Date: November 30, Toronto By: Dr. Irene Gammel
"Make It New: Salon Portraits from New York to Toronto" was the theme of the exhibition that opened this Monday night at our Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre. Almost one hundred visitors cycled through the exhibit installation, which included gender, political, race, musical, carnival, and domestic portraits. The concept was to modernize modernism by translating New York salon portraits of 1919 into 2009 Toronto. The mood was exuberant, as the Ryersonian took photographs and interviewed people. Also adding to the ebullience was a message we received just hours before the opening. It came from A'Lelia Bundles, the great-granddaughter of A'Lelia Walker, the African-American heiress and legendary New York salonière:
"I just saw an announcement about tonight's opening reception for ‘Make It New,’ which includes A'Lelia Walker, my great-grandmother. I live in Washington, DC, so can't attend, but would love to know more about the installation. I also would be happy to speak with the students about the research I have done for the biography I'm currently writing about A'Lelia Walker and her Harlem Renaissance years."
All best wishes, A'Lelia Bundles
The exhibition was organized by the students in my graduate course "CC8829: Modernist Literary Circles: A Cultural Approach." The organizers, Dayna Jones, Daniel Joseph, David Kerr, Laura Shaw, Dana Svistovitch, and Nicola Waugh, are a remarkable group of students, who deliberately immersed themselves into the salon portraiture of the early twentieth century, reimagining New York’s salon culture by forming a salon of their own. Thus they met every Friday evening at Laura's home to discuss their project and bond as a group. As a result, they learned not only by studying theory and practical components in class, but engaged in peer learning in their own salon. Several students cited this component as unique, as one of the students wrote to me after the exhibition: "This class was an unforgettable experience for all of us!"