Barbara Dale Retrospective. Jeffrey Kent (cur.). Baltimore: Peale Museum. June 15-August 6, 2023. https://www.thepeale.org/exhibition-barbara-dale-retrospective/
Since I know the artist, this is not a review, but rather a
description of the exhibit. - Mike Rhode
The Peale Museum is in a classical 3-story building close to Baltimore’s city hall, and the exhibit fills three rooms on the second floor. As you enter the building, you see the steps have been decorated so the risers show Dale’s COVID-era project of painting / decorating / illustrating an empty roll of toilet paper per day. Towards one side of the steps is the curator’s statement, which begins,
Stepping into Baltimore-based cartoonist Barbara Dale’s studio, Peale chief curator Jeffrey Kent was truly awed by the experience as he witnessed Barbara’s effortless utilization of various mediums in her creative practice, including pastel chalk, lithographs, ceramics, paint, pencil, ink, etc., etc., etc..
Barbara Dale’s artistic journey began with a modest inheritance of $500 from her grandfather. With this seed money, she ventured into the world of printing and created Dale Cards in 1979—a line of alternative greeting cards known for their wit and edginess.
Dale firmly holds the belief that commercial art is just as valuable as fine art, considering both to be equally significant creative practices without a clear distinction between them. In this exhibition, you will encounter ten thought-provoking themes, each approached in a unique manner that is sure to ignite meaningful conversations and provoke laughter. With her unparalleled perspective, Barbara explores a wide range of topics, including women’s issues, the fragility of life and the life cycle, food and sex, commentary on art itself, character-driven narratives and relationships, self-portraits, the juxtaposition of objects, political and social justice commentary, the exploration of reality versus illusion, and the similarities between commercial and fine art.
Kent’s layout of the exhibit reflects this. A small hallway links the rooms, and on one side has an exhibit illustration done by Dale while the other wall is artwork with found images of hands and a label asks “What is Real & What Isn’t?” The largest room is full of Dale’s recent work – self-portraits, COVID response art (including over 200 toilet paper rolls repurposed into art and displayed in one long row and a monitor playing a news story about them), women’s rights material (including an older large lithograph detailing the circumstances of her marriage in divorce in a silent comic strip), large ceramic vessels (almost amphora) painted to look like women’s bodies, and an older set of maternity mugs that depicted a stylized pregnant woman’s abdomen.
The second largest room displays Dale’s commercial work including the greeting cards and calendars which made her one of the most successful women cartoonists of the late 20th century. Viewers of a certain age will recognize Dale’s working women character. Dale’s penchant for sexual humor is on display in this room, in the greeting cards but also in a section of paintings labelled Food & Sex. Other paintings are of Characters, and there is a significant amount of her work with found objects, including old photographs, cardboard rolls and packing material, and junk mail. Three pieces in this section show how successful the greeting card line was with one ad noting, “75,000,000 sold so far!” Dale’s comic strip, The Stanley Family, is also highlighted.
The final small room consists of Dale’s charity work, reflected in stories in Parade and Life magazines, and her recent anti-Trump artwork. Throughout the entire exhibit are quotes from Dale’s peers as well as excerpts from a recent article “’Working Woman’: Barbara Dale, Cartoonist and Fine Artist,” by former Library of Congress curator Martha H. Kennedy, Persimmon Tree (Summer 2023): https://persimmontree.org/summer-2023/working-woman/
The exhibit is free to visit, but donations are requested.
With her permission, the following photographs give a very complete overview of the exhibit.
|Wayne Nicolette, from Xibitz demonstrating mounting of toilet paper roll art|
|Dale and cartoonist Mike Jenkins|