Artist displays paintings inspired from hometown
It’s not uncommon for Vidal Blankenstein to hear voices when she visits places from her childhood in Natchez.
From Ravennaside where she shook hands with a life-sized witch on the porch every Halloween to Magnolia Hall where she attended elementary and middle school in the 1960s, each place has its own stories that Blankenstein treasures.
“I’ll go up to some of the places and hear the voices inside of how much has gone on inside and outside,” she said. “I’ve been in some of them so often that you have to stop the voices or you would never get inside.
“There are fond memories of each one.”
Blankenstein was able to silence the voices long enough to capture a variety of places in Natchez through a mixed-media series titled, “Stories Told,” which uses a combination of photography and painting to tell the stories of her childhood.
“These particular pieces are things that many people my age grew up hearing about and experiencing,” she said. “While the concept was sort of laid out, it was very free form in its creation because I did not know what these things were going to look like until I started driving around town.”
During a trip to Natchez in November, Blankenstein took her digital camera and visited a variety of locations around the city that she said have sentimental or historical value to her.
“This particular series of work is more of a literal narrative than most of my work because it’s very much inspired by the storytelling of the town where I grew up,” she said. “I tried to keep it to things I had first-hand experience with rather than just tourism appeal things.”
Accompanying each piece of art is also a brief narrative that describes Blankenstein’s interaction with the location or just a bit of history.
The text that accompanies the piece titled, “Bird House” describes her grandmother’s neighbor named Mr. Billy.
“Mr. Billy was a great little fellow with Einstein-esque white hair,” the text reads. “Every evening hundreds of purple martins would circle his tall bird house at dusk to roost.
“We would watch from the porch across the street and wish we could fly.”
Including the text-based stories was an addition to the series Blankenstein said was important in order to allow everyone to enjoy the pieces — not just art aficionados.
“Some people don’t really respond exclusively to visual art, so the stories put with them offers a bridge for people who don’t really get or see the art,” she said. “The goal is for those people to come in through the stories and then see something in the paintings.”
To create each piece, Blankenstein printed a digitally-edited copy of the photograph on watercolor paper and then painted on that copy.
The end result is a collage of photography and painting that gives the pieces an enhanced narrative, Blankenstein said.
“Typically when I paint, I never plan what I’m painting, and it’s sort of just go with the notion and build on the images that develop,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of mixed media before, but I haven’t done photography with painting before.
“I think it turned out great.”
The series was previously displayed at Fischer Galleries in Jackson and is currently on display at the Historic Natchez Foundation.
Blankenstein said the response she’s gotten at the galleries and even on social media websites have been positive.
“A put a few pictures on Facebook and had over 100 hits of people weighing in and saying, ‘I remember this and that,’” she said, laughing. “It’s fun to see people engage in these and realize what a common thread we all have, which I think is unique to a place like Natchez.
“There are people in Natchez from all different kinds of walks of life who have common threads to these kinds of stories.”
A Natchez native, Blankenstein works from her studio in the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson and is the owner and creative director of an advertising and design studio, Imaginary Company.