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In the Galleries: Dunn’s art in plain sight

Carol Dunn’s brother invited her to do a little fishing on the Sound.

It didn’t take long for him to regret the invitation. They’d just passed under the railway bridge in Mystic when she shouted, “Wait! Stop! Go back!”

“What?”

“Go back. Under the bridge…”

And there she started taking pictures of some peeling paint. Some rusty bolts. Old nails.

Along came another boat. A lady hollers over, “What’s the problem?”

“It’s OK,” the brother said. “She’s just a little crazy. She’s an artist.”

Such is Carol Dunn’s life and vision of the world. She gets ambushed by beauty.

It’s everywhere, in every cloud, every stone, any given leaf, a patch of rust, a fishing lure…

Case in point: a friend fell down some stairs. Dunn went to visit, and she saw something ineffably beautiful in the bandages, the stitches, the bruise and dried blood — not in the pain those things represent, but in their abstract, meaningless colors and forms.

She took the photos to her home studio on Hanover Pond in Sprague, tinkered with them in an app or two, tried this and that and a couple other things, ended up producing a variety of unidentifiable images, each intriguing in its own way.

So goes the life and eye of Carol Dunn. She’s attuned to beauty, the beauty within the ordinary. She sees through meaning to glean the unadulterated aesthetic behind it.

Hence the title of Dunn’s Norwich Arts Center exhibit — “In Plain Sight.” The exhibit is open to the public from Nov. 6 until the end of the month.

Her work falls into three categories.

One is unaltered photography, simply things she’s seen that less crazy people might miss — the lines and colors of fishing lures, the ravages of rust, the time in weathered woodgrain, stains on a wall, a vision through a foggy window, the uncelebrated stories of sidewalk tiles and slates people have walked over without seeing.

She also alters photography, using software to render the plain into something surreal or recast it to look like not just what it is but what it isn’t yet.

Dunn’s photography extends to photopolymer etching, a process of transferring a picture — altered or original — to a sheet of steel, then inking prints from it.

She also finds elements of art in the mundane and unadvertised.

One such assemblage, “The Space Between,” is a framed hodgepodge of folding carpentry rulers and a few nails. Another, “Earth, Wind, Fire,” consists of three old bottles, one containing dirt, another wisps of milkweed, another a burnt match and charred paper.

Dunn’s interest in photography goes back to when it cost money. She was in the third grade when she aimed an Instamatic, ever so parsimoniously, at interesting subjects.

She put a lot of thought into the single shot she could afford, cropping with the lens rather than in a darkroom.

The darkroom came later, after a career track one wouldn’t expect to precede fine art.

She started as a student intern in a prison. She went on to become a corrections officer, then a rehab counselor, and ultimately warden of the Janet S. York Correctional Institution in Niantic.

It would hardly seem the realm of art, but Dunn saw a certain beauty in her charges. She says it was a “wonderful career” where she could intervene to help people — not just inmates but staff. (Her caring and humanistic approach to incarceration is explored in a book, “The Farm: Life Inside a Women’s Prison,” by Andi Rierden.)

Once she got out of prison, so to speak, she turned to what would seem to be the polar opposite — the world of beauty, most of it found outdoors.

Besides art, Dunn loves winning awards for her art. The list on her website, caroldunnart.com, is a couple yards long.

She also likes selling her art — the money, sure, yes, of course, but also the confirmation of having her work on someone’s wall. She likes to endow a certain nobility to the peeled paint of a rusting bridge. She likes people to see what she sees, maybe see that she isn’t so crazy after all.

Glenn Cheney lives in Hanover.

In the Galleries is a regular feature in The Times. To contribute, email times@theday.com.

Editor's Note: This reflects a change in the exhibit's showing.

If You Go

Exhibit: "In Plain Sight" featuring Carol Dunn

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the physical showing of the exhibit has been cancelled and will instead move online at the Norwich Arts Center Gallery website, norwicharts.org.

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