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Rita Montlack (1938-)

Through a Glass Brightly, 2019

Materials: 6 archival computer-manipulated digital prints on transparent film, each 10”x10”

Commissioned by Summa Health

Location at Summa Health:  Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, sixth floor, secondary nurses' station

About the art and artist

This grouping of photographic images by Rita Montlack offers inventive views of the immediate surroundings. Summa Health commissioned this work to raise appreciation of its neighborhood and to explore how its new tower might impact the local environment. Together, Summa Collection curator Meg Harris Stanton and the artist selected these particular views and arranged them in this staggered pattern to enliven the area around the sixth-floor secondary nurses' station. Montlack has described her approach to selecting works as like making a collage, from which “… meaning emerges. It’s a surprise, especially the way things evolve and go together.” This goes as well for the meaning that each viewer will make of these juxtaposed images.

Before getting to that point, however, multiple steps were involved. First, the artist made photos from the new patient tower’s sixth floor, according to the terms of the commission. (That these were inevitably shot through the hospital’s generous glass windows eventually inspired the title of this series, riffing on the artist’s favorite Bergman movie, Through a Glass Darkly, itself a reference to the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:12.) Her method is to shoot dozens of photos and then pare them down later because she knows that each shot will differ according to where she points the camera and when (light is forever shifting, plus, at the time when she made the photos, most of the area surrounding the patient tower was a construction site). She cannot always know which shots will work. 

For this project, she captured:

  • Distant views. part of the Akron skyline with high-rises silhouetted.
  • Aerial views, looking down from on high: The semi-circular drive now known as Ann Brennan Way, in front of the tower entrance, or one of the parking lots to the south.
  • Views from the ground, looking around or up: Details we might have missed, such as the fence with blooming morning glories across the street from the former First National Bank Tower or the fuller view of the dignified façade of St. Bernard’s Catholic Church, about a mile west as the crow flies.

Then she determined to heighten aesthetic interest by treating each image distinctly: Using computer and digital image-processing software in her studio, she introduced a palette of vivid, dream-like color, varying it from one image to the next. Next, she printed the images on a transparent material, film, in order to intensify their sensitivity to light; these she then fixed to textured metallic backgrounds that provide another layer of visual complexity for each. It is her hope that the results of these many decisions, Through a Glass Brightly, will both intrigue those viewing and raise their spirits. You might want to compare one of Montlack’s views of the double-towered church with a straight photograph to gauge the difference.

Montlack earned a B.A. degree in liberal arts from the University of Miami in Coral Gables and studied design and painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art and photography at Cuyahoga Community College. Although she began her career as textile artist, her work now focuses on digital photography and its potential to be the beginning (as we see here), rather than the end-product, of technical and creative processes. With digital cameras, printers, scanners, and increasingly sophisticated software — all tools now readily available to artists and amateurs as well as specialized technicians — these processes have amplified the options for making art. She lives and works in Cleveland, where she exhibits work regularly, including installations in which she combines her work with animation and sound.

Where you can see more of this artist’s work:

The artist’s website offers an excellent overview of recent and current projects and works, plus documentation of past exhibitions. Her work is included in collections of the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Progressive Insurance, Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College, as well as being shown in several area restaurants. 

In addition to Cleveland-area galleries, you can see Montlack’s work in Palm Beach, Boca Raton, New York, and Columbus, and you may have seen her Importance of Being Windows, a large installation that was part of Akron’s Curated Storefront Project in 2018. Most recently (2019), she exhibited work at the Trudy Wiesenberger Gallery.

More Cityscapes

Other original works of art in the Summa Collection that synthesize multiple views to create epitomes of Akron include those by Ibojka Friedman, Joe Levack, and María Alejandra Zanetta. Additional interpretations of individual features of the city may be found in works by Scott Goss, Diane Pribojan, Timothy Callaghan, Michael Loderstedt, and Lizzie Aronhalt.

The healing arts at Summa Health


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