Stories retold

Annie Lee-Zimerle plays the hero[ine] at Springfield Museum of Art

By Ashley Jonas

Photo: Annie Lee-Zimerle’s ‘The House of The Three Bears’ at the Springfield Museum of Art

Story Retold is an exhibition of recent works by Dayton-based artist Annie Lee-Zimerle that opened at The Springfield Museum of Art on Nov. 12 and will run through May 21, 2017. The exhibition expands upon the artist’s previous work that explores the subject of heroes and heroines. Watching her two children play dress-up, Lee-Zimerle became compelled to experiment with the idea herself. The investigation resulted in her Hero[ine] series. In addition to those works, Story Retold includes a site-specific installation that makes reference to childhood comforts. The installation, “The House of The Three Bears,” is a nod to printmaking, which is a large part of Lee-Zimerle’s artistic practice.

Tucked away in a warm and intimate corner of the museum, Story Retold operates as a space for thoughtful play. The back wall is lined with 30 illustrative small-scale gouache paintings from the series Hero[ine]. These paintings depict the artist as fairytale or super hero characters. We see Lee-Zimerle as Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Wolf. We also see her as Ironman and Wolverine, Jack climbing his beanstalk, and lying Pinocchio with his long nose. While Lee-Zimerle’s persona or costume changes in every painting, the image of her is the same throughout. She has the same graceful posture and pleasant smirk, regardless of whether she is trying on the tentacles of Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” or wielding the ax of Paul Bunyan. The pieces are small in scale, maybe 5-by-8. Thirty of them are hung in a row, like school pictures on the wall of someone’s home, where the student stays the same, but small and awkward changes are noticeable from one year to the next.

We first investigate each piece from her Hero[ine] series by noticing the fit of each costume on Lee-Zimerle. She seems suffocated and uncomfortable in Cinderella’s blue ball gown, but serene and accepting in Ariel’s existence as half woman half fish. Lee-Zimerle seems sassy and eccentric as Cruella De Vil, but not in any way evil. Going down the line of these works is like watching a film montage of someone trying to find the right outfit to wear for a big event or a date, except nothing is decided upon, there is no perfect conclusion. The sea of these small paintings leaves us asking some questions. We ask, “Is Lee-Zimerle all of these characters? Or none of them at all? Is this a search to identify with a certain archetype? Or is Lee-Zimerle playing an unending game of dress up?” These paintings seem to be a way to try on the roles of the crone (Wicked Witch of the West) or the rogue (Peter Pan), the hero (Superman) or the femme fatale (Catwoman). They also bring to mind our own associations with each character.

“The House of the Three Bears” is a three-sided structure with no roof, made of wood and Shoji screens. Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear are all present. In each of the three walls, a wood block depicting each family member is placed in the structure so that the image makes up a portion of the wall and also reads as a picture hanging on the wall. Both Mama and Papa Bear are roaring, teeth showing with fierce intent. Baby Bear, however, is far from intimidating. Baby Bear is distressed. We are not sure why. Baby Bear is covered in kisses…

We are not sure who’s. The piece gives us a minimal amount of information, which creates a literal space for us to walk into and interpret. I filled in the blanks by making an association to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Stepping into the structure, I imagined myself as Goldilocks in confrontation with the three bears. Mama and Papa were threatened by my presence and Baby Bear was worried, but also smitten with me. I spoke to Lee-Zimerle about my experience with the piece. She responds, “I wasn’t thinking specifically of Goldilocks and the Three Bears when I made the piece, but your response to it is so interesting. I created something with the intention that anyone can take a story and make it their own.”

Lee-Zimerle’s exhibition Story Retold is about living in these fairytales and being able to own them. Putting on a costume allows us to take on an identity that is likely much different from our true selves. Lee-Zimerle’s work asks how that experience might be different depending on our own backgrounds or points of reference. Rather than a search for an identity, the work seems to ask that we just imagine living in someone else’s shoes for a bit.

Story Retold runs through May 21, 2017 at The Springfield Museum of Art, 107 Cliff Park Rd. in Springfield. The exhibition is free to museum members. Non-member admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors and free for children 17 and under. For more information, please visit and


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Ashley Jonas is an artist, curator and writer. After completing her Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Florida, she went on to receive a Master of Fine Art from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Ashley currently lives and works in Dayton. Her artistic and curatorial practices are rooted in an everlasting search for moments of wonder. Reach Ashley at

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