In a recent exhibit at Tyler Art Gallery, Tom MacPherson ’73 gave viewers a glimpse inside life with his mother’s Italian-American family — literally. Visitors could pick up Aunt Ida’s cannoli recipe right out of a drawer in the kitchen cabinet. And there was Grandma, gesturing down from the wall, with her hero Franklin Delano Roosevelt tooling around heaven in his motorcar, signature cigarette holder clamped between his teeth.
Tom’s fall 2010 exhibit, “Documenti: The Italian-American Family Album,” showcased his mother’s Sicilian family in all their quirks and charm. There was Great-Uncle Tony, who worked for the mob, taking book on a race to hell; or Great-Uncle “Moxie” Cosmo, in his pinstriped suit and a showgirl on each arm. Like rooms in the family home, MacPherson filled the space with furniture, artifacts and portraits.
The genesis for the exhibit came when Tom, a professor of art at SUNY Geneseo since 1985, traveled to Italy to learn the technique of egg tempera painting. After studying the art of Fra Angelico and others, he began creating portraits of family members featuring Renaissance religious elements that spoke to their personalities. From there it was a logical step to set them in the context of home. The interactive exhibit included period music and notebooks where visitors were encouraged to write remembrances of their own families. “Art should be experienced,” says Tom, “something you feel and bring your own experiences to it.” It’s a lesson he learned from his faculty mentor Tom Seawell, who brought seriousness and humor to his own work, and whom MacPherson describes as “a real character, like my uncles.”
Tom feels that he came to Oswego at the best time to study art, with artists like George O’Connell, Michael Fox and Seawell, “first class educators, who prompted me to go to grad school and become a professor like them.” His experiences in art history classes with the likes of Cal Henning and Helen Zakin (see story on back cover) rounded out a time he looks back on fondly, calling it “the most pivotal point in my life.”
Tom plans to continue his work in family history, expanding his exhibit to include his father’s Scottish family, and is writing a book on the subject.
See more paintings at www.tommacpherson.com
— Michele Reed
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