ART AND TEXT BY LELIA BYRON
On view at the Springfield Museum of Art (Ohio) from May 2023 - January 2024.
Based on in-person interviews with Springfield residents, this series explores how individuals create and define the meaning of “home” in both a local sense and when considering the world as a broader, global place to live. These large scale paintings and outdoor sculpture delve into a wide range of topics including memories, personal narratives, social issues, and how a city experiences change over time.
Lelia Byron is an interdisciplinary artist who makes paintings, murals, installations, sculptures, and public art projects. Lelia’s projects often include an investigative component and frequently begin with interviewing diverse groups of people around different topics related to human rights, environmental rights, the complexity of communication between individuals, and the creative process. Lelia has a Bachelor’s of Fine Art from Carnegie Mellon University and a Master’s in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Arts (University of the Arts London).
Deb’s home is full of windows. She loves surprise lilies, deer interacting with fawn, and racoons that dance on the roof at night. For her, summer is her artist’s palette. Home for Deb is the sound of insects in the grass at night, and her favorite hobby is picking up sticks in the woods behind her house, when she talks to the sticks and to herself. Her love of nature has been passed down through family, like her grandma who raised gladiolas. Deb’s father is getting older, and watching him age has been really difficult. She tells him a house is just a structure but he sees the house as his life and is struggling moving away from it. Deb’s son now lives in an apartment building and he loves to come back to the smell of earth after rain and the sound of birds and insects. Home is where you start from and where you return to when you need to recoup and regroup.
not a place to visit. It is home.”
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” 5 x 7 feet (152 x 213 cm), oil on canvas, 2023.
Ramona, who celebrated her 60th reunion from Springfield High School, remembers her teen years growing up in Springfield as fun and full of activity. On Friday night many students went to see sports games, on Saturday they went downtown where you could find world-class shopping, and Sundays were spent at the movies or the five and dime at Woolworths. At that time in Springfield, says Ramona, there were many strong black businesses and individuals who were supportive of young people in Springfield. After school, many students would walk over to the YMCA. Ramona participated in Les Dames weekly where she met with advisors who were professional women who taught the high school girls about etiquette, poetry, and other things. Ramona believes parents at that time did a good job instilling in kids to enjoy themselves and protecting them. There were many things they weren’t able to do due to discrimination, but they didn’t realize until they were adults. Ramona’s dad worked the third shift at General Motors, and her mom worked as a maid in a wealthy home before she went on to become a nurse. Ramona’s mom started in the hospital by doing laundry and then worked her way up, which was a huge source of inspiration for Ramona. Ramona moved to Dayton for a while and worked in the travel industry, but would eventually return to Springfield to work for 30 years as a community and family coordinator to help parents better help their children succeed in school.
Katalina describes herself as a community enthusiast who loves to love. In her role as a marketing director at Katalyst Consultancy, Katalina aims to raise awareness about positive initiatives that often go unnoticed in Springfield. Katalina, who grew up between California and rural Ohio, is also a realtor and believes that home ownership is important for everyone. Housing is a significant issue in Springfield, and homelessness has been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 and evictions. She recognizes the challenges faced by individuals who may be at risk of loan failures from larger banks and believes in providing homebuyer education as a source of support. There are a lot of abandoned houses in Springfield, but it is not so easy to figure out who is the property owner, although there is a new vacant property registry project. Having experienced a sense of longing for community due to frequent moves and being adopted, Katalina cherishes the concept of home. She associates home with memories of coming in from the snow and eating her mom’s tuna casserole. In her own home, she feels warmth and comfort when baking or cooking Mexican food or when the windows get foggy above the kitchen sink.
Reflecting on the past and working to have a positive impact on the future of the city.
Timeline. 8 x 7 feet (244 x 213 cm), oil on canvas, 2023.
The Radiance of Love’s Conversations. 5 x 7 feet (152 x 213 cm), oil on canvas, 2023.
Home for Patrick means authenticity and feeling safe with his husband Darren, a place where there is no fear of failing. His favorite spot in the house is the office where there is a couch where he and Darren like to hangout and talk everyday, surrounded by plants and other small objects they have collected together, often with their dog Monaco. They purchased their home during the pandemic, which they decided to move away from a larger city. Instead, they became more tied to the local community in Springfield and Patrick, who is originally from Massachusetts, started to work in development for nonprofits. Clark county has an epidemic of homelessness, and while working at a nonprofit, Patrick would receive calls from people asking for help with rent assistance. Patrick felt that it took a lot of courage for people to be able to ask for help and it was defeating to have to redirect callers. Patrick wants to give people quicker and easier access to help. Home is a big hug.
The Radiance of Love’s Conversations
Terry is one of the founders of the Jefferson Street Oasis Community Garden, which has 85 plots each managed by one or two people. The garden, which is 2.5 acres, provides plants and seeds free to anyone. There is also a 1-acre run for the chickens, who make 40 different sounds. Terry believes that being able to grow your own food and feed yourself is power. Terry, who studied soils and was exposed to commercial agriculture, says that people have lost connection with how to grow, how to trade, and how to get to know neighbors and the community. Every year, they have an annual grill day with only vegetables grown in the garden— 400 people came last year. 70% of the gardeners are women, who are the driving force, and the majority of gardeners return every year. Sofia, who works at the United Senior Services, got started with her own plot to help seniors at risk of isolation. She tried to start a garden club and takes the harvest to the senior center to help fill food insecurity. Sofia loves to be out in the garden, finding it therapeutic. Norma is the oldest community gardener, and some of the main crops in her plot include dark red beets, peppers, collard greens, and okra. This is her third year, and she usually comes 3 days a week in the summer. Her dad was a farmer in Georgia, and she says she feels better to see things grow. This year she accidentally planted too many sweet potatoes, requiring help from her family to dig them all up.
No Such Thing as Strangers
For over fifty-five years Rina has lived in her family home, first helping her mother to foster over 40 children and then adopting and raising her own two daughters. Her mom used to say, “there’s no such thing as a stranger,” and would fix a plate for anyone passing by the backyard. Her dad, who served in the army, was known for his humor. Because of her dad, Rina lived in Germany, England, Holland, and Italy, before moving to Springfield. Rina says that home is a sanctuary where you can be yourself, express your needs and wants, and feel loved. Rina points out that the difference between a house and a home is the difference between things and love, and so even wealthy kids can still be at risk because they might not have love. In Rina’s house, every Friday, the family would have a game night with their children and grandchildren. They would eat together, clean up, and then each kid would get to pick a new game for the following week. Rina believes that for the future of Springfield it’s important to have opportunities for young people to participate in clubs and voice political opinions about what’s happening in Springfield, opportunities for older teens to work with kids with supervision, and to have money to fix up all the empty buildings. “Let’s get out here and be a community,” says Rina, and would love to see the city full of beautiful lights at night, with places where people can always go for help, and for people to have opportunities to do something meaningful and not just a job. Rina is a contributor to Project Jericho, which provides in-depth visual and performing arts programming to youth and families across Clark County, OH.
Jon and Sara met as teenagers when Jon was playing football in the street and fell and scraped his knee. Even though he was a stranger to her, Sara came out to help bandage his knee. Says Jon, “She was the vision of an Angel.” Jon and Sara are now married with three daughters: Saniya Dream, Syncere Heaven, and Sydnie Aleece. Jon and Sara love to spend time together being creative as a family: they do “canvas nights” where they paint canvases together, take long walks together pointing out bright saturated colors, and go on beach vacations together. Jon used to be picked up by his grandparents on Wednesdays in their light gray ‘95 Buick Regal two door, sliding into the maroon interior backseat to go off on fun adventures. Jon, who has already written a novella, is now working on a book of poems for his 96 year old grandmother, based on his memories of these adventures in this car.
For Krissy and Kevin, home is not a physical place, but wherever they are together with their baby Emma. Krissy and Kevin both work at the Springfield Arts Council, which organizes a summer arts festival and provides youth theater programs. For more that 60 years, the summer arts festival has offered free admission to music and live theater at an outdoor stage in the park. The festival is an opportunity for many people to see live performing arts for the first time. Krissy, who got her start in community theater, loves to work with young people in the theater programs and finds it so exciting to watch youth succeed through performing arts. Home can be a difficult place for young people, and Krissy wants to create a home through the stage and the performing arts. Krissy wants to create a home for Emma, where kids feel comfy and Emma wants to bring home friends on a Friday night. Home is bringing strangers together to experience sharing in creativity and the arts.
Mandie is an artist, crafter, metalworker, and quilter. Originally from Oregon, she moved to Springfield because it was more affordable, and is currently remodeling a historic home on South Fountain Avenue. She loves her neighborhood, hosts dessert parties once a month, and boasts hundreds of visitors for trick or treating. Mandie created an art fair in Springfield that is now in its third year. It started with ten artists, then twenty, and then thirty-five. The artists create booths in the street and porches of peoples’ homes become stages for music. She also participates in community art projects like painting boarded up windows and makes garden totems. In Oregon, Mandie made her front lawn feature a wine bottle wall and a life size game of chess. It was so popular that she often had to wait in line to get into her home because people were slowing down or parking to look at her front yard. One upcoming project is an idea of her husband’s to make a dragon on the side of their home in Springfield. Mandie isn’t attached to physical spaces at all, but instead values having nature, art, and family together.
Home In Technicolor
Home In Technicolor.15 x 7 feet (457 x 213 cm), oil on canvas, 2023.
Xander finds home through writing and their being with their fiancé. Xander, who recently got engaged, says they realized that true home was found in the person who offered safety and acceptance, which empowered them to break free from societal expectations and become a transgender individual. Struggling with lasting friendships, Xander discovered solace within books, writing, and knitting. Their parents, publishers in the LGBTQ+ community, provided unwavering support, shaping their confidence and authenticity.
Nate believes art is his saving grace, and even during the most difficult moments in his life he never stopped making art. In college he worked on stage play sets and did banners for his funk band. However, during Nate’s junior year of college, his dad, who had always wanted more than his 8th grade level education, passed away and this, compounded with financial difficulties, led to Nate leaving college without completing his degree. One day the house his father left him accidentally burned down, destroying all of Nate’s paintings. This sent Nate into a downward spiral, but he continued making art while working various other jobs. Many years later, Nate drew a shirt design for the Salvation Army and won a competition. Nate moved to Springfield for a relationship and found out about Hatch Studios. He wasn’t sure if he could afford the space, but a nurse bought prints of his work about frontline workers, which gave him confidence. He loves Hatch Studio because it gives him the opportunity to work with other artists like a family. Nate found out about a juried show at the art museum and exhibited his piece, “Power of Love.” His family and friends came and when he won third place the whole room applauded. It was the first time he felt validated and he felt he understood the power of art. Now retired, he made a commitment to continue to paint and show, still trying to catch up after losing all those paintings in the fire. At 62, Nate is thinking about expanding horizons and finding a place for his own show.
Liz, who is currently the Collections and Exhibitions Manager at the Springfield Museum of Art, often thinks about the possibilities of what a museum can be. Liz, in this current phase of her life is figuring out what home means for self and for the museum. Feeling at home comes from the people she surrounds herself with, familiarity with routes and roads, navigating without GPS, and pride in her surroundings. She’s interested in the idea of a museum as a “third space” and at work they often talk about how to create exhibitions with subject matter relevant to the audience and exhibitions that overlap in terms of subject matter. Liz is interested in establishing community connections and recognizing the museum’s role in lifelong learning. Excessive use of technology leads to isolation and reduced connections, but museum visits offer opportunities to attend with friends, meet new people, and foster a sense of belonging. “Home should not just exist in personal lives.”
When Katie started college, she faced an identity crisis. Despite the bold declaration of “Welcome Home” in the welcome packet, the question “Where are you from?” always made her feel like an imposter. Shy and averse to being the center of attention, she created a chart to visually explain her background to those who asked. One constant in Katie’s life has been her love for books. Libraries have always been cherished spaces for learning and exploration for Katie, who is now a university librarian. She associates books with different periods of her life, recalling how she devoured stacks from the library during her childhood. As a child, both parents would read to her—her mom read “Little House on the Prairie” and her dad read “Lord of the Rings” to her and her brothers. She was so excited about “Lord of the Rings” when she was 7 that she read the next book in the trilogy in two weeks, trying to hide the book in the cabinet so her brother wouldn’t take it away and read it himself. Katie’s dad is also a pastor, and his spiritual ideas about the earth not being our true home have always stuck with her.
The Always Expanding Home
Clara was always impressed with her husband’s childhood home-a “little white house” with two bedrooms and one bathroom that nonetheless was never too small to welcome people who needed it: adult siblings with their children, grandma, exchange students. For both Clara and Warren their life is about education, faith, and civil rights. When Warren left home for college he became interested in civil rights and then went to seminary with the idea to become an inner city preacher, and they moved to Springfield after Warren was offered a position at Wittenberg University. In addition to teaching for 45 years at the university, Warren would also go on to become the mayor for Springfield for more than three decades. Meanwhile, Clara taught early childhood in city schools for 30 years. As a teacher, Clara realized she could not just teach children and had to build relationships with families, as home life deeply impacted students. Clara remembers that she had a lot of mothers who would come to help out at school, including numerous mothers who were dealing with domestic violence at home. One mother, who was active in helping out a school, gave custody of her 14 year old to Clara and Warren when she got sick with cancer. Now an adult nurse with two children, she lives next door to Clara and Warren, and another daughter of theirs lives around the block. The only Wittenberg faculty to do so at the time, Clara and Warren made their home on the south side as they felt it was a statement against geographic divisions in the city. Their home has now become another house to welcome anyone who needs it. Says Carter, their grandchild, they always liked to walk over to the house because this is where they feel at home. Home for Warren and Clara is each other. Says Warren, “It is an honor to be married to Clara.”
The Gammon House
The Gammon House in Springfield holds an important place in Ohio’s history as one of only three remaining stops on the Underground Railroad owned by a free person of color. Built in 1850 by George and Sarah Gammon, the 30 by 30-foot brick house offered shelter to those seeking freedom. Unfortunately, after being left vacant for two decades, the Gammon House was almost demolished in the late 1990s. However, due to the efforts of community members, including the Stone family, as well as numerous donors and foundations, the house was restored into a small museum. The Stone siblings don’t want the history of Springfield to be lost and would like to see the Gammon House turned into a very nice interpretive center.
Reflecting on their childhood, Dorothy remembers their father’s determined efforts to find specialized medical care for one of their siblings who was very sick, which led them to move from Kentucky and eventually land in Springfield. Their parents had eight children: Barbara, Dorothy, Janet, Irvine Jr., Kenneth, Gail, John, and Brenda. Over time, their father was entrusted with the caretaking of a wealthy family’s home, where the siblings themselves worked odd jobs during high school. That family would then go on to create a foundation to send the Stone siblings to college resulting in diverse careers in nursing, business management, real estate, nuclear engineering, and art education.
Springfield holds cherished memories for the siblings. Kenneth remembers Springfield as a place full of life with black owned business, shops, hotels, social clubs, night clubs, and churches. Their home was located near Yellow Springs Street, where numerous black-owned businesses flourished in the late fifties and early
sixties, including Howard’s Drug Store, Duffy’s Corner Store, Porter Funeral Home, Tink’s Corner Store, and Babe’s Barber Shop. Before the factories left creating a tremendous loss of population, there were many black WW2 veterans who came to Springfield for government jobs. At the same time, many black families encountered difficulties in purchasing homes due discriminatory practices like redlining. Springfield made history with the election of Robert C. Henry as the first black mayor of a US city in 1966.
Their memories encompass joyful experiences, such as learning ballroom dancing at the YMCA in preparation for the black debutante ball. At that time, Springfield boasted low crime rates, and they enjoyed attending the fairgrounds, trick-or-treating on Fountain Ave, and spending carefree days downtown. Their house was located on a street that was part of the route that the Black Shriners parade, and the siblings remember vividly watching it every year from their porch. Although living in Springfield, the siblings still visited their Kentucky family. Irvine Jr. remembers visiting their Grandma White’s farm home and participating in the making of homemade pineapple sherbet ice cream. Their mother loved flowers, and the backyard bloomed with rows of peonies. Says Brenda, “She had so many flowers that people would purchase them from her by the dozen to decorate the cemetery graves of their loved ones on Memorial day.” The image of their father returning from work in a black Chevrolet, dressed in a gray uniform with his lunchbox in hand, remains vivid in John’s mind. Says Gail, their father valued learning and loved all his children equally, emphasizing the importance of unity during difficult times, and he used to say, “When one hurts, we all hurt.”
This vibrantly painted sculpture suggests the idea of a home undergoing change, with its construction-orange color, crisscrossing scaffolding, and missing sections. While inside the museum a series of paintings focuses on people in interior “home” spaces, the sculpture talks about “home” from an exterior perspective and highlights how housing is becoming increasingly more difficult for people to obtain.
There are many reasons for the shortage of affordable housing, including limited land availability, not enough houses being built, population growth, and a lack of affordable housing investment. Although the lack of affordable homes is increasing, there are also many vacant homes including abandoned homes and luxury investment properties. Taking inspiration from the map-like design on the sculpture, how can we plan housing and work together to ensure everyone has a good home? When there’s no ceiling, how can we complete our collective global home to build a roof over all of our heads?
Thank you to all of the participants in this project and the Springfield Museum of Art.
Thank you to Annika Kechkaver for all of her hard work on the graphics for this catalog and assistance with the sculpture.
Thank you to the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation for their support.
Thank you to Nicolás García Trillos for his unwaivering enthusiasm and assistance with this project.