by Michael Mansfield
Carl Austin Hyatt, “S # 28, Portsmouth Harbor Salt Pile Series,” printed 2015, 50″ x 60,″ archival pigment ink on watercolor paper
OMAA has a devoted core of docents and volunteers. Their heartfelt commitment is one of many traits that makes this museum such a special place. They play a unique role with audiences, at once offering tours, answering questions and serving as the voice for the collections. OMAA docents also engage in conversation with visitors about works of art and the experiences they present. Modest or provocative, their stories offer a unique view into the ways in which art reaches people. One such moment was recently relayed to me by Marsha Northrop, who has been a docent with OMAA for seven years.
“I saw a tall elderly man gazing at Carl Austin Hyatt’s photographs of the salt piles. He stood before each photo studying it carefully before slowly moving onto the next. I eventually approached him and asked what he thought of the pictures as it was obvious to me that they were making an impact on him.
He told me that he had worked for 35 years unloading that salt from the ships and building those enormous piles. What so surprised and amazed him was that over all those years he never looked at the piles he was creating as works of art. He never noticed how beautiful they really were until he walked into our exhibit.
I told him that there’s a difference between looking and seeing. You can look at something every day but not really see it however today he actually SAW what he had been looking at for all those years. He told me that it was exciting for him to discover this.
I noticed that as he moved through the other galleries he kept returning to gaze yet again at the salt piles.”
This also highlights the remarkable role that artists play in revealing the world in which we live. Artists generally, and certainly Hyatt in particular, focus our attention on something we see daily and place it in a different light. Hyatt is inviting us to give some attention to the great forces at work in the world. Marsha and her visitor’s experience reflect what happens when that succeeds.
The exhibition catalog, “Carl Austin Hyatt: Salt/Sea/Stone,” published on the occasion of the show’s installation at OMAA, is available in the museum gift shop or for purchase online.