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Paranormal Art Exhibit Opens in Toledo

The paranormal sells. The Toledo Museum of Art’s Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art runs from June 12, 2021-September 5, 2021. Curators assembled nearly 160 objects with possible links to the paranormal. The items include paintings, mixed media art, photography, clothing, and objects. This exhibit marks a return of viewing the relationships between art and the paranormal.

Probably the most famous painting in the exhibit is Death on the Ridge Road (1935) by American painter Grant Wood (1891-1942). The painting’s interpretation begins with the influence of the rural car crash of Jay Sigmund, Wood’s friend. Sigmund’s index finger required amputation from the crash; however, there were no fatalities. Sigmund would publish a book of poetry titled The Ridge Road, seemingly processing the traumatic event through writing. Critics have written extensively about the meaning behind the painting. Over the years, it has become intertwined with death due to its use as an illustration in the 1935 essay “…And Sudden Death” by J.C. Furnas, where he writes graphically about the increase of highway deaths occurring across America in the 1930s. American composer Cole Porter (1891-1964) purchased the painting for $3,000 sight unseen. It is on loan from the William College Museum of Art.

To be sure, I’m unmoved that this painting is linked to the paranormal. It isn’t about a death on the road. Even the painter’s mother was ill, there isn’t evidence that he was painting about her impeding death. It seems that the interpretation is more of the conflict between rural and urban living or the painter’s sexuality. However, displaying the painting draws in visitors. That’s a plus.

The second famous painting is Strange Shadows (Shadow and Substance) (1950) by Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977) which is closer to a paranormal theme. Abercrombie was a surrealist painter who was labeled a magic realist. A vast number of her paintings were self-portraits, incorporating magical motifs. Here the “Queen of Bohemian artists” conjures up a moody self-portrait with objects associated with the paranormal. This is worth viewing!

Agatha Wojciechowsky’s Untitled (1963).

The most sought-after artist for people in the paranormal field will be Agatha Wojciechowsky’s Untitled (1963). Agatha (1896-1986) was a medium healer and an artist. She knew early on that she had a gift. In 1951, Agatha worked with her spirit guide Mona and took up automatic writing. Agatha would enter a trance-like state and draw. Eventually, she would begin using watercolors. Agatha was an ordained minister in the Universal Spiritualist Church and active in the New York Spiritualist community. Here is a short film where Agatha enters her trance and paints: http://collection.folkartmuseum.org/people/2219/agatha-wojciechowsky. Please watch.

The exhibit is a traveling exhibit heading to the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky and then the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Even if the museum’s exhibit is a tenuous attempt at linking the broad subject of paranormal to artwork, it is a start. I look forward to other museums following suit.