The art galleries at the University of North Alabama are filled with life once again. Gallery 126, UNA’s downtown art gallery, is showcasing artwork by Tennessee native, Paige Ward. Ward is a Shop Technician and 3D Instructional Staff member at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
The art department at UNA and the art department at Union University have a special connection. Their department chair is the father of Professor Aaron Benson, the art department chair at UNA. UNA’s gallery director, Professor Chiong-Yiao Chen, discovered Ward while she was presenting her own show at Union University. Chen fell in love with her work and invited Ward to display her exhibition at Gallery 126 as an educational opportunity for students.
Ward’s show as a whole does not have an official title, but each piece is individually named. Ward was going to name the show “Becoming June” after her newest piece, but she felt it did not fit with her older work from earlier stages of her life.
“My idea behind the “Becoming June” piece is that as a newlywed, I started to think about what it means to be a wife and how that role is possible with all the other things I do as a working academic and artist. Sometimes I think we have this idea that we have to be this perfect wife,” said Ward.
Ward’s inspiration comes from the 1950’s sitcom “Leave it to Beaver.” The main character, June Cleaver, is your ideal 1950’s housewife: always dressed her best, takes care of the children and greets her husband at the door when he gets home. This has not exactly been Ward’s experience with marriage, and she feels that she is on her way to becoming the wife that she wants to be.
“I feel like I’m in this process of becoming that person – it’s going to take me a while to be like June Cleaver – if that’s [who] I’m supposed to be. I think it’s all tied together in the word “becoming,” Ward said. “We’re all on a journey through our lives, becoming someone we want to be, and it’s always a process. I’d say that with my work, each piece I make is a visual representation of something in my life that I’m trying to process, whether that be my faith or a relationship with a family member.”
All of Ward’s work has a personal meaning, such as her piece “Precious Memories,” created from a quilt her great-grandmother had made before she passed away. Her favorite piece in the gallery is “Relics of Motherhood.”
“That piece started and developed also because of where I’m at in my life as a young wife and newlywed. I would like to have children one day, but I’m also an academic and pursuing my professional career,” Ward said. “I started to view life in seasons, that we go through seasons of life and that kind of helped me.”
“Relics of Motherhood” is made up of many busts of the Virgin Mary. Each bust is hollowed out in the middle and holds a bell jar filled with a “relic.” Ward sent a letter to around 40 women asking for an item that reminds them of their motherhood experience.
“I’m really excited about this one. It was the first time I’d ever used any imagery like that, I had never done that before. I was very happy with the way it came together and how all of the symbolism worked out in a way I’d never explored before,” Ward said of her work.
“Relics of Motherhood” and “Becoming June” are located in the front of the gallery, as they represent Ward’s new thoughts and experiences. Her older pieces are located in the backroom of the gallery and represent things she had experienced growing up, before she was married.
“All of those pieces have been part of my journey in becoming the wife I am today and where I am today. I’m still on that journey and will continue to grow and learn and change, “ Ward said.
Her love for art started as a child, building treehouses as her first form of artwork. Ward comes from a small, rural town where art is not very prominent. She wanted to change that.
“I’m from a very small town and there were no practicing artists in the town. I knew I always liked building things and being creative. Finally, I got to high school – I’m from a rural area and we didn’t have any art in school until high school. My high school art teacher was very influential to me. I had always wanted to be a teacher and after I had her, I realized if I [were] an art teacher that would allow me to do all the things I love to do,” Ward said.
Ward wants her work to make people think deeply about life. She wants them to have a different perspective on life and to truly think about the value of the things that have happened to them.
“I’d like people to go away with a different perspective on life experiences. I’d like them to think about some of the things that I think about, like the value of someone choosing to be a mother or maybe the value in our heritage through our grandparents. What does faith mean? What does it mean to believe in something you can’t see and to trust in that thing? Those are some of the questions I would like people to go away with and ask themselves. I want people to ask questions,” Ward said.
Ward’s exhibit can be seen at Gallery 126, located at 126 West Tombigbee Street in downtown Florence.