In the face of Disaster

Dayton Visual Arts Center presents Disaster: A Juried Members’ Show

By Emma Jarman

Photo: “Home of the Brave” by Guustie Alavado; cast glass on wood & acrylic

The setting is ironic. Titled Disaster: A Juried Members’ Show, the exhibit sits peacefully on the second floor of the Dayton Convention Center. Softly lit and simply hung around the atrium atop the escalator, Disaster seems to be anything but. Yet, upon approach and under scrutiny, the pieces – so delicately framed and placed – depict very real mayhem and an eclectic interpretation of the title term.

The exhibit has been on display since Nov. 2, 2012 and will remain hung until Feb. 2; plenty of time to revel in post-apocalyptic bliss and appreciate the beauty of trauma. Particularly relevant, this year marks the 100-year anniversary of the time the Great Miami River rose up and overtook Dayton in the worst natural disaster Ohio has yet experienced. The theme not only gives the entered artists a highly interpretable subject — depictions are not limited to the flood — but it affords viewers the opportunity to see disaster through an artistic medium rather than beneath newspaper headlines and in images of despair so often broadcast over the local and national evening news.

“Once every couple of years we do exhibitions,” said Eva Buttacavoli, executive director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC). “We decided to do this members’ show [at the convention center] in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the flood, in the idea that artists respond to tragedy in different ways and look at renewal in different ways.” The topic also provides a way for local artists to speak directly to the community about an event that had a cataclysmic effect on Dayton, but also about our universal concern over the human and economic toll taken by disasters, both natural and human-made, she said.

The Disaster exhibit represents the DVAC’s contribution to other flood anniversary events taking place in Dayton this year. A juried show means the pieces hanging on the walls (and one standing on a table) are submitted to be judged by a knowledgeable committee, not simply for the pleasure of the passerby. This exhibit will be juried by Deborah Melton Anderson, a DVAC representative. Anderson, a Missouri transplant who has resided in Columbus, Ohio, since 1961, has been an art quilt-maker for 25 years, pulling inspiration from antique quilts, ethnic textiles and other fabrics. For her recent collection, Tracking, Anderson used patterns found in bar codes and FedEx stamps to create designs.

“What was such a surprise to me was that nearly half of the submissions for the show were about personal disasters, not images of natural disasters such as wind, water, fire etc.,” she noted. “I had expected mostly the natural, weather-related kind of disasters.”

As one of the thousands of visitors that flock to the Dayton Convention Center during the winter months, you are encouraged to peruse and compare your opinions to Anderson’s. DVAC anticipates an audience of 10,000 people or more.

There are 24 pieces chosen for the exhibit. While disasters are typically considered grandiose or monumental in size, the collection at the convention center varies. There are, of course, the big ones: a three-dimensional tornado on an octagonal pedestal, for instance, that sits on an end table and towers overhead; a 49-inch by 61-inch oil- and acrylic-on-canvas piece, “Memento Mori” by Ben P. Norton, looms adjacent to a doorway, with magnified, heavy brush strokes and an impactful depiction of man and beast. And then there are the small ones: A 12-inch by 16-inch etching by Sherraid Scott titled, “Why do they hate us?” occupies a small space to the left and an even smaller, 10-inch by 16-inch, oil-on-board work by Edward Charney defines a spot to the right. The remainder of the pieces size up somewhere in the middle.

A black and blue, green and brown camouflage piece by Guustie Alavado does anything but blend in with cast-glass soldiers lining through and splintering across the wood and acrylic background. “Broken Levee,” a mixed media piece by Aka Pereyma, jumps off the wall with bright colors and all the vibrancy of New Orleans both pre- and post-Katrina. The Disaster contained on the walls of the Dayton Convention Center is as limitless as it is limited. Confined by the space in the room, but not much else, the portraits, photographs and paintings show all sorts of cataclysm. Terrified eyes peek through wrinkled hands; a messy bedroom; rolling storm clouds; natural disasters; the rebuilt site of the World Trade Center; a saddened woman wrapped in a shawl looks into the distance beyond her canvas.

“The quality was all over the place, artistically,” said Anderson, but all conveyed messages.”

Disaster can be an isolating experience, but in the Disaster exhibit at the convention center, the collectivity of it is comforting. It is an opportunity for the artists to share their reactions to disaster in an effective and productive way: through art.

Disaster: A Juried Members’ Show, presented by the Dayton Visual Arts Center, runs through Saturday, Feb. 2 at the Dayton Convention Center, 22 E. Fifth St. For more information, visit or

Reach DCP freelance writer Emma Jarman at

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