Tara Graves is many things: a former corporate worker who resigned after 10 years to go to art school, a photographer, an art studio owner. On Oct. 28, she also became the Sheehan Gallery assistant.
Graves found her way to Whitman after resigning from her position as the Walla Walla Foundry’s photographer.
“When working on a production schedule, you spend 8+ hours photographing, editing and archiving someone else’s work,” Graves said. “So I was having a hard time finding time to do my own work and do a balance of things.”
She enjoyed working in her university’s art gallery as a student and still wanted to keep art involved in her career, so she applied to the Sheehan Gallery’s assistant position.
“I’m getting to learn a lot of new stuff — like, I’ve never cut glass before,” Graves said. And I still get to have conversations with people about art and be involved in it, but also have time to work on my own stuff.”
Graves’ longest-running series is a collection of painterly photographs that span over twelve years and center around what architecture looks like at night.
Other works by her are cyanotypes of geologic tafoni formations, done in both positives and negatives.
“Actually, the first ones I did were all negative, because I forgot to inverse them,” Graves said, “but then I started doing it on purpose. I thought it was interesting to look at them together, the positive and negative forms.”
Graves’ work explores urban landscapes found in the four-block area around her Walla Walla apartment, pictures of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco in fog and artists at the Walla Walla Foundry. Her latest series, which features macro landscapes, will be shown in the breezeway in Olin next semester.
“Tara brings her own fantastic skill-set that is just so well-suited for this job,” said Kynde Kiefel, the Sheehan Gallery exhibition and collections manager. “She’s strategic but she’s also an artist, so she has this really amazing right-brain left-brain balance. So much of her built-in talents are exactly what we hoped for here in the gallery. She’s an innovator, collaborator and she’s super diligent.”
“We’re incredibly grateful that we’ve added Tara to our staff,” added Daniel Forbes, the Sheehan Gallery director.
Forbes introduced Graves to the Whitman community via public interview on Dec. 3, where they talked about her work on and off campus.
While Graves brings necessary assistance to the area of work, the Sheehan Gallery is still understaffed.
“The position that she occupies is not full-time or permanent,” Forbes said. “Like a lot of departments on campus, we’ve been asking for additional staffing for a lot of years.”
As the campus expands in number of students, buildings and faculty, the Sheehan Gallery’s responsibilities grow, too.
“We’re responsible for exhibits in the Sheehan Gallery, but we also support the studio art department and the department of art history and visual culture. We support other faculty who wanna bring students in and tie the gallery into their courses. We work with Stevens Gallery to mentor their student curator. We also coordinate with the Maxey Museum and help facilitate them and their exhibitions. And we’re responsible for all the artwork on campus. Also, we have an inner office with an art loan program.” He paused very briefly. “And we’re a staff of 2.5 people.”
Kiefel also acknowledged the immensity of their workload.
“Daniel and I have worked together for 13 years and I love working with him,” Kiefel said. “But I think we go crazy a little bit sometimes about trying to meet deadlines, and never have enough time — so we have actually sort of sacrificed our own health sometimes in honor of trying to make a vision happen. It’s all for good things, so I don’t ever regret that, but I truly wish we had more time and people to help us. But we do what we can.”
Their struggle is compounded by their other commitments; like Graves and her studio, both Kiefel and Forbes do outside work. Kiefel teaches cartooning classes to children, and Forbes works with other community artists to steward and document older queer artists’ work, alongside teaching online at the Walla Walla Community College.
The Sheehan Gallery functions as one of Walla Walla’s – and Eastern Washington’s – most significant places to see contemporary art and artists, and its position as an institutional gallery means it can focus on art without the pressure of commerce. The artistic community at Whitman is excited to welcome Graves to the Sheehan Gallery team, making their small team just a little bit bigger.