Elizabeth Ernst: Shady Grove Nursing Home January 5 — February 24, 2018

For more than 12 years, Elizabeth Ernst has created art about the people and entertainers affiliated with the G.E. Circus, a small family owned circus of aging performers. Over the years we’ve seen them pose for the camera in their fanciful outfits, relax backstage playing cards, apply makeup in their dressing room mirrors, and perform for enthusiastic audiences. Through intimate detailed images, we’ve witnessed their joys and fears, as the glory days of the travelling circus began to fade.

In her third solo show at Catherine Edelman Gallery, Ernst takes us into the Shady Grove Nursing Home, located in Clarence, NY, where several of the G.E. Circus performers have retired. Elderly, and suffering from various circus related ailments, many of the G.E. regulars find themselves waiting out their days telling stories about the good old days, substituting facts when their memories fade. But this is no ordinary nursing home. Shady Grove is situated next to a beautiful lake, and has all of the amenities one can ever desire.

Shady Grove introduces us to Jake, a retired chef in the cookhouse, who vows to keep smoking until he can no longer breathe; Lenny, one of the resident caregivers, who was a former trumpet player in the circus band and still serenades his friends in the evening; the clinic, where residents go to see Dr. Stanley, who has been taking care of them for more than 30 years; and Lois, a former showgirl dancer whose beauty is still apparent, even as her body slowly succumbs to old age. At Shady Grove, Elizabeth Ernst’s cast of characters share their remaining years with us, as they reflect, dream, fantasize and embellish their personal histories to staff and visitors. Through their eyes, we experience the difficulties and richness of circus life, as it continues to change and evolve.

Elizabeth Ernst is a professor emeritus at Columbia College Chicago, where she taught for 25 years.  She is the recipient of numerous Illinois Arts Council Fellowships in Photography, and two Faculty Development Grants from Columbia College. Her work has been exhibited nationally and was recently featured at the Mimi and Ian Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, IN. Elizabeth Ernst lives and works in Chicago. 

In 1997, Elizabeth Ernst walked away from a successful career in the advertising world to focus attention on her own art, making photographs at various venues including the circus museum in Baraboo, WI, Coney Island before it opened for the season, and random carnivals that set up tents in small Midwestern towns. Consumed by the circus since an early age, her studio was overflowing with Schoenhut clowns, tattered dolls, antique stuffed animals and cases of her own photographs. Four years later, after making numerous pieces about circus life which addressed issues of celebration, loneliness and confinement, Ernst decided to design, fabricate and direct her own circus.

The G.E. Circus combines her love of photographic storytelling with her love of sculpture. By modeling each figure out of Sculpey (which is then baked in an oven to harden) specifically to be photographed, Ernst's imagination unfolds and a cast of characters emerge: a juggler, fat lady, acrobat, a host of clowns and strange human-like animals. Once sculpted, Ernst carefully photographs each scene with a view camera and then prints on sensitized linen paper, mounts the paper to board, and finally collages and paints with acrylic. In her arena, animals control their handlers, freaks are the norm and cages are obsolete. The final result is an imagined world created by an artist who mixes social issues with the theater of the absurd to comment on the circus as we know it today.

Elizabeth Ernst is a professor emeritus at Columbia College Chicago, where she taught for 25 years.  She is the recipient of numerous Illinois Arts Council Fellowships in Photography, and two Faculty Development Grants from Columbia College. Her work has been exhibited nationally and was recently featured at the Mimi and Ian Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, IN. Elizabeth Ernst lives and works in Chicago. 

Please call: (312) 266-2350 for prices of specific pieces.
Prices are print only unless otherwise indicated.

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 1, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 2, 2018

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Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 3, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 4, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 5, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 6, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 10, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 11, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 7, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 8, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Install Image 9, 2018

Elizabeth Ernst
Elizabeth Ernst in her studio, 2018

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Elizabeth Ernst
Farley, Shady Grove Nursing Home, 2017

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Elizabeth Ernst
Jake, 2017

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Elizabeth Ernst
Jake in his bedroom at Shady Grove, 2017

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Elizabeth Ernst
Lenny The Caregiver at Shady Grove Nursing Home, 2016
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Elizabeth Ernst
Lois, Shady Grove Nursing Home, 2017

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Elizabeth Ernst
Ollie, 2017
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Elizabeth Ernst
Pearl the Lunch Lady at Shady Grove Nursing Home, 2017
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Elizabeth Ernst
The Barn at Shady Grove, 2018
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Elizabeth Ernst
The Clinic at Shady Grove Nursing Home, 2017

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Elizabeth Ernst
The Horn Player, 2017
Elizabeth Ernst
The Memory Jar, Shady Grove Nursing Home, 2017
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