Paterson Ecology and History Informs New Work by Artist Marion Wilson, in Exhibition at William Paterson University Galleries

Woman Protestor, 2019 ; Digital print ; 13 x 19 inches ; Courtesy of Marion Wilson and The Paterson Museum

Exploring Paterson, New Jersey and the Northeastern regions through nature, artist Marion Wilson investigates ecology and landscape to foster a closer connection to self and place in her new exhibition at the William Paterson University Galleries, on view in the Ben Shahn Center for Visual Arts, from January 27 to May 6, 2020.

Through her photographs, paintings, and installations, Wilson interrogates our relationship to nature at a time when extreme climate change threatens ecosystems, livelihoods, and communities. This project emerged along the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey, a city that used its water to power the silk industry and now faces environmental degradation in its post-industrial decline.

Marion Wilson: The Landscape Is Sanctuary to Our Fears showcases a site-specific installation interweaving Wilson’s paintings and photographs with historical artifacts loaned from the Paterson Museum.

Wilson, who grew up in New Jersey, finds further inspiration in William Carlos Williams’ long-form poem, Paterson. “Where Williams declares that the city is a man and is not nature, I reclaim the ‘city’ as a woman and explore its connection to nature and animism,” says Wilson. She endeavors to underscore the role of women as mill workers and labor activists. Her exhibition title is drawn from Williams’ prose; she explains: “My work questions both implicitly and explicitly whether art can save nature—and whether nature can save us from ourselves.”

This exhibition draws upon interdisciplinary research that began in spring 2019 when Wilson collaborated with William Paterson University professor of environmental science Nicole Davi and her undergraduate students to conduct stream studies of the Passaic watershed. Together, they examined macroinvertebrates, which are bioindicators of water quality as well as overlooked and under-appreciated aspects of the landscape. Over the course of subsequent months, Wilson conducted field hikes to collect local species and waters. She also studied the archives of the Paterson Museum and the American Labor Museum at the Botto House in neighboring Haledon, New Jersey.

Wilson will also exhibit “The Waters of My Childhood,” a photographic series documenting water collected from lakes that Wilson visited regularly as a child. The exhibition highlights how the exploitation of natural resources leads to the exploitation and degradation of people, which will be further exacerbated by impending climate change.

Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and select Saturdays (March 7, April 4, and April 25) and Sundays (February 23) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.

Marion Wilson will give an Artist Talk on Tuesday, January 28 from 2 to 3 p.m. followed by an opening reception for the exhibit from 3 to 5 p.m.

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Programs are also made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.