Molly Sheffield

Artist’s Statement

My practice focuses on capturing the absurdity of nostalgia and historical fads. I work with moments in history, moments in my life, and the idea of fetishizing the past to point at the ever-changing aspects of cultural and personal norms. This comes from my interest in navigating a space of thought which desires to be a part of the past, while thinking through a contemporary lens. The objects I make are in response to the past through research and aesthetics, but encourage the viewer to think about the future.

Final Project:  Jeans

Blue jeans have entered the physical realm of most people’s lives. They have become a staple of American culture that has held a strong presence since the late 1800s. Their strong cultural influence has steered me towards my liking of denim, but there has always been something more for me. At birth, I was given the name Molly Jean and although it is a name that was passed down from generation to generation to me, it always meant something more to me. Having the middle name Jean gave me a strong connection with the sturdy timeless material. This strange attraction and intrigue has led to the creation of this project that creates a denim environment for the viewer through soft sculpture, books, and drawings. But more than giving celebration to this fabric that has had importance in my life, this installation aims to make the viewer think about the importance of the history of denim. Denim is like no other material, its structure allows personal history to be documented through wear and tear, while simultaneously it gives an ode to the fabrics grand history as it has changed in material and purpose over the last century.

What is art for you? What do artist do? What is the purpose of art?

Art, for me, cannot be defined as a simple term, a sentence, or even a whole book. Just as styles, mediums, and frames of though moves through out time, so does the purpose of art. We live in a special time in which art for the first time in its history is playing a role in not only interpreting lives and world around us, but showing a new way to think to fix problems in this troubling world. Jerry Saltz in his essay What Art Is and What Artists Do explains art as a way of knowing, and I think that especially today, it is crucial to put emphasis on the importance of taking time to look at something right and front of us, because “No thinking exists without feeling and no feeling exists without thinking.” And for changing the way people see things and encourage people to change things, feelings are necessary. The purpose of art is to express thinking and knowing in a way no other methods of thought can do. To interpret this complicated world there needs to be many different angles, and art is a crucial part of that. I do not believe that “art is the vision” but I believe it is a piece in a larger puzzle for interpreting this complicated vision of the world we live in.

Mid-Term Project: Poste Italiane

Letters come in all shapes and sizes, differing with their ornate stamps, regional postage marks, small drawings, wax seals, adhesives and more. But the beauty of a letter is in the simplicity of each one’s similar purpose. Each letter is created to send a message to a loved one, or a colleague, or just a pawn in the complexity of bureaucracy. This project titled Poste Italiane, captures the subtle chaos of a testing bureaucratic system and keeping up with relationships from afar, but also puts light on the joy of creating this new life with your incoming memories and perceived history of a place. My creation of a mass of hanging letters slightly tangled in twine aims to do this while also taking a deeper look at my purpose in Siena with decorative stamps that reveal the relationships to people, places, and ideas in Siena I have made and the relationships back in the states. The fact that these envelopes are sealed and stamped yet lack the final step of the end address highlights this disconnect and difficulty in communication and fear of dissolving relationships. But the idea that the letters were made creates an overwhelming sense of thoughtfulness. This piece itself is an ode to the unsent letters. Everyone can agree on the subtle annoyance of going to the post office, but we can all also agree that this annoyance and difficulty is worth it so connections are kept with loved ones and loved places. This piece documents a work in progress in myself on gaining the bravery to keep up with these important relationships.


Luoghi di Fuga Booklet Project: 

For the Luoghi di Fuga book project I decided to create a pop up book trying to document the transience and permanence of my time in Siena. Each panel reflects a different place and showcases its present state, its history, and my use of the space. Through drawing similarities with the history off a space and my current actions, the cyclical nature of a space is shown. Transience exists in my time here and the actions I perform in each space, while permanence exists in the history and its consistant relation with the present.


Reading Response: Rebecca Solnit, The Shape of a Walk:

In Rebecca Solnit’s The Shape of a Walk, she takes the reader through the history of walking used as a theme in art. She goes through some of the first examples of these such as Morning Walk by Thomas Gainsborough in which the presence of walking is established through the title and the inferences the viewer makes about the two bodies and there intended movement of walking, to later examples of many years later when the conceptual world took on walking such as with Stanley Brouwn and his paths created through the input of strangers on the street. While reading these amazing documentations of the human step through out time, I started to draw some similarities in the artist’s work that was very intriguing. There was this sense of repetition in putting the human body through physical strain to achieve something more. This was first evident in Richard Long’s Line Made by Walking in which he decided to create this form of a line in the grass by dragging his feet. Then there was the work of Marina who in the work Great Wall Walk, walked in collaboration with Ulay. Each artist walking from the ends of the great wall of China to meet in the middle. After reading of this and having the opportunity to visit a Marina Abromović exhibit in Firenze titled The Cleaner, I was able to see another example of this physical strain. This was through one of her pieces in which she screamed until her voice was lost. The effect of the piece was almost a type of cleansing of the body and mind through physical exhaustion which helped me understand, in my own mind, many of the pieces described in Solnitt’s writing. Through seeing the Abromović exhibit, I also remembered the piece Walking Book created by Stan Shellabarger who walked on the pages of a book for many hours until his path could be seen through shoe scuffs and dirt particles. Through this, the presence of the walk lasted while his body was gone. There is a transient nature of these actions of walking and screaming prevalent in these pieces, but at the same time behind the transience, there is a sense of permanence shown through the effects on the body and the land walked on. Through this permanence is this sense of “shape” that Rebecca Solnit explains, and this eternal permanence seems to be why artists keep on coming back upon the impact of walking.


Intro Unit Project: Tempo Zulu

In the street that cuts below the overlook from Piazza Mercado exists a wonderful space full of unseen history. It is an old wash house that at one point in history provided a utilitarian and communal place for the Sienese women. It was a place where vulnerabilities could be shared as unmentionables were washed and secrets spilled. Living in a time where less and less face to face interaction is necessary, it is beautiful to think back to a time to when daily activities were something special, a time for gathering and sharing. In result of my interest in this building, I decided to plan my tempo zulu stone on the steps of the washing house. The stone I have created says “memoria del sapone che è stato trascinato via” which translates to something like “memory of the soap that has washed away.” This making of soap into a memorial is intended to not only catch the interest and spark curiosity of passersby, but to highlight the simplicity and beauty that the purpose of the building once had. In addition to the stone, during the installment, a slab of carved soap would also be placed on top. The soap would soon wash away mimicking the erasure of these forgotten communities that were “washed away” by “advancements” in our current day and age. I want this stone to highlight the importance of dialogue in the communities we surround ourselves in.


Intro Unit Project: Walk of Destiny

The walk of destiny project took me down residential streets that didn’t lead me to a famous site seeing location, panoramic view, or to a place unknown, but instead created an experience about taking the time to look at the city in an intimate light. The still hour of the morning at which I took the walk, granted me with the opportunity to see the everyday life of the Sienese people. By observing the simplicity and beauty in which they moved through the city, I was inspired to focus upon other small details of the path that I found beauty through. I used this experience of finding these small beauties to create my book, The Green Light. The book takes you to a scene of a grandfather pushing a baby “cradled in linens” to a gate guarded by a lonesome cat. From word to word, image to image a mysterious narrative evolves leading to the final destination of the green light. In taking these special moments and creating a narrative, I was mimicking my desire to understand why things are the way they are in Siena. In the end making this book for me was a resolution to the mystery of the details, as well as an understanding of my place in this city as an observer of beauty.


Molly Sheffield, USA
Bio statement:
My name is Molly Sheffield. I was born and raised on the north side of Chicago and currently reside in Northeast Ohio, receiving my education at Oberlin College and Conservatory. There I study Studio Art and Psychology. My practice focuses on capturing the absurdity of nostalgia and historical fads. I work with moments in history, moments in my life, and the idea of fetishizing the past to point at the ever changing aspects of cultural and personal norms. While I mostly work in print and book making, I wish to explore the possibilities of incorporating a more sculptural approach to these forms using ceramics and silversmithing.I am excited for my time in Siena, to explore a new culture’s history vastly different of what much of my work has captured with my American lens. I am also eager to learn in a city that has such a rich artistic history and such an appreciation for fine detail which I hope to mimic in the work I create.