Artist Celebrates Her Brassy Elderly Aunt in Luscious Photo Prints

Michelle Maguire honors her foul-mouthed, Crystal Light-swilling Great Aunt Doll in an artists’ book of prints and vignettes.

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Jul 18 2016, 4:30pm

All images courtesy the artist

Michelle Maguire’s Great Aunt Doll roots for the beleaguered Cleveland Browns, ("I told you they’d fumble. Why the hell are they runnin’ the ball right now?”), mourns Bobby Christina Brown (“Poor thing”), and sometimes tires of being on the receiving end of her great-nieces’ lens ("You know one of these days I’m gonna shove that camera up your ass, Michelle.”) She loves coney dogs and hot pepper sandwiches; she’s a sweet old lady but with the mouth of a longshoreman.

Every family has an Aunt Doll, but most of our eccentric elderly relatives aren’t artists’ muses. But Doll is— her niece Michelle, the one who keeps pestering Doll with photographs, is a photographer, and she's documented Aunt Doll in all her foul-mouthed glory in a beautiful artists' book called Salami Dreamin.’

It was tragedy that put Aunt Doll on Maguire’s artistic radar. After her father was killed by a distracted driver while riding his motorcycle near his home, Maguire found herself spending more time in her home town than she had since she left home more than 15 years prior.

"Both sides of my family tend to live long and grow old,” she tells The Creators Project. "So suddenly nothing made sense to me anymore.” Aunt Doll’s house offered Maguire a reprieve from her grief—after spending her days with her husband, writer Aaron Beck, and settling her father’s affairs—Maguire passed evenings at her great aunt’s home. "Those nights spent with her ended up being the best medicine,” she says. "She gave us great comic relief—during a time when it was so much easier to break down and cry—without ever trying or even knowing it."

Maguire say she’s “always documented [her] family,” her way of remembering loved ones. After spending so much time with Aunt Doll, she realized that she’d amassed an amazing collection of material. "I desperately needed to pour myself into something new and unfamiliar and demanding, something that made me feel alive again, and I began to think about how that material could function as a book,” she says.

"What that series of photos and video evolved into has been the most rewarding and challenging project I’ve ever taken on.” Accompanying each prints are vignettes by Maguire’s husband that serve as snapshots into Doll’s life just as effectively as do Maguire’s photos. Through the combination of Maguire’s images and Beck’s text, Doll jumps off the page.

The prints featured in Salami Dreamin’  firmly center the elderly lady by eliminating almost everything from the images but Doll herself. Whatever she’s snacking on, whether it’s a bag of chips or a 32-ounce cup of Crystal Light, is generally also spared the cut.The stark images force you to focus entirely on Doll—her pouf of white hair, her well-practiced side-eye.

Through her work as a librarian at Ohio State University, Maguire met the printmaking team at Floodwall Press, with whom she collaborated on the project. "We spent a week mixing inks according to the series’ color palette,” she writes. Together, they created the book’s 14 prints. “The tightly registered prints proved to be finicky and unforgiving, resulting in some unusually long days in the print lab, but I was hooked,” she says. "With each new layer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Doll! There she is! Going to town on some chicken wings!"

"She's mildly flattered,” says Maguire of her aunt's reaction to her newfound fame. Doll was the guest of honor at Salami Dreamin’s book launch party. “She’s still rolling her eyes in disbelief at the number of people who came out to meet her,” Maguire writes. "'That place was swarming! They gotta be NUTS!' She shook her head most of the time, held babies, and ate salami sandwiches."

To learn more about the artist click here

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