One in eight couples struggle with infertility in America today. “The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility” exhibit at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson explores the impact of infertility through both art and history. The title is a play on words with IF being an abbreviation for infertility and ART an acronym for Assisted Reproductive Technologies. While the art comes out of the emotional struggle of modern women, the historical contribution comes from the benefactor of the museum, Ella Merriman Sharp. Without her own struggles with infertility and her ultimate decision to live childless, this museum might not even exist.
Throughout history, we have learned that women have had a great impact on society. Ella was born in a time when women were expected to get married, bear children, and little else. She is known throughout Jackson for the park and museum that bear her name. Without children to leave her estate to she was able to will her estate to the City of Jackson for the purpose of creating a park and museum. Ella was known throughout the state of Michigan as a “general encyclopedia” of knowledge when it came to what women can accomplish when united towards a common goal. For example in 1909, she was the only woman invited to address the all-male Michigan Forestry Association to garner support for establishing state forest preserves and a fire patrol system. Ella was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998 for her work in forestry and civic improvement.
Yet even today there is much stigma surrounding infertility and living childless. I spoke with a woman at the opening reception who wishes to remain anonymous. She told a story of flowers being delivered to her neighbors when she wasn’t home. The card read “Congratulations” in big, bold letters. When she finally returned she was greeted by an exclamation of “You’re pregnant?!” The neighbor, unaware of her struggle, could not have been aware of the sting that exclamation might cause. It turns out the “Congratulations” was due to the completion of her PhD instead. The ART of IF explores the physical and emotional toll the struggle of infertility may cause. Visitors walk away from the exhibit with both a greater understanding of the impact of infertility as well as a hope for those that choose either to continue with ART, choose to adopt or decide ultimately to live childless.
“The ART of If” is in the Emmet & Pyron Galleries running through June 21st at the Ella Sharp Museum, 3225 Fourth St. Jackson, MI 49203. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with Thursday hours extending to 7:00 p.m. Admission is just $5 for adults, children 5-12 are $3, under 5 years old are free. Call (517) 787-2320 for more details.
Top Ten other not to miss events and exhibits at the Ella:
- Pride and Patriotism: American Military Portraits and Memorials in the Hurst Gallery until May 10th
- Ella’s Patio Parties – Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. starting April 17th, 2014
- 10th Annual Art, Beer and Wine Festival – June 7th, 2014
- Ella Sharp’s 19th-Century Hillside Farmhouse (Guided tours are available for an additional $3)
- Dibble One-Room Schoolhouse
- Eli Stilson’s Log House
- Historic Farm Lane including a woodworking shop, doctor’s office, general store and print shop
- Jackson History Gallery including two Tiffany Stained glass panels, the resolution table from the founding of the Republican Party, “Under the Oaks” and 1916 Marion-Handley automobile once manufactured in Jackson
- Andrews Gallery of Wildlife Art with rotating exhibits from every medium including bronze sculpture, bird and decoy carvings, paintings, prints and even taxidermy mounts.
- Never Enough Time Clock Gallery – Imagine being surrounded by dozens of clocks from cuckoo to grandfather