Billings artist Jane Deschner looks content, but weary.
She has just delivered and hung 71 pieces of her embroidered photographs at Catherine Louisa Gallery, 118 N. Broadway, in preparation for her two-week show. The reception is Friday, May 9, at 5 p.m.
Every piece is framed, labeled and cataloged with prices. The invites have been sent. Now, it’s her chance to step back and reflect on those long days and nights spent preparing for the solo exhibit, “Altered Moments: Work with Found Photographs,” which is up through May 17.
Deschner has been a big part of the Billings art scene since the early 1980s, teaching at Rocky Mountain College, serving as curator at the Ryniker-Morrison Gallery at RMC, and director and curator at Women’s Center Art Gallery at St. Vincent Healthcare. She continues to serve on the Montana Arts Council and exhibit and teach throughout the U.S. Later this year, Deschner’s work will be included in a show at the Robert Mann Gallery in New York.
But to exhibit in the town where she makes her home is a big deal — mostly for us. Deschner and her husband, Jon Lodge, are a familiar couple at art openings around town. They likely influence each other in ways you cannot see when you look at their work. Lodge usually tries to depict randomness and Deschner’s work is much more methodical and controlled.
Deschner’s process often begins on eBay where she hunts black and white photographs.
Sometimes she buys 18 for $1. But usually they cost a buck or two apiece. She can list dealers on both coasts who she has purchased photographs from. Many of the photographs used in this new show were purchased from a woman in Portland, Ore., who bought the photos at a yard sale.
Deschner takes the leftovers.
“There is a big group of collectors who buy the artsy shots. I buy all the rest,” Deschner said.
Many of the photographs are big, some measuring 30 inches by 24 inches. Other pieces are large because Deschner has combined several small photographs in them. One of her favorite pieces, which is not in this exhibit and will never be for sale, shows a boy in several stages of adolescence. She embroidered a simple Superman logo over the photographs and called it good.
“Jane is reverent about these photographs,” said Catherine Louisa Gallery owner Catherine Eithier.
A series of photographs in this show has geometric blocks of color hiding parts of the images. Those are Eithier’s favorites.
“It’s all about the viewer,” Eithier said. “It’s that interaction between the viewer and the piece — that’s what matters to Jane.”
Deschner, who holds a photography degree in addition to an art degree and MFA, is fascinated with other people’s photographs. Over the last decade while she has experimented with embroidering symbols and quotes on photographs, she has never found one depicting someone she knows. And no one has ever walked into one of her shows and recognized a person in a photograph. Yet, many of them remind us of someone we know.
At a recent viewing, Deborah Kline of Red Lodge walked right up to a 1940s-era black and white photo of a matronly looking woman with a bun standing on the front steps to her home wearing a printed dress.
“That’s my grandmother. My grandmother had a dress just like that and she would look at you just like that,” Kline said.
Deschner gets that all the time and she sees people from her past and possibly future in her work. After carefully examining each photograph, Deschner decides on a quote or a symbol to embroider on it.
Some are funny, like the Chuck Palahniuk quote on the 1950s era top-hatted man: “The joke is, we all have the same punch line.”
“The easiest part is stitching,” Deschner said. “The hardest part is figuring out which ones make me sing.”