By Marty Finley
In 1998, Janette Maley was diagnosed with breast cancer. Maley had been a painter for many years, but the disease affected her arm, and she had trouble doing what she loved. But her creativity continued to flow as she began crafting collages from magazine clippings a year and a half after being diagnosed. So much so that Maley created 35 collages in a month.
Maley died last fall, but she wished her life would live on in her work, as well as her husband’s.
This was just one of the stories told Thursday at the Giles Gallery during the opening reception of “A Journey, Two Views,” an exhibit showcasing Maley’s full body of collages, as well as the photographs taken of Maley by her husband, Edgar Hand, throughout her illness.
The exhibit began in mid-September and will run until Oct. 19, but the reception was an opportunity for Hand to explain the exhibit, as well as his own personal thoughts.
It was also an opportunity for visitors to understand Maley’s side of the story as excerpts from her diary were included with many of the collages.
“I’m not ready to be one of those women, and yet I know I now am,” Maley wrote. “Let me have the time of not feeling like I have cancer. Let me have normal feelings. Let me be just a person.”
She was also candid in the diary about her feelings toward therapy.
“I hate the idea of having radiation. I get nuclear bomb dreams,” she wrote. “Everyone gets radiated and slowly dies from the poison.”
The display of images and drawings also revealed Maley’s feelings. While the collages were varied in context, all had the face of a bald female at the center, and the pieces represented Maley’s moods through various stages of her cancer.
The photography also represented Maley in different stages-asleep, playing with a cat, brushing her teeth, looking out the window, showering and viewing her own naked body and its changes in the mirror.
Hand, who has been a photographer for 35 years, said the project provided a new intimacy between him and his wife. He said he wanted to attempt to understand the illness and what Maley was going through. “To face my fears, to share in hers,” he said.
But Hand said Maley’s request to be photographed was odd and unfamiliar, because she and her family were camera shy. “It was a pleasure, but it was a surprise,” he said.
Hand said Eastern was the first university to have the entire collection on display. Other universities have had between 20-75 pieces displayed. Hand said he will host one more showing in Minneapolis, and then he will move the display into storage. The exhibit will not rest there, though, as he plans to finish Maley’s vision by compiling the collection into a book. During the reception, students and administrators moved around the gallery whispering to one another. Some admitted they were holding back tears. And some did not bother holding back as Hand talked about Maley and read some diary entries. He said he had read the diary many times, but he had just discovered an entry a few nights before the exhibit in which Maley explained she wanted the photographs taken to leave something for her husband to remember her by.
Hand said he was scared during Maley’s ordeal, but he understood the world and found peace through the eye of a camera. He said he saw the beauty of his wife through the small lens.
“I cannot tell you how moving it is,” said a man passing through the exhibit. “You just have,” Hand replied.