The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Inspired by Sun, Stone, and Shadows

Sun, Stone and Shadows is the Big Read selection chosen by the Kenosha Public Library. They’ve teamed up with not-for-profit visual arts organization Lemon Street Gallery & ArtSpace, Inc., located in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for an exhibition of locally-made artwork inspired by this collection of Mexican short stories. Melanie Hovey, the director of the Lemon Street Gallery, was kind enough to put me in touch with two of these talented artists, Suellyn Scoon and Deborah Madigan, to discuss their work and The Big Read.

The Panther by Suellyn Scoon. The painting was inspired by the short story "The Panther" by Sergio Pitol, featured in the short story collection Sun, Stone, and Shadows. Image courtesy of the artist

Suellyn Scoon on Sergio Pitol's Story, "The Panther," which inspired her painting above:

In a few short pages, Pitol reveals truths that affect us most as human beings: the unknown within ourselves, and the personal cost of allowing that unknown to break into the conscious state.

Pitol gives us a clue to the content of the cryptic message that is lost when put into words by using the image of a black panther. In Mexican mythology, the black panther represents the feminine side of our nature. Her power is to protect us, to remove fears, and to provide awareness of the Self. It is through the art of mythology that this individuality is explored.

My choice to paint in the style of Oaxacan wood carving as an homage to those Mexican artisans who have reached a state of consciousness that allows them, in the words of Pitol, “… to commune with forces and intelligence seemingly beyond the human.”

The painting should be viewed from the point of view of the adult looking back at himself as a child. It is the moment he lost his fears and in a state of peacefulness he pleads for the panther’s return.

In the story the panther opens his mouth wide to reveal the message. By placing the mask over the boy’s head his face is seen in the panther’s open mouth. The panther's message is to show the boy the fierce and wonderful thing that drives each of us to stand up on two feet and take our first steps into the world as a perfect individual. However, this is often replaced by an equally fierce, but debilitating, set of fears that lead to living a life that only repeats history.

Scoon on The Big Read: 

Usually I create art in isolation, but this time there has been a sense of community about the process and even a buzz of excitement from the librarians at the Kenosha, Wisconsin Northside Library where they help me with research.

Red Doors by Deborah Madigan. The painting was inspired by "Tachas" by Efrén Hernández, featured in the short story collection Sun, Stone, and Shadows. Image courtesy of the artist

Deborah Madigan on her mixed-media painting Red Doors, created as a visual response to "Tachas" by Efrén Hernàndez:

“Tachas” is the deceptively simple but evocative story of a young boy listening to a lecture by his teacher. The instructor poses the question, "What, then, are tachas?" The boy's eyes wander to the three red doors at the front of the classroom. In fact, the doors are a symbolic entry from the internal world of the classroom, to the outer world and fantastical thinking. He fixates on the last door that reveals a small triangle of sky with passing clouds. From here his imagination meanders between vivid waking dreams and reality. Hernández compels the reader to see what he sees with vivid imagery and metaphors. Philosophical questions are offered up. Quietly, surrealism tiptoes in on written words. We, the readers, are captivated.

There are universal themes here. What child has not experienced daydreaming in class? Why don't sleeping birds fall from trees? What path of many will we choose in life, and will we make a mistake? What is it about the sky that can reveal meaning in the universe? In fact, one might ask, "What, then, are tachas?"

This story changed me. I will always wonder why sleeping birds don't fall, and forever look for violets on the face of the moon.

Madigan on reading and the arts:

Literature, libraries, and the arts have vastly influenced and enriched my life, and still do. My first memories recall my parents reading to me, to my brothers and sisters. I knew I wanted to be an artist when, in first grade, I received a blue ribbon for a picture of a horse at the country fair.

The wonder of art, just like a book, a writer, reading---all these things can transform the way we see and experience the world around us. This is my wish---to compel the viewer to see with a thinking eye and to open up the imagination with a universe of visual possibilities and new ideas. Truly, there are so many paths, just like in the story of “Tachas." Needless to say, that act of creation is spiritually rewarding for me too.

To learn more about Sun, Stone, and Shadows, please visit The Big Read website.


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