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Artwork Inspired By The Leatherman Fills @287 Gallery In Danbury

Susan McCaslin shows a photograph of the Leatherman, a man who lived in the region in the 19th century. Works in her new art exhibit at CAWC in Danbury are inspired by the stories of the Leatherman. Photo Credit: Carolyn Mueller
Artist Susan McCaslin at the opening of her show at the @287 space of the Cultural Association of Western Connecticut on Main Street in Danbury. Photo Credit: Carolyn Mueller
Susan McCaslin shows Alice Hutchinson a photo in a book about the Leatherman during the opening reception for McCaslin's exhibit, "Sheltered." Photo Credit: Carolyn Mueller
Artist Susan McCaslin and CAWC executive director Lisa Scails address the crowd in attendance at the opening reception for McCaslin's exhibit at @287 Gallery in Danbury. Photo Credit: Carolyn Mueller

DANBURY, Conn. — A legendary figure from regional history is the inspiration behind “Sheltered,” by Susan McCaslin — the latest art exhibit to open at the @287 Gallery on Main Street in Danbury.

McCaslin, a multi-media artist from New Haven, creates her artwork in the context of a story. She found herself fascinated by stories of the Leatherman, a mysterious man who, in the second half of the 19th century, spent the last six years of his life following a 365-mile route on foot through western Connecticut and eastern New York. He regularly spent nights in among boulders that formed cave-like spaces that he found along his route. Some today still know where to find these "Leatherman caves."

McCaslin’s work, on display in the Cultural Association of Western Connecticut’s @287 Gallery, includes several jackets based on the Leatherman’s outerwear — but made out of paper.

In the back room of the gallery, two series of photographs by McCaslin, “Clues” and “Security Lights,” are displayed. But when you first enter @287 from Main Street, it’s “Sheltered” that claims your attention.

One wall is covered by nine panels, made of pieces of newspaper that McCaslin dyed in sumi ink. The installation adds an interesting texture, and the color of the paper panels works with the palette of the room to bring a different feel to the space.

For McCaslin, creating the pieces for “Sheltered” tied together what she learned about the Leatherman and her own family memories.

“The Leatherman gives me a jump-off subject. I related to his story,” she said. “I sat down to draw and he came to mind.”

But it was creating the wall that touched her. “It brings back memories of my grandmother hanging sheets out to dry,” McCaslin said.

Creating these pieces out of paper is a multi-step process. McCaslin takes newspaper pages and dyes them in sumi ink. After they dry, she then glues them and/or sews them in place. The seams that appear on her jackets enhance the similarity to the Leatherman’s clothing as seen in the photograph of him.

“This installation is the next step on a trajectory in what Lisa wants to do,” Ted Killmer said, referring to Lisa Scails, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut. Killmer, a public relations specialist involved with the arts, said there is interest in having installations as a whole other form of art at the gallery.

“It’s important to have the space to do this stuff,” McCaslin said of installations.

Her photography series sprang from different inspirations than the installations. “Clues” photos were taken at Quinnipiac River State Park. It was the site of a neighborhood back in the 1960s, but flooding forced the residents out. McCaslin photographed remnants of the the old neighborhood. Mother Nature is clearly working on reclaiming some of the former house lots.

The photographs that comprise “Security Lights” show night scenes. McCaslin shared that her interest in these views stems from nights during her childhood, when such lights shone a circle of safety into the dark.

The exhibit of McCaslin's works closes out the 10th anniversary of @287 Gallery. It will be on view until Feb. 3. The @287 Gallery & Meeting Place is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information, call the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut at 203-798-0760.

For more information on Susan McCaslin's work, click here

For more information about the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut, click here.

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