Saturday, February 9, 2013

Out of the Silence

The Weekly Volcano, Feb. 7, 2013

We Are all Different, by Deborah Freng
I attended the opening of Out of The Silence, an art exhibit in Olympia’s Urban Onion lobby. It was a phenomenal event and a phenomenal exhibition. As they say in high society, everyone who is anyone was there: Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, Congressman Denny Heck, a handful of City Council members, school teachers and administrators, and leaders of the gay rights movement. The exhibition is being held as a fundraiser for Pizza Klatch, a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth and their allies in Olympia area high schools.

Credit calligrapher Sally Penley for coming up with the idea and pulling the whole thing together with a lot of help from other community members — most notably Lynn Grotsky and the board and facilitators of Pizza Klatch. Penley’s idea was to invite calligraphic artists from all over the country to make art based on inspirational quotes related to bullying and youth suicide or quotes of hope such as Harvey Milk’s famous and simple quote, “You gotta give ‘em hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. was quoted in many of the pieces, as were Gandhi and other famous people. But there were also profoundly moving words from youth and their parents. For instance, one heart-stopping piece is a calligraphy and collage piece by Raina McBride that includes an envelope from a mother to her son marked return to sender with the address crossed out and a hand-written note saying “Doesn’t live here” and a poem by Edna St. Vincent Mallay that begins “Where you used to be there is a hole in the world.”

Begin Now, by Laurie Doctor
Also quoted liberally was songwriter Steve Schalchlin. It was his benefit performance PFLAG at Traditions Fair Trade a year ago that inspired Penley to pull the show together.

There are 60 works of art in the exhibit from 39 calligraphers from across the United States and Canada. Some of the messages address the issues, and others promote love, self-worth and hope for a better future that celebrates diversity and equal rights for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

There were tears in the eyes of patrons at the opening, and their conversations expressed awe and solidarity. I expected to read powerful words, and I expected flowery and perhaps overly sweet lettering of these words. My expectations were totally off the mark. Yes, some of the calligraphy is a little too sweet and decorative for my taste, but much more of it is visually astonishing. This is not just fine craft, it is fine art; it is not just pretty lettering, it is words presented as design with beautiful use of color and texture and composition and inventive uses of materials. It’s not just pretty writing; there are paintings, a quilt, and hand-made books.
Many of these artists may never again have their work on display in Olympia, so for many patrons this is a one-time-only opportunity. Among the most powerful pieces are “Exclusion” by Sondra Veneble, “Don’t Belittle Yourself” by Anita Bigelow and “We Are All Different, We Are All The Same” by Deborah Freng,

The show runs for two months at the Urban Onion and will then travel for two years first to the University of Washington and then various venues on the West Coast. When the show closes, the original art will be offered in an online auction. 

All proceeds from the sale of the original art and prints/cards online at will go to support Pizza Klatch. For more information about Pizza Klatch, visit

For more background on the project, visit

Also see my comments on this show in the Spew blog.

[Urban Onion, Out of The Silence, through March 30, 116 Legion Way, Olympia.]

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