POINT PLEASANT — A fascination with parlor chairs, a discarded note found on the street and the shared loss of parents, all led to the creation of a portrait series which is now reflected in a documentary airing on local PBS stations this Monday.
Sometimes, along life’s scavenger hunt, we find what we need, when we need it. Take, for example, local artist Jamie Sloane. Three years ago, while looking for furniture, he became fascinated with parlor chairs and wanted to buy some for his home.
“I kept telling him, you don’t want to buy those, they’re parlor chairs. They’re just for a few minutes for a visitor to sit in,” Jimmy Hobbs, Sloane’s partner, said. “Then, all of a sudden, he got that entire (creative) process (going), that we’re all only here for a moment and he wondered who had sat in those chairs?”
Sloane said also around that time, he was dealing with the death of his father.
“The idea of you visiting the world for just a brief moment was over me because of that and then Jimmy’s mom (passed) as well and I’m making reference to that (with his portrait series that followed),” Sloane explained.
Then, one day while walking near his former home on First Avenue in Gallipolis, Ohio, Sloane found a discarded note, which was the size of a fortune cookie that simply said “visitor.”
The concepts of loss, chairs from another time and randomly finding a “visitor” collided inside Sloane’s brain. He came up with an idea to paint contemporary “visitors” in those antique, parlor chairs and group them into a collection. Sloane said since he found “visitor” on a note in Gallipolis, known as the “City of the Gauls,” he would put a French twist on the word and ended up taking his “The Visiteur Series,” eventually to the Huntington Museum of Art.
Before creating the portraits even began, Sloane told Hobbs he was going to document the entire process and put it on film. That film and that process can be viewed at 9 p.m. this Monday, May 13 on local PBS Stations.
Eddie Isom of West Virginia Public Broadcasting stated he felt this documentary would appeal to local viewers because “Jamie is a West Virginia artist and his portraits were shown at the Huntington Museum of Art. West Virginia Public Broadcasting has a long history of showcasing the arts and artists in our programming, both nationally and locally. We feel this documentary is part of our mission of telling West Virginia’s story.”
The film, directed by Sloane, includes an insider’s glimpse into his creative process within his penthouse on the fourth floor of the historic Lowe Hotel in Point Pleasant. Interviews with the subjects who sat for Sloane in the portraits were integrated as was an original score by the artist who also has a background in composing music.
Hobbs did the set design and interviewed the subjects of the portraits, while aerials shots of Point Pleasant were done by local photographer Jesse Thornton and additional footage of opening night of his art show were shot by photographer Jessica Malone of Gallipolis.
“We also wanted to elevate Point Pleasant (in the documentary) to show what a wonderful place Point Pleasant is and that’s why you see the drone shots from the park, the river and the hotel,” Hobbs said, adding, the film also shows several empty chairs around the historic hotel to remind viewers to question, who stayed there and who sat there?
“The Visiteur Series” was reportedly one of the best attended shows at the museum in recent memory, with nearly 500 people attending opening night. It showcased an intersection of local residents and Sloane’s interpretation of them, which the documentary also attempts to explain.
“The whole collection is about the projected self and the true self,” Sloane said. “When I look at people, I see both.”
Beyond the explanations provided in the documentary, is the reflection of the partnership between Sloane and Hobbs who have been together for nine years.
“I believe in believing in each other, as sappy as that sounds,” Hobbs said. “Three years ago when he said ‘I’m going to make a documentary, and I’m going to put it on TV,’ there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that that was going to happen. Whenever he first said ‘I’m going to do this visitor’s series’ and described the scale, and the frames (canvases were 60 inches x 48 inches) and you know, that woud’ve been daunting to a lot of people. Those frames were the price of a new car! How many people trust and love you enough to go, ‘let’s invest every penny we have into this moment?’ But, there was no risk because we knew at the end of it, it was going to be what we wanted.”
Sloane said without the support of Hobbs, he likely wouldn’t have done the series or discovered all the interconnected pieces that followed.
“We’re both really the artist,” Sloane said. “I go to him with ideas…he knows all the rules of art. When I’m debating about what to do, I talk everything over with him. He’s my teammate.”
The plot of the one-hour documentary follows the creation of the portrait series and everything in between. Of course, as in life, that “in between” is what makes the film. Both Hobbs and Sloane said looking back, they were surprised (pleasantly) how much several of the portrait subjects/models were willing to share with them about their personal lives and even their struggles.
“That’s why I had to document this,” Sloane said. “I thought it was such a big story. How am I going to explain this to everybody?”
His thoughts drifted back to those chairs and the tradition of them being reserved for royalty and how his random subjects were placed in them, purposely. The portrait Sloane did of Hobbs switches out a parlor chair for a porch chair to pay homage to Hobbs’ history of growing up in a coal camp with a father who worked in the mines. To his family, the metal porch chairs were the parlor chairs.
“To me, everybody is on the same level…everyone should be royalty,” Sloane said when explaining why he felt everyone deserves to be celebrated and elevated, even if they are just visiting.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.