‘Plague Art’ depicts theme from ‘Tale’ title

March 6, 2008
Mike Pettinella- Daily News Correspondent

BATAVIA – While not in the category of uplifting topics, plagues have had a profound effect upon society for seven centuries.
That’s what an exhibit called “Plague Art” hopes to convey, according to Joyce Chizick, an adjunct art instructor at Genesee Community College.
The exhibit is on view in the media room of Alfred C. O’Connell Library at GCC, 1 College Rd.
“Plague Art” and displays at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., and Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina, have been created to draw attention to the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.
This year’s selection, The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen, finds a town quarantining itself in an attempt to prevent an outbreak of the flu in 1918, a real-life pandemic that killed millions worldwide.
The “Tale” project culminates next week when Mullen visits March 13 to 15 for talks and booksignings. Book discussions are scheduled through Wednesday.
Chizick said “Plague Art” grabs you because of the imagery – concepts of death using skeletons and an hour glass showing that time is passing.
“It consists of art from the earlier plagues (late 1300s and early 1400s) throughout Europe,” she said. “There also are short bits of commentary to help explain what was going on at the time.”
While most of the reprints are not of the highest quality, “they achieve their purpose which is to inform,” Chizick said.
“We want people to understand how art and the plague were interrelated,” she said.
Chizick explained that the art world was flourishing in Siena, Italy, during the early Renaissance before the plague devastated the town. Because of the scourge, “art basically moved to Florence; there was a large change where art was being developed.”
Included in the exhibit are reprints of works from Pieter Brugel and Hieronymus Bosch, both of the Netherlands, and from Albrecht Durer of Germany. There also is an image of a dark cloak with a flat top hat and a beak – “it sort of looks like a penguin,” she said – which represents the outfit that doctors wore during the plague.
“They stuffed fabric scented with perfumes into that beak because they thought the odors are what caused the plague,” she said. “Even in their ignorance, they did things to try to protect themselves.”
Exhibits at Richmond and Lee-Whedon libraries focus on the period of Mullen’s novel and include items from World War I.
“My grandfather was a soldier at the time, so my mother had all these items. A photo of the unit he was in, dog tags, books, his helmet,” DeLooze said.
The exhibit in Medina includes a soldier’s uniform.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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