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Daytonian of the Week: Caitlin Cartwright makes an impact through her art

Dayton visual artist Caitlin Cartwright
Dayton visual artist Caitlin Cartwright

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

“My hope is that the viewer is able to see something of themselves in the work and tap into commonalities that connect us”

American painter Thomas Kinkade once said that "art transcends cultural boundaries." Dayton visual artist Caitlin Cartwright learned that first hand through her extensive travels and community building, which helped shape her approach to her paintings.

This week, Cartwright announced that she is going to be represented by Brandt-Roberts Galleries in Columbus. Her introductory gallery feature will be unveiled at the Short North's July Gallery Hop on Sunday, July 19, from 1 to 5 p.m., and will be on exhibit through the 26th.

The gallery will feature a brand new collection of paintings, which were inspired by living in Dayton. In celebration of this new collection, her representation, and all that she brings to our community, she is our Daytonian of the Week.

Dayton visual artist Caitlin Cartwright
Dayton visual artist Caitlin Cartwright

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Cartwright is much more than a visual artist, she’s a genuine change maker. Her journey started here, growing up in Centerville and attending the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati. She moved on to earn her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

After graduation, Cartwright felt like she needed to do something more with her life, so on a whim, she moved to Madagascar for a year and worked at an orphanage. It was there that she discovered that traditional art can be an effective tool to help impoverished women get on their feet and become small  business owners.

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That community building inspired Cartwright to join the Peace Corps, which took her to Namibia for a few years. While working in a school in an extremely rural part of Namibia, she observed how difficult it was to be a girl at the school. She received a grant from the U.S. Embassy to help the girls create art to sell, in order to help pay for their school fees and books.

"In the Jungle" by Caitlin Cartwright
"In the Jungle" by Caitlin Cartwright

Credit: Caitlin Cartwright

Credit: Caitlin Cartwright

This work has had massive ripple effects of positive change. "I'm still in contact with the girls," Cartwright explained in an episode of "The Art Show" on PBS Think TV.  "I'm blown away by what they do. For example one girl, she's currently in Cuba studying to be a doctor. There are a couple getting their nursing degrees ... one is working hard to become a math teacher. When I talk to them, it's super focused on 'I want to go back and make a change in my community.'"

After Namibia, Cartwright took her travels and experience a step further by earning a degree in sustainable international development from the School of International Training (SIT) in Washington, D.C. Most recently she completed a six-month residency at the Pocosin Arts School of Fine Craft in Columbia, N.C.

Cartwright also continued her travels, most notably spending several months in India documenting artisans. She was fascinated by capturing their artistic process, which is a crucial part of their heritage, and could easily be lost if not documented.

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These formative educational and travel experiences influenced the way she approached her own artwork, which she describes as visual storytelling. From her bold color palette and thoughtful use of collage, to the story and emotions she weaves together, her work allows you to get a real sense of the remote locations and vulnerable populations she visited.

"All I Do" by Caitlin Cartwright
"All I Do" by Caitlin Cartwright

In Cartwright’s art statement she writes: “Locality is important to me, and I rely heavily on what’s around me for content and inspiration ... I work in a narrative format, focusing on snapshot moments that depict an intimate take on larger movements. From there, I build a story with the goal of tapping into commonalities that connect us and showing corners of life that aren’t often represented.”

Cartwright brought her desire to use art to build community, economic empowerment, peace building, and healing back to the Dayton area. First, she worked as the education and operations manager of the Preble County Art Association, to bring art experiences to the rural county.

Last year, Cartwright accepted the director of programming role at We Care Arts, a local nonprofit that helps transform the lives of those with physical, developmental, and mental challenges through art. "We're guided by our vision that creating art compliments medical therapies," its mission states.

We Care Arts provides meaningful and creative work for those with physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges.
We Care Arts provides meaningful and creative work for those with physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

This year, Cartwright was selected as one of the 2020 Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District / Culture Works Artist Opportunity Grantees. The grant has been awarded so that she could create a body of work inspired by the traumatic events in Dayton during the summer of 2019.

"'71 Days in Summer' is my reaction to everything that happened in Dayton between May 28th and August 4th that specifically focuses on the healing and rebuilding by our community," Cartwright said.

“My work has always included themes of healing, resilience and community. I have always drawn on inspiration from those around me wherever I may be. This, however, was the first time that such an overwhelming series of events happened to my loved ones, my community and me.”

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“I still remember vividly driving into a Trotwood neighborhood in the middle of the night, the smell of gas from a broken line, downed trees, and dazed faces are still so close to me. My partner’s mother's house was destroyed and we had to go through the branches and broken glass that used to be her living room. We were searching for her cat, Endora, that had escaped from her arms as the tornado hit.”

Visual artist Caitlin Cartwright
Visual artist Caitlin Cartwright

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

“This is an image that is seared into my mind, but also embedded in my memories are the outpouring of support and the strength that came after the tornadoes. This, along with many other stories from this summer, are what I was compelled to react to through my work. It felt crucial that this was the time to focus on healing, resilience and community through my art,” she explained.

Cartwright partnered with We Care Arts where she led a workshop with participants, many of whom were directly affected by the tornadoes and the mass shooting. In this workshop, they thought of a personal symbol for hope and created a block printed pattern with that shape.

The participants generously donated their pieces to Cartwright’s project, which she incorporated into her paintings. Most of the art created in the workshop was used in a piece called “Broken Dishes.” The painting depicts a quilt whose pattern is called broken dishes. She cut up the block prints and made them the "quilted" patches.

"Broken Dishes" by Caitlin Cartwright
"Broken Dishes" by Caitlin Cartwright

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

“I thought it was so beautiful to transform pain into hope and then ‘stitch’ these symbols of hope together in a quilt as a symbol of community healing,” Cartwright explained.

The “71 Days of Summer” collection was originally supposed to be shown at the Dayton Public Library this summer. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, that plan shifted. Since Cartwright recently gained representation by Brandt-Roberts Gallery in Columbus, they will be showing this work along with holding a virtual show. “My hope is that this will allow a greater audience to see the work,” Cartwright said.

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Carol Lundin, co-owner of the Front Street Art Studio & Gallery, described Cartwright as a social change artist in every sense. "She walks the walk, lived in Southern Africa, where she started a girls program, taught them how to successfully run a business, gave them confidence enough to continue their education. Caitlin has made a difference and will continue to make a positive impact. We are lucky to have her in Dayton!"

"Caitlin is a twinkling light in the Dayton arts sky. Her work, her advocacy, her outreach and her example of kindness and community building are inspiring," Curtis Bowman, who started Artists United of Dayton said. "Also, her smile is magic."

HOW TO GO?

"71 Days of Summer" will be on display at Brandt-Roberts Gallery located at 642 N. High St. on Sunday, July 19 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. as part of the Short North's gallery hop. The collection will be up through July 26.  Current gallery hours are 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and by appointment Monday through Thursday. Email info@brandtrobertsgalleries.com to schedule an appointment.

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