‘Picking up the pieces’: Art exhibit explores death, memory


by Jonathan Facio, Layout Editor

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Julia Franklin, professor of art at Graceland University in Lamoni, put her art, family and vulnerabilities on display in Farnham Galleries over the past month through a collection of objects.

Some belonged to her father, and some were found. Franklin spoke about her art to around 40 students, faculty, community members and friends.

The exhibit revolves around the death and memory of her father, whose life and death is shrouded in mystery. Was his death a murder? Was he ashamed of a secret lover?

After the death of her mother, Franklin began to receive bits and pieces of information about her father she had not previously known, like how he might have been gay. There were rumors Franklin’s father was involved in a relationship with someone who was a close family friend.

The mystery doesn’t end there. After 26 years, Franklin discovered a book with a character portraying her father.

“It’s January in Iowa, what else am I going to do? So I read the book and pages and pages about my father,” Franklin said.

Her father was an accountant for a man who discovered his wife was embezzling money from him. The man was found poisoned and Franklin’s father was supposed to speak to the police the same day he died.

Every object in the exhibit was intentional. One of her pieces, a ladder, with one side leaning on a small glass house filled with family picture, leans against a wall to a crooked “Home Sweet Home” sign.

Franklin explained her father, feeling as if he had to choose between providing the best for his family and living a happy life. To Franklin, her father might have been feeling he was “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” she said.

“The universe provides,” Franklin said of both the information and objects she found. She received a box of letters her father had written and some of his old neckties. Franklin said the objects with memories attached to them carried weight and power.

An old wooden dollhouse with a music box, for example, which played “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” chimed along as visitors sifted through letters, family photos and all of the other pieces on display.

When asked, Franklin said the dollhouse was “the best dollar find ever” because of her family’s love for musicals growing up.

At the end of the exhibit, visitors complimented Franklin for the vulnerability in her work. “This was very healing,” Franklin said, recognizing the difficulty she experienced creating her artwork.

Despite her reservations about involving her family, Franklin persisted.

“Why not do it. I’m not getting any younger,” she said. “I feel like the timing was right.”

The death of her father impacted the way Franklin treats mental health. “Maybe there’s something positive that will come out of this,” she said.

Among the pieces Franklin included messages of hope, such as a piece of fabric embroidered with “Let today be a good day”.

Franklin said there has to be hope.

“There are people I know who are hurting and seeing this show,” She said. “For my dad, I feel like he thought that was going to bring him some kind of comfort or escape.”

Among all the pieces left behind by her father in taking his own life, Franklin reminds people viewing her art of what’s right in front of us and what we all might leave behind.

“Think about all of the text messages and emails, and social media posts.” Franklin said. “That’s a collection of people acknowledging you exist, and we forget. I think he forgot.”