A walking tour of Redwood’s “Tall Girl” exhibit with artist Carol Larson
BY AMANDA ADAMS
At 6 feet 5 inches tall, 17-year-old Carol Larson stood head above the crowd. Three surgeries and forty years later, Larson still stands out—not as “The Tall Girl” but as the artist of a series by that name.
According to the artist, “The Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work” (currently on display at Redwood Campus’ Wiseman Gallery) is the first solo exhibition in which her work has been shown in a commercial setting. Until this pictorial display, Larson’s work has been mostly abstract.
The textile series illustrates the story of a young girl with low self-esteem, teased mercilessly by bullies and dragged around by her mother to several different doctors in an effort to fix her “flaw” and make her “normal at any cost.”
Larson said her mother read about a bone removal procedure performed in Europe and decided this was a “great option” for the young girl.
“Whose Decision?” features a collage of photos of Larson’s parents in a muted blue and white background, with Larson’s portrait on red cloth in the shape of a question mark. This particular piece, according to Larson, took the longest to create. She struggled with how to best represent her parents and how to illustrate both parties’ involvement in the decision and manifestation of the surgery.
According to Larson, her parents have never taken accountability for coercing her into the surgery, which removed six inches of bone from each of her thighs. Her mother has since passed away and her father lives with dementia, making it impossible for Larson to get any closure from them.
“Carol’s work is art therapy more than anything… finding a way to heal through art,” said Cynthia Gott, an art professor at Rogue Community College. “Her story is one of physical abuse on the part of her parents and doctor, as far as I’m concerned.”
Karl Brake, RCC Art Department Head and Director of RCC galleries, agreed, saying, “If I didn’t know the story behind [Larson’s] art, I would still be able to see that the artist is working through something. Her art has a gentle quality. She has obviously meditated a lot and found a peaceful place.”
Larson learned how to sew when she was just nine years old. Her mother and grandmother were both seamstresses and knitters. Larson’s art has evolved from many different mediums of fabric work, including needlepoint, weaving, dying, knitting, and quilting. Larson rejects the term “quilting,” preferring instead to refer to her work as “creation of fine art textiles.”
Larson said nobody in her family was supposed to be an artist and was instead expected to go into business, so she worked in medical offices for 30 years and has only been working as an artist for the past 10 years.
“I’m in my golden years now, doing what I want,” Larson said. “It’s my turn.”
In the past five years, she has established herself as a professional artist, selling pieces to major corporations and exhibiting work internationally. Jeff Malloy, Director of Finance and Administration for James Irvine Foundation in San Francisco, purchased five pieces of Larson’s art in December of 2007 for a total of $4,523.
According to Malloy, the California-based foundation wanted to promote a California artist and specifically sought textile art to add softness to their commercial building’s interior. Malloy said he selected pieces that would resonate with the San Francisco community.
One such piece, “Summer in the City,” features a collage of San Francisco and another, “Persimmon” is representative of the city’s large Asian population, made with vintage Japanese kimono fabrics.
Larson said her future artistic endeavors will feature more vintage linen, but Gott commends her choice of quilting fabric in the “Tall Girl” series.
“The fact that her artistic medium is quilting is a way, I believe, of finding comfort within. Quilts comfort… they provide a safety blanket and warmth within,” said Gott.
It took Larson four years to make the entire “Tall Girl” exhibit. On average, it takes her about 60 to 75 hours to design a piece of work from conceptualization to fruition.
Andrea David, RCC Communications student, understands the time and effort involved in creating textile art, as she created a similar quilting project for her high school senior project. David said she is “very impressed with the impeccable work.” Her favorite piece in the series is “Bullies.”
“It is simple despite its incredible detail,” said David. “The bully is both figuratively and literally ‘beneath’ her.
Larson’s favorite piece is “So Many Stories.” The text description that accompanies the piece reads:
“When I sat down to write my story, I couldn’t stop. 22,000 words later there were still so many chapters to write. I decided not all of it need be published. Instead I reduced the words to tiny fonts, printed to paper, applied to fabric with gesso and stitched together. The point is it doesn’t matter if it is legible. I know what it says.”
While Larson feels that the surgery limited her options, it has served a purpose, inspiring such works as “In My Wildest Dreams” and “Coulda’ Beens,” Gott’s personal favorite.
“People will relate to the sense of action and gesture in this piece,” Gott said, referring to Larson’s work as “fine craftsmanship.” Gott added that the entire exhibit made an impact that a single piece wouldn’t convey.
Larson expressed her pleasure at the Wiseman Gallery exhibit, stating that she had never seen all the pieces displayed in one area.
The former Tall Girl currently resides in Sonoma County with her husband. They have one “perfectly normal,” 5-f00t 10-inch tall daughter, Erika, who got her bachelor’s degree in fashion design and lives in Berkeley.
Larson said her mother passed along some of her paranoia, prompting her to take her toddler to a doctor in Oakland to ensure she wouldn’t grow up to be “Amazonian.” The doctor confirmed that the “tall gene” skipped a generation and Larson had no reason for concern.
Had her daughter been extremely tall, Larson said that she would not have had her physically altered, claiming, “The best thing I could do was provide my daughter with self esteem.”
These works and more can be viewed in addition to more of Larson’s work on the artist’s website, at http://www.live2dye.com/gallery.html.