Exhibit shows art of aging

Susan Willrett, of DeKalb, points out aspects of Karen Brown’s “My Midnight Snake” to Sally Castner, of Colorado, at the NIU Art Museum in Altgeld Hall Tuesday afternoon. The piece is part of a collection on display entitled StAGEs of Transition which will be running at the museum until Oct. 2.

By Chris Krapek

Age ain’t nothing but a number.

In an effort to examine the changes throughout our lives related to getting older, the NIU Art Museum is hosting “StAGES of Transition.” The exhibit, located in the South Gallery in Altgeld Hall, features paintings, sculptures, photography and video depicting the aging process.

Jo Burke, director of the NIU Art Museum, said the concept originated after she began to ponder what it exactly means to age. However, she didn’t want the exhibit to focus solely on middle-aged and elderly subjects, as we age from the moment we’re born.

“I didn’t think too many college students would relate to that, so we did different ages,” she said. “That’s why it deals with babies, becoming parents and 6-year-old’s view on things.”

The exhibit, which features nearly 30 works from artists ranging in age from 6 to 80, examines the correlation between years and life through the artist’s own age and framework.

In the gallery, a wall photograph depicts four sisters throughout 25 years of their life. A series of paintings depicts an artist’s projection of himself as an old man. An illustrated book contains the poems and musings of a six-year-old’s stream of elementary school consciousness. All of the works are so creatively different, but strikingly similar in theme.

Cynthia Hellyer-Heinz, an artist who has several pieces in the exhibit, describes her work as the stages of a female character as she evolves through life.

“The female figure I used was my mother,” she said. “It was the impact of being witness to the many changes of her life, from being a very vital person to having cancer, to having struggles with life and death issues and the integration of her physical form with nature.”

The Warrenville native and art department faculty member said she works intuitively, starting with a notion of objects she’s attracted to and goes from there.

Done all in pencil, Hellyer-Heinz’s work dissects the relationship between aging human flesh and the surface texts around her.

“I’m a gardener. This sounds weird, [but] I’m always picking rotten things,” she said. “I’m intrigued about the process of flesh, whether it be a person or a tomato.”

For Burke, even though she can physically feel the effects of aging in her hips, she believes that every birthday, every age, is a new beginning.

“You get new ideas and new things matter,” she said. “Things that bothered you as a kid don’t bother you anymore, you’re constantly going through change.”

The “StAGES of Transition” exhibit is open Tuesdays through Friday and is currently running through Oct. 2.