Mystery and Murder at Brushwood

Go now. See Doug Fogelson’s On Climate exhibit at Brushwood Center, Ryerson Woods (Deerfield, IL), ending September 4th.  The exhibit features photographs, photograms, an outdoor sculpture, and an indoor installation, all in a remarkable setting.


After a generous tour of the Ryerson home, built in 1942 but evocative of David Adler, I was particularly attuned to the haunting quality of Fogelson’s centerpiece, Broken Cabinet. The room-sized installation features a modern cabinet of curiosities, a display of “vintage” books on ecology, climate change, and extinction, and a compelling set of photograms. Fogelson’s cabinet artifacts were perhaps the most astonishing, in their revelation of (and witness to) biology as death and dismemberment. “Don’t miss the mummified bat,” I whispered to a family beginning the short tour. But as I reflect on the specimens, including a rolled-up rattlesnake skin, dead black coral branch, and decomposing bird wing, I feel as though I am being watched. We are all implicated in this murder scene.


Fogelson’s photograms, which literally capture shadows of the artifacts, extend the impression of being haunted. A bunny face/mask morbidly animated. Lithe mushroom silhouettes, musical notes from the underground. The bat again. Enlarged. Inverted. Still unseeing?  (Undead?)  I hear the tour guide speak, but imagine a ghostly voice. This was the master’s chamber.  And there slept the lady.  Both rooms open to the outside. (Shattered glass . . . screens . . . stifled screams.)

As I reflect on the experience I feel a sense of vertigo. Appreciation for the family that donated the property, and a conflicted sense of intimacy and trespass for inspecting the details of the home, and the shades in family photos. The photos were not so old, in fact. And yet the scenes, so distant, even as I walked through the very rooms. Nostalgia.  For some place I have never known (or merely forgotten). Regret?  (What have I done? What have I failed to do?)

Apparently, there is a door in the main hallway leading to a second–floor passageway that spans the whole house.  It had rooms for the staff, but also served as a secret form of communication from one end of the house to the other. Fogelson’s exhibit is a similar form of communication between things revealed and hidden, life and death, light and shadow, intimacy and trespass.


See exhibit information here.

Image sources: 1. ; 2. ; 3.; 4. Author’s irreverent close-up of Fogelson’s outdoor sculpture, Physis.