Local artist reflects on music, farming and community in new exhibit at UMPI gallery
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Carol Ayoob of Castle Hill is the latest local artist to be featured at the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Reed Fine Art Gallery and will soon open an exhibit that captures her connections to folk music, farming, family and community.
Ayoob has been working on “Folk Mined: Musical Installations” for six months and will premiere the exhibit during the First Friday Downtown Art Walk on Nov. 2. In dozens of connected installations, Ayoob showcases the lyrics and themes of popular folk songs such as “Garden Song” by Maine-based musician Dave Mallett; “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie; and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by The Kingston Trio.
Many of those folk songs, particularly those about gardening and preserving the environment, are ones that elementary school children have learned and that Ayoob considers to be a “common thread” that connects generations.
“Now that I have grandchildren, I’ve realized how those songs have come full circle and how in the simplest tunes and chords they carry so much meaning,” Ayoob said.
One part of the exhibit, a piece called, “This Land Is My Land, This Land Is Your Land,” invites viewers to take part by scooping soil from a barrel and placing the soil on a spot on a conveyor belt that hangs over an embroidered map depicting rivers, fields and forests. Once the soil drops onto the map, people can place tiny flags with the word “Ours” onto their pile, symbolizing Ayoob’s belief that the land of the world belongs to everyone, as the song says.
Ayoob, herself an avid gardener who has always grown her own food, said that after she takes down her exhibit in January, she will likely lay the map on its own plot of soil outside and photograph it deteriorating over time.
“I wanted people to contemplate their own memories and connections to the land,” Ayoob said.
In the largest piece of “Folk Mined,” enlarged sheet music of Mallett’s “Garden Song” hangs from the ceiling and stands next to an embroidered rug and two tree stumps. During the First Friday opening of the exhibit, 4th and 5th grade music students from Woodland Consolidated School and their teacher, Jennifer Holmes, will perform “Garden Song.”
As part of another piece, Ayoob will perform the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds with friend Janice Santo as they use separate sewing machines to work on the same piece of thread. Other pieces in “Folk Mined” include wooden piano keys as well as a display in which bags of clay are held together by long strings of food and contain photographs of local farming families that Ayoob knows. The ends of the ropes curl onto paper maps that represent that land that each family has farmed for generations.
“I’ve always had great respect for farmers because they do the hardest work there is, all to make sure we have good food,” Ayoob said. “Without the farmers and the good soil and land, we don’t eat.”
Ayoob is the executive director of Mainely Girls, a nonprofit organization which hosts programs aimed at girls in rural communities, and she serves as an instructor for UMPI’s art program. She hopes that her exhibit and its folk music themes help people think about the ways in which the physical and emotional beauty of life connects them to one another.
“For me, living a folk life has always meant living a simple life in one place for many years and sharing with the community a real concern for the land and its people,” Ayoob said.
On Friday, Ayoob will debut “Folk Mined: Musical Installations” at 5:30 p.m. with an artist’s talk and the musical performance portion of the evening. The exhibit will be on display from November through January at the Reed Fine Art Gallery, which is located on the second floor of UMPI’s Center for Innovative Learning and open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.