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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

"The Girl of My Dreams" at the Fine Arts Center Photography Gallery

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The Girl of My Dreams
Photography Gallery Fine Arts Center Galleries, University of Rhode Island
JANUARY 30 – MARCH 16, 2008

KINGSTON, RI— Stacy Renee Morrison’s self-involving photographic project derives from the accidental - and remarkably fortuitous - discovery of a small, dilapidated leather trunk from the 1800s on the New York street where she was soon to live.

The 19th-century treasure, discarded among garbage bags on a street in Soho, contained anonymous vintage photographs and other very personal ephemera. The evolution of this mysterious material, as it found its way into Morrison’s hands at a pivotal point in her own life, led to an extended, interpretive portrait of Sylvia DeWolf Ostrander (1841-1925). Her family, the renowned DeWolf Family of Bristol, Rhode Island, intermarried in her generation with the prestigious Colt Family of the same town.

As she has explained, Morrison originally “made photographs to canonize a life story left unclear.” Initially, she carefully inventoried the intimate heirlooms inside the trunk, photographing, as she recounts, “a ball honoring the Prince of Wales, mourning jewelry made of human hair, hand-made paper dolls, calling cards…” Some two years later, Morrison made her first discoveries as to origin of the materials and undertook serious genealogical research with the help of the RI Council for the Humanities (RICH) and the University of Rhode Island Library Special Collections Unit, where the Colt Family Papers have come to reside. Sylvia’s youngest sister, Elizabeth, had married Samuel Pomeroy Colt, and the family’s extensive personal papers were donated to the University Collections. Writer Paul Davis publicized the remarkable story of Morrison’s discoveries in The Providence Journal, October 30, 2006.

But it was the ghost of the individual she would learn was Sylvia that emerged first and most clearly for Morrison. Indeed, before she even knew who her subject was, Morrison was haunted in her dreams by a woman in black, with braided hair. “She implored me to look, to think, to feel for her,” is how Morrison recalls those nocturnal communions. For a period of time Morrison listened to the woman whisper secrets, and imagined vividly the 19th-century world inhabited by the girl of her dreams as a kind of embroidering of an invented past. Through the research she conducted thereafter, she learned the history of the woman’s life, set against the Civil War, and the troubled marriages and constraining social customs that surrounded Sylvia and her sisters. Finally, over the course of her immersion in astonishingly rare materials, Morrison came to identify keenly with her historical subject and her subject’s family. In irresistible interpretive homage she undertook to create a complementary body of photographic studies derived from Sylvia’s images and life as she had grown to know it.

In the course of her research, Morrison became acquainted with the town of Bristol, and as she has described, “wandered the town, meeting Sylvia’s descendants, wearing her clothes, reading her books and simply trying to understand her. A century of time separates us, yet we are becoming intertwined.” Eventually important to Morrison’s project were additional materials generously shared by Sylvia’s great- granddaughter. Dresses, a parasol, and more letters became significant props for Morrison’s photographic series.

In the Fine Arts Center Galleries’ exhibition, the photographs are of two sorts. Those set against a black ground are the objects that belonged to Sylvia DeWolf Ostrander. The complementary images are Morrison’s interpretation of her life. Nuanced and evocative, they suggest restoring gaps in historical time. Themes of history, gender, identity and memory come to vibrant life in “The Girl of My Dreams,” the first time Morrison’s photographic study of Sylvia will be shared publicly.

Morrison received a BA in Women’s Studies from Rutgers University in 1996 and went on to become an Etiquette Consultant and Historian. As she describes her trajectory, “In the midst of trying to save the world from the ill-mannered, she received her Masters Degree in Photography from New York University in 2000.” Morrison is Adjunct Associate Professor at Montclair State University and teaches at Cooper Union.

She has exhibited her photographs in galleries in New York and San Francisco. She is also a commercial still-life photographer “whereby she makes quiet and polite photographs of everyday objects” and is represented by Zefa/Corbis for this work.

An illustrated catalogue accompanies this exhibition.


The Public is cordially invited to partake of these special events:
February 6, 2 p.m. Invited Talk by the artist
February 7, 4 – 6 p.m., Reception for the artist


Gallery hours are T – F, Noon – 4 p.m. & Saturday – Sunday, 1 – 4 p.m.
Visit the Galleries online at www.uri.edu/artgalleries. The Galleries are open to the public without charge and handicapped accessible.