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Mermaid Magic at Calderón Guardia Museum

September 8, 2006

Artist Emily Gassenheimer de Friedlander wants people to realize that magic exists.

After the recent inauguration of her exhibit, “Sooks and Sallies:Mermaid Lessons and a Sun-WarmedShore,” magic is exactly what hangs over the CalderónGuardiaMuseum in the hip eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio Escalante.

Influenced by a love of nature and an admiration of female strength, over the past two years Gassenheimer de Friedlander gave life to this collection of dreamlike ceramic figures and collages, cluttered with color and anything from fake pearls, jewels and mosaics to hair.

“What I want is for people to realize there is magic … to think outside of the box, outside of the stereotype, to follow their own personal image and believe in those little moments of ecstasy in people’s lives,” Gassenheimer de Friedlander said of the purpose behind “Sooks and Sallies.”

Works such as the loopy, striking “Candlesticks of Wonderland,” reflect this magic, which is also embodied in the mermaid theme.

Although she was not meant to steal the show, visitors at the exhibit’s inauguration Aug. 29 clustered around ceramic mermaid “Aphrodite,” whom the artist considers “one of the mothers” of the collection.

A native of the U.S. state of Alabama, Gassenheimer de Friedlander said that, though it may sound corny, she did not choose the mermaid theme; rather, it chose her.

As she read her children a song by English poet John Donne that says, “teach me to hear mermaids singing,” the artist found Donne had put into words the way she wanted to live her life, and the lesson in magic she wanted her children to learn.

“I think most people have kind of a fantasy or love affair with mermaids. There’s something very magical and titillating about them,” she told The Tico Times, explaining that she has been developing this theme since her days in art school in the United States.

The mermaid motif forms part of a theme of female strength that Gassenheimer de Friedlander has also explored for years (TT, Oct. 28, 1994).

“Mermaids are never weak, never afraid to be themselves; they have very strong identities,” she said. “Also, visually, they’re just a very rich image.”

Gassenheimer de Friedlander, who admitted she is very influenced by what she reads, said she likes to pay homage to strong women in history and literature, such as Queen Elizabeth I, who sits at the exhibit in collage-form as “Queen Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen.”

The feminine element of her exhibit is captured in its title. A sook, Gassenheimer de Friedlander explained, is a mature female crab that is ready to mate and lay eggs, while a sally is an immature crab.

The exhibit, which will run through Sept. 16, is meant to portray this process of “maturation in nature and our own personal voyages,” a subject that fascinates the artist.

“Sooks and Sallies” may be viewed Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, contact the CalderónGuardiaMuseum at 222-6392 or 255-1218.

 

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