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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Laura Ruby

Honolulu,
USA

Laura Ruby is the 2008 recipient of the Hawai’i Individual Artist Fellowship (the highest honor in the visual arts).

She exhibited her “Nancy Drew Series” of prints at the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 2005, and in 1995 exhibited the prints there along with an installation sculpture, The Mystery of the Open Book. In 2001 she exhibited recent prints in the series at the Ramsay Galleries in Honolulu, Hawai’i. The series, about the art of artmaking and the art of detection, has also been exhibited at the Georgia Southern University Art Gallery, the Museum of Nebraska Art, Texas Wesleyan University East Room Gallery, Morningside College Eppley Art Gallery (Iowa), Denison University Art Gallery (Ohio), the New York Society for Ethical Culture, and the Peoria Art Guild (Illinois). Her essay and selections of her prints from the “Nancy Drew Series” are published in Rediscovering Nancy Drew (University of Iowa Press, 1995).

Her ongoing “Diamond Head Series” currently has over 60 prints, drawings and site-specific installation sculptures, and is about land and power in Hawaii–-about the exploitation of land relating to, people, their resources and their livelihoods. In 1998, the “Diamond Head Series” was featured in Contemporary Impressions–Journal of the American Print Alliance, and there have been solo exhibitions of the series in California, Oregon, and on the Hawaiian Islands of Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island.

In 1994, she completed a large site-specific sculpture, Chinatown–Site of Passage, commissioned by the City and County of Honolulu. This artwork features the Honolulu Chinatown and waterfront neighborhood, including its history and physical structures of bridges and building profiles and rooflines in the community. She also received a grant from the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions to create and exhibit an installation sculpture, A View with a Room, at the Hawaii Loa College Gallery.

Her prints and sculptures have been shown in national and international juried and invitational exhibitions including “Creating Women” (Pennsylvania), “Shared Visions: The Art of Collaboration” (Washington), the “27th Bradley National Print and Drawing Exhibition” (Illinois), “Game Show” (Washington), “Digital Elements” (New York), and the “17th University of Dallas Print Invitational” (Texas). Currently her print Landed Committee–Annexation, is part of the inaugural exhibition at the Hawaii State Art Museum.

She has taught art at the University of Hawaii since 1977, and recently edited Mo‘ili‘ili–The Life of a Community.

Feminist Artist Statement

My “Nancy Drew Series” takes as its primary reference the fictional detective, Nancy Drew, the subject of an extremely popular series of books in American culture. The character Nancy Drew represents the independence and problem-solving intelligence of the detective figure, while also alluding to the independence, creativity and determination of the artist. The first obvious punning relationship is in the name, Drew, but the series employs multiple visual and verbal interactions—both playful and serious—in its concept and design.

The multiple levels of visual and verbal interplay incorporate references to the tools and processes of art making, including allusions to numerous codes and sign systems. For example, The Clue of the Black Keys, contains historical and contemporary musical notational systems (including Chopin’s Black Key Etude) and a typewriter schema; while The Clue of the Tapping Heels contains Morse code and The Secret of the Brass Bound Trunk includes semaphore. Each individual print and installation naturally includes far more imagery and conceptual material in addition to these notational systems, and as a series, the artworks have much interplay and interaction of concept and imagery. Other subject matter includes such popular culture elements as comedy films, mystery films and popular music.

My “Nancy Drew Series” encourages viewer involvement in the search for clues and understanding. One major theme of the series is the acknowledging of the artist/detective as maker and the viewer as an involved participant in the detection.

Nancy Drew, once getting a lead, pursues many avenues to solve a mystery. We, millions of women, who are her counterparts—scientific researchers, librarians, journalists, teachers, artists, lawyers—are excited when exploring new territory. We resolutely test established knowledge and hope to find order. We actively engage the world in order to comprehend its meanings. Within my American popular culture context, serious questions of meaning in art and meaning in the world can be addressed, playfully and with complexity.

<p>The Clue of the Leaning Chimney</p>

The Clue of the Leaning Chimney

The Clue of the Leaning Chimney

This series of screenprints refers to the Nancy Drew Mysteries—a series of books depicting the adventures of a young woman detective.

This print is a cross-cultural puzzle. This artwork is set in the upper floor of an American balloon-frame house. However, the wallpaper comes from Chinese newspaper articles about ancient Chinese artworks, Chinese New Year’s celebrations and the poet Li Po.

A simple window frames two Nancy Drew silhouettes drawing and illuminating the mark-making, while multiple investigative silhouettes sleuth around doors and window.

The large Chinese dragon’s claw draws the window shade revealing the dragon’s own origins painted on the ceramic vase within the oldest frontispiece.

In addition to this early frontispiece by R.H. Tandy, the extended shade reveals another frontispiece and an endpaper illustration from the 50’s and 60’s. This is Nancy Drew’s visual history and the Chinese character for help commands the viewer to make haste, to take action.

The Clue of the Leaning Chimney

The Clue of the Leaning Chimney

This series of screenprints refers to the Nancy Drew Mysteries—a series of books depicting the adventures of a young woman detective.

This print is a cross-cultural puzzle. This artwork is set in the upper floor of an American balloon-frame house. However, the wallpaper comes from Chinese newspaper articles about ancient Chinese artworks, Chinese New Year’s celebrations and the poet Li Po.

A simple window frames two Nancy Drew silhouettes drawing and illuminating the mark-making, while multiple investigative silhouettes sleuth around doors and window.

The large Chinese dragon’s claw draws the window shade revealing the dragon’s own origins painted on the ceramic vase within the oldest frontispiece.

In addition to this early frontispiece by R.H. Tandy, the extended shade reveals another frontispiece and an endpaper illustration from the 50’s and 60’s. This is Nancy Drew’s visual history and the Chinese character for help commands the viewer to make haste, to take action.

The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk

The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk

This series of screenprints refers to the Nancy Drew Mysteries—a series of books depicting the adventures of a young woman detective.

This print engages the viewer in a mystery aboard an ocean liner. The print plays off the title and the subject matter within the Nancy Drew book. The large trunk drawn in an intentionally distorted style, is wedged in a cabin while a Nancy Drew silhouette, a two-dimensional flat depiction, is busy outside the porthole chalking wet footprints in the illusory space of linear perspective where the size of objects gets smaller and recedes, indicating distance. The two-dimensional silhouette in repetition, indicating dedicated pursuit of clues, investigates inside the cabin and inside the trunk. Notice the changes of clothes: these suggest the future on-board detective work to come.

On top of the trunk are two different light sources, a kerosene lantern and a battery-operated flashlight. They are necessary to navigation: red marks the port or left side of a ship and green marks the starboard or right side. Of course their effectiveness is limited, as they are located within the cabin rather than visible to navigating vessels.

The semaphore flags affixed to the trunk signal attention and help. Those viewers able to read the code might wonder at the urgency of the situation and who is appealing to them.

Other travel stickers on the trunk refer the viewers to the end papers and frontispieces in several editions of the Nancy Drew books. Also, the ocean liner is one of a number of Lurlines that plied the waters for many decades between Hawaii and the West Coast.

There is also an allusion to the famous Marx Brothers shipboard scene in Night at the Opera, in which Groucho asks, rather than put the trunk in the stateroom, “Wouldn’t it be simpler if you put the stateroom in the trunk?”

The Mystery of the Tolling Bell

The Mystery of the Tolling Bell

This series of screenprints refers to the Nancy Drew Mysteries—a series of books depicting the adventures of a young woman detective.

This artwork puns extensively on its title. It is a conundrum involving tolling—alluring or enticing—visual and aural clues. It engages the viewer. The print “rings a bell” as the frontispiece stuck in the drawing room door suggests, “‘This is what I hoped to find!’ exclaimed Nancy.”

The bell shade of the lamp sheds light on the detective’s discovery. This form is visually echoed in the euphonium bell and the speaking tube of Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone. The images on the wallpaper in the outer room are bell curves and the hanging artworks in the inner room are of Pythagoras’ bell tone system. The bell pepper on the table also plays on the title, and refers to some famous photographs by Edward Weston, and also to a sculpture of mine entitled Bell Peppers.

Charlie Chan and his Number-One Son, based in Honolulu in many books and films, solved countless mysteries. This particular Charlie Chan actor was Sidney Toler, referring again to the tolling title, while Number-One Son gestures with incredulity at Nancy’s investigative powers.

The Haunted Bridge

The Haunted Bridge

This series of screenprints refers to the Nancy Drew Mysteries—a series of books depicting the adventures of a young woman detective.

This print plays on the words in the title and muses on the viewers or readers bridging the gap between the events of lived experience and the imaginary world of created fiction. The bridge, though modeled on a wooden bridge style common in the early part of the twentieth century, is in fact a suspension bridge. That is, a viewer or reader enters into an artwork or film or literary work in a suspension of disbelief. The Nancy Drew books are the piers of the bridge—all access to the visual imagery is conveyed by them. The span of the bridge is measured by hand spans.

Two two-dimensional Nancy Drew silhouettes are pursuing evidence; one, near the far pier of the bridge, investigates her very source and the other in the woods shines light on possible gnarly clues. The third silhouette is drawing—not the bridge that she sees, but a drawbridge.

On the left side of the print Nancy and her friends, Bess and George, cling to the cramped footings under the bridge, retrieving their own cast off frontispiece and drawings of three notable bridges in Hawaii.

The Clue of the Black Keys

The Clue of the Black Keys

This series of screenprints refers to the Nancy Drew Mysteries–a series of books depicting the adventures of a young woman detective.

The key elements in this print refer to a variety of methods of puzzle-solving, wherein keys and locks can open doors and shed light or can lead investigators into deeper complexities.

Another central component of this print is the importance of language systems, including music notation systems and touch-typing systems, in conveying information and meaning. The brilliant composer Frederic Chopin once set himself the puzzling challenge of creating a study employing only the black keys of the piano, and part of the score of the resulting etude is at the keyboard of this print. Chopin’s portrait sits atop an upright piano, along side a black bird, the highly prized “Maltese Falcon” from the classic detective film based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel.

The resolute investigator, Nancy Drew, seen here in two silhouettes from different eras of the Nancy Drew books, pursues Alice who is drawing aside a curtain into a world that gets “curiouser and curiouser.”

At the far right of the keyboard ascending above the highest note is a stepladder, itself a scaled implement used for ascending and descending. As in all her cases, Nancy’s investigations rise and fall according to her own resources and ingenuity until she draws her own conclusions.

The Message in the Hollow Oak

The Message in the Hollow Oak

My “Nancy Drew Series” takes as its primary reference the fictional woman detective, Nancy Drew, the subject of an extremely popular series of books in American culture. The character Nancy Drew represents the independence and problem-solving intelligence of the detective figure, while also alluding to the independence, creativity and determination of the artist.

This screenprint reveals a mystery played out on a favorite American pastime, the game board. The cards in the deck represent chapters from this particular Nancy Drew book, and images from the text appear at intervals along the “yellow brick road.” The viewer enters into the work with the commonplace American popular culture locator, “You Are Here”—familiar at malls, zoos, museums and the like.The viewer playing this game then passes through the portal to the egress—a reference to P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. Sam Spade, the detective in The Maltese Falcon, is located near important digging of clues.

The Secret of the Old Clock

The Secret of the Old Clock

This series of screenprints refers to the Nancy Drew Mysteries series of books depicting the adventures of a young woman detective.

This print investigates time. Various clues to how time is told are presented within the organizing composition of an American Craftsman mantelpiece, an architectural structure from early in the Twentieth Century.

Central in the print is Nancy Drew, as portrayed in the 1930 dust jacket, hurrying through the woods with a clock under her arm. Also shown is Charlie Chaplin as a victim of time and motion studies from the film Modern Times. Other components include the phases of the moon, a speeding roadster, and a reference to a classical notion of changing time. Also, a note hastily written in shorthand asks for your “help.”

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509 University Ave. #902
Honolulu, 96826
USA

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