October 7th through November 29th, Artworks in Big Rapids will be featuring the art exhibit “The Way We Worked.” “I’ve seen what they’re setting up and it’s very interesting,” said Sandy Withrow, a volunteer at Artworks. “It shows many jobs and the progress through the early 20th century to the 2000s. I think everybody will be able to relate to some portion of it.”
“The Way We Worked” was previously featured at the Smithsonian, so Ferris State University and Artworks are very excited to present the exhibit here in a small town like Big Rapids, Michigan. “The Michigan Humanities Council made this exhibit possible,” said Carrie Weis-Stermer, Gallery Director of the Ferris State University Fine Art Gallery. The Council awarded Artworks with a grant to fund their plans to bring the exhibit to Big Rapids.
The exhibit highlights changes in the workforce throughout the 20th century brought about by race, immigration, class, gender roles, industrialization and more. It is divided into five sections depicting different components of history in the workforce: “WHERE We Worked,” “HOW We Worked,” “What We WORE to Work,” “CONFLICT at Work” and “DANGEROUS or UNHEALTHY Work.” These sections include everything from photographs to hard-hats to music.
In conjunction with the Smithsonian exhibit, Artworks will be displaying a collection of paintings called “America at Work” by artist Paul Collins and a compilation of Collins’s drawings collected by Charles and Ruth Carpenter. Artworks is also presenting related exhibits unique to Big Rapids, including the town’s history of logging and public safety work.
Weis-Stermer was responsible for finding artwork to support “The Way We Worked” exhibit. “I have been familiar with the artist Paul Collins for a very long time,” she said. “His series ‘America at Work’ is a perfect fit for the Smithsonian exhibit, [which] is different from Collins’s in that it is a historical exhibit of photos and objects as opposed to visual art. So I contacted Paul Collins, invited him to the exhibit in collaboration with the Smithsonian travelling exhibit and—voila—we have a perfect combination of history and art!” Weis-Stermer was also involved in installing Collins’s work and the Carpenter collection as well as publicity for the exhibition.
The grand opening of the exhibits will take place on Friday, October 10th from five until eight pm. Erik Nordberg, director of the Michigan Humanities Council, and Paul Collins will be featured guests. The keynote speaker will be Professor Thomas Henthorn of the University of Michigan presenting “The Worst Jobs in American History.”
Artworks has scheduled several events and workshops over the next two months to go along with the exhibits, including a workshop called “Introduction to Oral History” presented by Professor Henthorn and two movie screenings. A complete schedule of events as well as detailed information on “The Way We Worked” and Artworks can be found at artworksinbigrapids.org. Artworks can also be reached by calling (231) 796-2420.