Memories from the attic

Local artist’s exhibit reminds us to remember

By Emma Jarman

Photo: Artist Celice McKee will present Memories from the Attic at the YSAC gallery beginning May 16; photo: Scott Stolsenberg

The child of a writer and a sculptor, Dayton artist Celise McKee grew up with an appreciation for art and nurtured creativity. From May 16 to June 15, the physical manifestation of the memories of her childhood will be on display in the form of Memories from the Attic, the latest exhibit at the Yellow Springs Arts Council gallery. An opening reception will kick off the month-long exhibit opening day from 6-9 p.m., during which McKee will be on hand to answer questions and discuss her collection, though she hesitates to give too much direction when it comes to viewing her art.

“With art, I try to tell stories,” she said. “I find if I have the story ahead of time and say, ‘I’m going to create art to tell this story,’ the art is less successful. It becomes too literal.”

The pieces in Memories from the Attic are whimsical, in the sort of way that one could interpret a Tim Burton film as whimsical. Walking into the gallery space, one will happen upon a room full of old toys, dolls and items reminiscent of childhood. Their composition and curation, however, will tell a story markedly different than what typically comes to mind when remembering a prom dress or favorite skateboard. 

“Everything in the show has this air of decay,” McKee said. 

Even the bright, sunny tone of McKee’s voice sharply contrasted the tone of her collection. There were no shadows in her voice, no secrets or dark corners. Her collection, however, is mysterious, which was a conscious decision on her part. Her past experiences feed her work, but it’s the experiences of the viewer McKee hopes the pieces evoke.

“Whether or not you live in a house with an attic, when you’re a kid it’s all this wonderful old stuff and it’s dirty, and in my case it was pretty much forbidden – I wasn’t allowed to go up there,” she said. “But, I think everybody has an attic they carry with them. Your memories are stored there. That’s what I’m trying to create, is that idea of a metaphorical attic where memories are stored.”

While McKee noted her work is universal only to women and reminiscent of girlhood, she feels the collection will appeal to a variety of viewers, including children.

“I certainly hope children will come and I do think children will like it,” she said. “They’re not going to see it the same way as an adult.”

“I think Celise’s theme, with toys in the attic, might interest more young people, too,” Nancy Mellon, YSAC gallery coordinator said. “It wouldn’t be like going to a Disneyland store. There are probably going to be some dark sides to the dolls. They’re imbued with stories and universal memories that hopefully will speak to a lot of people.”

As is no news to Dayton locals, Yellow Springers are very active in their love for art. Mellon recommended visitors make McKee’s show part of their experience visiting Yellow Springs. Memories from the Attic, while certainly unique and conceptually new, is classically “Yellow Springs” in composition and tone. Many, if not all, of the artifacts McKee used to create her collection are repurposed, upcycled or handmade, including the paper fashioned into overalls, the vintage child’s shoes – her son’s – and the old skateboard she turned from curb trash into a dramatically uplit installation.

Mellon suggested paying an extended visit to the exhibit followed by a stop in the Little Art Theatre for a film and the Sunrise Cafe for a bite. Perhaps swing by Mr. Fub’s Toy Store to poke around the vintage toys in – literally – a different light, then walk down the street to the Lego Store.

“I think it’s going to be a whole experience,” Mellon said. “[McKee] isn’t just thinking of putting up separate pieces on the wall. She wants to create an attic. You’re going to be introduced to stories, and I think anyone who comes is going to get surprised.”

Yet, Mellon is still in the dark on many things involving the shadowy show. The show is artist-curated, so what exactly will be hung is still in the air. Some of the pieces will be available for purchase, particularly the smaller, handmade dolls visitors will find hung around the room, and some of the pieces will not be for sale, but final decisions have not yet been made. Odds are, however, the gallery space will be open during Yellow Springs Street Fair on Saturday, June 14, and McKee will likely be present that day. Another thing McKee is unsure of is the reaction she hopes viewers have to her work. One piece in particular, an empty prom dress resting on an old wooden schoolhouse chair, is of particular import. 

“I had this beautiful dress and it stayed in my closet forever and I never wore it,” McKee said. “I never had a boyfriend in high school, so I was so afraid no one would want to dance with me, and that fear kept me from going at all. So the dress, on the inside – and you can’t see it – is labeled, ‘What if nobody will dance with me?’”

That’s the closest to an actual memory McKee is trying to show. 

“But, if they don’t get that,” McKee said, “I hope they look at it and say, ‘That’s really pretty.’”

Memories From the Attic will be on view beginning Friday, May 16 and running through Sunday, June 15 at the Yellow Springs Arts Council gallery, 111 W. Corry St. For more information, please call 937.679.9722 or visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Emma Jarman at

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