'Everyday Mystery'


"A Question Soon Forgotten," Penny McElroy.

The works of Penny McElroy will fill the Peppers Art Gallery from Feb. 18 to March 22, 2014.

McElroy, a professor of art at the University of Redlands since 1986, will present “Everyday Mystery,” a collection of pieces she has created over the past year. An opening reception will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, featuring food, drinks and live music.

“It highlights my ongoing engagement in the relationship of sense and nonsense,” McElroy said. “From my perspective there is art and truth in the intersection of these two seemingly diametrically opposed concepts. I explore images that could never be, but point to the ordinary.”

According to McElroy, there will be three series of work exhibited in “Everyday Mystery.”

“The work on the postcard [for the show] is from a series of large-scale painted collage works that relate to found poems,” she said. “There will be a facsimile edition of my sketchbook that illustrates the development of these pieces. There is also a series of works in encaustic - paintings that are inspired by autobiographical events…and a series featuring encaustic and collage on ceramic plates that loosely addresses the interactions of humans in nature.”

McElroy believes that the show will “provide viewers with food for thought, in the sense that the work invites an empathetic response.”

“There is something for everyone to relate to in the work and what viewers will find there might surprise them,” she said. “I think that when art does that, it is profoundly entertaining. … Art opens doors to new ways of thinking, feeling, understanding. Art is about everything, and so there is always something to learn from viewing art.”

For as long as she can remember, McElroy has been making things. As a child, she learned how to knit, embroider and sew, and loved to color and draw.

“I lived in my imagination a great deal of the time because I'm by nature shy and books were my constant companions,” she said. “Because of all of this I took an art class in fifth or sixth grade. That class was a disaster for me and I ended up with a 'D.' That was the last art course I took until after I graduated from college.”

McElroy majored in social work at Alma College, and after graduating worked in an outpatient treatment center for drug and alcohol abuse in rural Michigan.

“This was a very challenging job on every level, and I found myself wanting something completely ‘other’ in my off hours,” she said. “So, I took an art class, maybe finally purging the sting of that 'D.' And in that class I felt alive in a brand new way, and I knew that this had to be a bigger part of my journey.”

After rediscovering her love of art, McElroy went to Hollins College in Virginia, where she worked on the residence life staff and met Nancy Dahlstrom, her first mentor in art. While learning from Dahlstrom – a printmaker, photographer and ceramicist – McElroy found out she enjoyed printmaking.

“It fit my thinking process and my developing aesthetic,” she said. “When I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I was in the graphics program. It included everything graphic - printmaking, photography, graphic design, and book arts. During that time I went to an exhibit of Joseph Cornell's boxes at the Art Institute in Chicago, and it changed my life. I was so inspired by the ways that he combined found materials that evoked deep emotions and fragments of stories. It was one of the many times, but perhaps the most important one, that I saw work that I wish I had made.”

McElroy’s passion extends to the classroom, where she enjoys working with students as they explore the world of art.

“I am a very lucky person, because I get to work with young people on an activity that I am deeply committed to,” she said. “The chance to share that connection is such a blessing, and it's a kind of magic. Maybe because of that 'D,' I especially love working with people who always thought they couldn't be artists, or maybe just had no opportunities to try. I believe in young people and I know that working on art is good for their souls and therefore it's also good for our collective future.”

The Peppers Art Gallery is open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.

Posted: Feb. 6, 2014
Written by: Catherine Garcia

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