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JESSIE DUNAHOO, INSTITUTE 193, AND THE ELAINE DE KOONING HOUSE

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from contributing Journal writer, artist, and founder of Institute 193, Phillip March Jones. He’s taking a hiatus from the New York heat this summer to spend time on his family farm in Kentucky. He’s used the summer to grow vegetables, make photographs, and organize exhibitions. Follow his Instagram to be inspired. In the fall, he will open a small Institute 193 project space in NYC’s East Village. In the meantime, Institute 193 has organized an exhibition in the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton and will be featuring a large installation of “quilts” by Jessie Dunahoo. If you are in the New York City area this summer, we encourage you to make a trip to see the exhibition in person. If you are new to the Journal, read back to learn about Institute 193 and the incredible artists’ work they share. From Phillip:

Jessie Dunahoo was born August 6, 1936 in St. Helen’s, Kentucky – roughly eighty miles southeast of Lexington. Deaf since birth, Dunahoo additionally lost his vision at a young age but that didn’t prevent him from the normal preoccupations of boyhood: exploring, fort-building, and other creative pursuits.

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Jessie Dunahoo at Latitude Artist Community, 2006. Photo: PMJ

The support structures for people considered to have a disability in the 1940s (particularly in the rural South) were even more limited than they are today. As a result, Dunahoo was mostly left to his own devices but afforded the artistic freedom to explore and create within the boundaries of the family’s home and land. Using various fences and trees, he would hang intersecting lines, ropes, and wires that could be grasped and threaded, creating a 3-D map he used to navigate outdoor space. Some of these paths led him through the woods and into a space his nephew refers to as “Jessie’s place,” an area once covered with his sewn awnings and decorated with handmade furniture built using things scavenged around the farm.

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Jessie Dunahoo at Latitude Artist Community, 2008. Photo: PMJ

Dunahoo eventually moved into a state-operated group home in Lexington. As before, the artist continued to construct his environmental sculptures which evolved into complex sewn structures made of found materials, including grocery bags, fabric samples, pieces of old clothing, and twine. Through an interpreter, Jessie described his works as shelters, and they were strung about his home and yard, covering the walls, floor, and ceiling. Dunahoo was keenly aware that others viewed and evaluated his constructions and was always delighted to play the docent, escorting interested viewers in and around his creations. Until his death in May 2017, Dunahoo worked five days a week at studio space called the Latitude Artist Community in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Jessie Dunahoo installation at the Elaine de Kooning House (East Hampton, NY). Photo: Katherine McMahon.

Jessie Dunahoo’s works are currently on view at the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton, New York as part of Summer Studio, an exhibition organized by Maïa Ferrari of Institute 193. The exhibition explores both local and universal notions of community and demonstrates the profound effects that a modest space dedicated to the exchange of ideas can instill upon a group of individual talents. While living, Dunahoo was an integral part of the Institute 193 extended family who combined his artistic efforts with musicians, dancers, and other visual artists to great effect. Most notably, he created a spectacular stage set for Jim James, Daniel Martin Moore, and Ben Sollee’s concert at the Lexington Opera House in 2010.

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Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, and Jim James with Dunahoo stage installation, 2010. Photo: PMJ

Summer Studio: Institute 193 at the Elaine de Kooning House is on view through the end of August.

Lead image: Jessie Dunahoo installation at the Elaine de Kooning House (East Hampton, NY). Photo: Katherine McMahon.

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