participants, of individual children looking out an imaginary window. Once inside the sculpture viewers are invited to contribute their own written stories, comment images. This work was is the lobby of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City for two months in 1996.

Wisdom Passage, 1996-7 is the result of collaboration between nationally known artists Jane Gilmor and Sandra Menefee-Taylor and oncology patients and their families from St. Paul/Minneapolis and Sioux City. In a series of workshops participants at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul were invited to keep journals concerning their experiences, feelings, and fantasies while struggling with serious illness. Writings and drawings selected from these journals by the participants were then transferred onto metal and plaster panels by Gilmor and Menefee-Taylor. The large bridge-like sculpture itself was designed by Gilmor and constructed by artist Rick Edelman. The videotape appearing on small window monitors was collaboration between Menefee-Taylor and award-winning Minneapolis filmmaker Kathleen Laughlin.

The Wisdom Passage Project was created in cooperation with the HealthEast Oncology Program in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Funding was provided by an Intermedia Arts/McKnight Interdisciplinary Artist’s Fellowship to Jane Gilmor. All participants are given extensive credit for their contributions. Any profits were used to help pay for uncovered costs of the project.

Thank you to all those who participated in both projects, many of whom have signed their work. Thank you also to those who have chosen to remain anonymous, but who are not forgotten.

In 1994 Lesley Wright, then curator for the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art invited me to have a solo show at the museum. Because I was heavily involved in community-based work with the disenfranchised in shelters across the country, I decided to combine my solo show with a project in Cedar Rapids working with the YWCA, The Madge Phillips Women’s Shelter and the McAuley Center for Women. Part of my goal was to get participants in both communities to cross borders. The YWCA and Madge Phillips Center were literally across the street from the Museum but neither group had visited the other’s space. My hope was to expose not only the shelter participants but also the community at large to new forms for art and the idea that use of the imagination can become a survival tool in extraordinary circumstances.

By creating installations involving all participants in both locations and providing free admission and transportation, I hoped to encourage the shelter participants to enter the museum and vice versa. The YWCA provided me with their Board Room and their large glass storefront for the installation there. The Museum gave me an entire floor and let me break a few rules. There was a gala opening at both venues and an active exchange of comments by virtue of a Thank You Shrine in the Museum where people could leave notes and “things” or take them.

The idea of working with the contrasts of the privileged versus the disenfranchised had developed the year before while I was in residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Center Artist Colony in Ireland. My room and studio were in the Guthrie Mansion, where the halls and walls were filled with valuable artifacts. The irony of being paid a stipend to be in a beautiful place and work with my collected notes from homeless individuals resulted in my installation Ireland. I collected silver and gold artifacts from the hallway and library display cases and sat them on the floor of my empty room. Mounted on the wall above each was a 5″ x 7″ metal note incised with words or images from homeless adults and children. Under the window in the room I placed a long dinner table. On a ledge under the table I placed three white dinner plates, each with a large potato housing a 4-inch gas flame. On the table above, directly above each potato I placed a cross-shaped Kleenex box holder – one covered in living moss, one in rocks, and one with metal incised with love letters.

The 1994 exhibitions and events at The YWCA and the Cedar Rapids Museum grew from this concept and included continued references to beds, shelter and loss of identity. In particular, the YWCA Board room offered a site similar to the Ireland piece in that it housed the valuables of their collection and was designed with for the more privileged board members, but stood just down the hall from a shelter for abused women and children.

As her work has matured, Gilmor has continued to reflect on contemporary and developing feminist art discourse. As she and many other privileged American women artists consider their advantages, they have examined issues of the disadvantaged, as Gilmor has with her projects about and with homeless people. As issues of women’s identity have expanded to include the immigrant and the eroticized other, she has enlarged her practice to include collaborations, new combinations of sculpture, video/performance, her recent work, provides a good connecting thread to the contemporary practice of Midwestern American women artists and their present work on identity, process and labor, bearing witness to and questioning history.

Jayne Hileman, Professor of Art, St. Xavier University, Chicago, From the lecture: Women Artists At Work in Chicago 2000-2005

Home is Where…? Installations Bemis/Ireland

In 1992 The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, at the suggestion of collector Gregg Narber and Director Ree Schonlau invited me to fill their mammoth, gorgeous space in an warehouse facility turned exhibition space. The exhibit ended up being a mid-career retrospective with a small catalogue, coupled with a community-based project working with several area homeless shelters. The community-based Project, Home is where…? Was exhibited in downtown Omaha storefront and continued is the huge storefront at The Bemis Building. I basically lived in the gallery for a month to create the new pieces and install ten other smaller installations of my own work including Ireland, Wall of Found Notes and Objects, Beds, and The Homeless House.

Home is Where..? Work by Jane Gilmor. Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, Nebraska, June 19 – July 31, 1993

by Hope Palmer

Tractor, Fall 1995 page 43 Reviews

Sometimes words are not enough to express the poignancy of human experience. Artist Jane Gilmor recreates in artistic form the panoply of experience that forms each of our lives. In these mixed media constructions, Gilmor never lets you forget the insurmountable capacity for hope contained within the human spirit.

Upon entering the gallery, one had the sense of being privileged to set foot in a world personally and secretly transcribed, a world at once contemporary, yet resounding with archetypal figures and situations. Here, in a series of 11 eloquent installations and sculptures incorporating found objects, metal notes, audiotape, videos potatoes, cabbages, messages from homeless individuals, is presented a haze of disestablished lives. Great care has been taken not to patronize those who have trustingly collaborated with the artist by allowing her into their lives.

Rarely is a viewer in a gallery situation made to be such an accomplice. It takes consummate skill on the part of the artist to project such immediacy of raw emotion. So much of this art deals with stolen moments of forgotten peoples forged from the real and from the imagination.

In Home is Where is …, a huge installation of found notes and messages from homeless individuals, transcribed on 36-gauge aluminum joined together with nails forming a patchwork metal wall, immediately confronted the visitor. Fascinated, one was drawn into the life-like environment where words and phrases slip in and out of meaning as our senses were overwhelmed by its huge scope.

In another installation entitled Wall of Notes and Objects, many of theses same images reoccur but this time not in tandem. On opposite walls, a 5 x7 inch metal sheet of incised text and a seemingly unrelated found object on a shelf form an immutable dialogue, marching in syncopated rhythm, isolated from one another by a good 15 feet, yet part of a mysterious whole. It is this sense of the mysterious that is a leitmotif throughout the rest of the pieces. They are approachable but just out of reach: and at first glance it seems as though we only view them through a dark and bitter light. But if we give the pieces some time, we find a cultivated richness, a sense of everyman’s family.

A savage intensity coupled with a mordant sense of humor is evident in two other pieces, three Beds (1995) and Ireland (1995). The first incorporates metal writing, moss, cabbage and small figures. In the second, religious and political affiliations are coupled with deadpan wit through the use of potatoes and Kleenex. Gilmor is an artist who is used to communication. She is currently a professor of art at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, The insight and skills used in teaching are a constant in her artwork as well. It is her observation of life, the ephemera of a world often given short shrift by those around her. that becomes noteworthy. Small transgressions become reformed in her eyes. reused in subversive ways. Her travels to such countries as Mexico, Greece, and Italy are incorporated into work that, in the final analysis, speaks of the spiritual permeating the fabric of all our entwined lives. The search for meaning in a life that takes many artists over the edge is here controlled with a refined sensibility and a fierceness that leaves unforgettable images in its aftermath.

pillows, bags, door, floors and bed time stories

In the mid nineties while still working in shelters and hospitals as well as in my studio, I came across hundreds of feather pillows for sale at a local convent that was closing. This began a series of etched metal pillowcases (embedded with video monitors), bags, ruffled tables, beds and other trappings of the domestic environment relocated to extraordinary circumstances and institutions. I still hope to make an entire room filled with soft down pillows in rigid metal pillowcases before I go to sleep permanently. In addition to their metaphorical content in relation to the community-based work I was doing, I began to think much of my work and life are just about finding a place to rest. I am always taking naps in my studio. Many of my most important ideas and images come from that state between waking and sleeping. In between there are always drips dripping, bodies tossing and thoughts of other beds in better times and other places.

Gilmor’s installation titled ‘Bed Time Stories,’ or alternately, ‘Picture/Pillow/Story consists of a narrow door from Gilmor’s now demolished home, covered with sheets of metal and inset with a small television screen. Playing on the television is a loop of video images take from some old home movies Gilmor purchased at a yard sale.

The floor in front of the door is covered with squares of the same sheet metals as the door, etched with pictures and stories by children who were or are patients at the University of Iowa Hospitals at Iowa City. The etched squares display a wide range of emotions and ideas. They are at the very least disquieting. Some are downright disturbing, but most are quite poignant.

For example, one square has these words, written in a child’s hand: “My name is Holly. I had brain surgery. I was very scared. I have been brave. I want to go home. I am a farm girl. I love animals. At the bottom of the square is her etched drawing of a rabbit.

On the gallery walls encircling the etched floor are five framed etched pieces of metal. These images were found in the trash at a school in London where Gilmor was a visiting artist last summer. They are physically tied with chains to small notebooks titled Home Management I, A Letter to the Editor, Letter From Phoenix and Letter From Dublin. These notebooks are resting on pillows that have been covered with etched metal pillowcases.

The overall effect is that of a sort of hospital ward or shelter.

The irony of those two possibilities, notes Gilmor, is that patients are in bed all of the time, and homeless people are always looking for a bed-and both tend to be unhappy about their situation. Further, there are connotations that attach themselves to beds that aren’t always comfortable, that beds in a domestic situation are loaded with meanings. These loaded meanings reflect on the theme of the work, which is dysfunction.

Elliot Nusbaum, Three Artists Offer Art Dreamscapes, The Des Moines Register Arts Section, page 1, October 29, 1995

Waterloo Mid-career retrospective Brochure

In 1990 The Waterloo Art Center and Museum organized a modest mid-career retrospective. Waterloo is my hometown. It was my second exhibition there. The first was an exhibit of fiber related works in 1974. Both exhibits turned out to be somewhat controversial, The first for it’s possibly objectionable embroidered imagery of fornicating cats and the second was alleged to be related to Black Magic and Voodoo by a local outspoken religious conservative. Kathy Darling and David Van Allen designed this brochure.

Metal Notes and Books 1979-2009

For the past thirty years one aspect of my work has involved the transfer of text and images to 36 gauge aluminum sheets. I first used this material (available at craft stores) after encountering silver Greek Icons while traveling in Crete in 1978. There was something familiar and interesting about the material. It was perfectly suited to the shrines like work I was making at the time (see archives). I noticed that you could buy tin “knock-off” icons on the street in Athens, so I went to a Greek Icon maker to find out how the repousse quality was achieved. Basically he was working with a very heavy aluminum for copper foil.

Suddenly I remembered our copper tooling projects in Girl Scouts! I started drawing on the metal and transferring the text from found notes (by tracing the handwriting on the notes). I found the material interesting for many reasons including it’s cultural references (precious, kitsch). It looks hard and cold but is thin enough to be very malleable and easy to draw into. It reminds some of medieval icons or the Milagros on roadside shrines in Central America and in Mediterranean countries, but it also reminds us of tin foil, the stuff in which we wrap leftovers.

Over the years I have developed my own techniques with this material and have used them in workshops during community-based public projects in homeless shelters and hospitals. Often I use the notes in quantity to cover the surfaces of walls and sculptural dwellings. Recently I’ve done another series of artist’s books using this metal with pasta letters glued to the surface.

My intermedia installations of the late 1980’s to the mid 90’s combined metal relief and text with video, found objects and collected notes and images from those disenfranchised by homelessness, serious illness, and other contemporary social issues. After living in New York City in 1986, my work began to deal with issues of homelessness and loss of identity. In 1987 I started a long-term collaborative project that began at Federal City Shelter in Washington, D.C., headquarters for the activist National Coalition for the Homeless. I continued this project working in shelters and hospitals in the U.S. and U.K. for a decade.

In workshops and journaling we concerned ourselves with those experiences where object, place and identity intersect. During workshops we created drawings and writings on metal foil, often based on a remembered favorite “place”. This remembered “place” or “space” became the physical manifestation for a spiritual concept or a psychological space one might call “home.”

These hundreds of metal notes became part of installations I constructed in storefronts, community centers, alternative art spaces, hospitals and museums. Like the folk art grottos and roadside shrines I began studying in the 1970’s, these collaborative installations are multi-layered. In large rooms, walls, floors and ceilings are covered in metal notes juxtaposed with found objects, metal books, video and elements such as steam, water and light. The largest of these installations were in storefronts in London, U.K., Davenport, Iowa, The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha and The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and YWCA in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

These workshops and installations were intended to give a voice to the disenfranchised in their own community and beyond. I also hoped to give those participating access to nontraditional art forms and to encourage the use of imagination as a survival tool. All participants were given credit for their work. Any profits went into the project. They usually created one metal note to keep and one similar to it for the traveling installation. Many chose to remain anonymous, but have not been forgotten.

Though my art takes a variety of forms, it is united by my belief that art can help make meaning of one’s experiences. These installations became shrines to the extraordinary nature of “ordinary life.” For me they embody the peculiar, ridiculous and meaningful (less) qualities of everything human.


I would like to thank the following institutions and individuals in addition to those who participated but have chosen to remain anonymous, but are not forgotten: Federal City Shelter and The National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., Sean Turner, John Minx, Mitch Snyder, The Big Issue, the Delphina Foundation, London, U.K, The Virginia Center for the Arts, The Davenport Museum of Art, especially Director Dan Stetson and artist Lloyd Schoeneman, Quad City Arts, Kate Ridge, Miriam House and John Lewis Coffee House in Davenport, and to Sandra Bullock at Neighborhood Place in The Quad Cities: The Cedar Rapids, Museum of Art, especially then curator Leslie Wright, The Cedar Rapids YWCA, The Madge Phillips Center and Women’s Shelter, The Katharine McAuley Shelter and Women’s Center, Rick Edelman, Mathew Butler, Nathan Peck, and, always, David Van Allen. The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, especially then director Ree Schonlau Kaneko and Gregg Narber board member.

These prints seem to continue my fascination with the construction and deconstruction of myth and memory. My favorite art from past and present cultures comes from collective and individual imaginations able to extend ordinary experience to the level of myth. My prints, in particular, are indebted to Mexican ex-votos, Mediterranean devotional art, and Midwestern visionary art and vernacular architecture.

In 1971 I completed an M.A.T. degree with emphasis in printmaking at The University of Iowa, Iowa City. The last print in the above series is from my graduate work there. Since then, though focused on concept based intermedia and installation works that often involve drawing, sculpture, and video, I regularly create prints while teaching students on our Mexico Term in Oaxaca. Working in Charles Barth’s studio there we work with students in a variety of print media. My emphasis in graduate school was etching and that seems to dominate my approach. In graduate school we were encourage to work very large so of course my first print after grad school was tiny and broke every rule in the Lansansky studio. As with my other work I often work in diptychs and other series formats. My prints tend to be more figurative and narrative than other work — perhaps originally more related to my early 1980’s wall reliefs.

The imagery in all the prints relates to concepts I am dealing with in all my work at the time. Thus, the Hairy Tales series leads up to my All-American Glamour Kitty Pageant project in 1975-6. The etching Defending Yourself Against Injury, was created while an artist in residence at Dennison University in 1991 and combines images from my journals with drawings and notes by disenfranchised individuals living in shelters, safe houses, or nursing homes. I began working on these community-based public projects in NYC in 1986. This etching, then, deals with issues of homelessness. In this context I think of home as the physical manifestation of a spiritual concept. The central image was created by Susan J. a resident of a Cedar Rapids shelter for adolescents, The two notes from “Jack” were found stuffed in the drawers of and empty house that friends of mine had purchased. Jack’s wife had died and he was being moved to a nursing home so the house could be sold. Jack and his wife had lived in the house for fifty years.