Just in time for the season, “Images of Haunted Ohio” opens Friday, October 23rd at Prama Artspace and Gallery (5411 Pearl Rd.) in Parma.
The photography exhibition delves into the paranormal, displaying images from a variety of sites in Ohio including Franklin Castle, the House of Wills and The Ohio State Reformatory and features works by Laura D’Alessandro, Jennifer Gleason, June Hund, Shawn Slowburn, Sean Mabin, Jim Szudy and Markus Abdelmesih.
As the nights grow longer and with Halloween around the bend, our collective conscious can drift towards notions of ghosts and ghouls. And one thing is certain: Ohio has a rich history of the tradition of the telling of ghost stories.
I can remember toting around the “Haunted Ohio” books when I was a youngster, which are filled with ghostly tales and folklore gathered from all 88 Ohio counties in a dense, five-volume collection.
Author and researcher Chris Woodyard has spent her career unearthing these tales from the heartland, and so it makes sense for this exhibition to continue to examine, through the camera lens, how these images can conjure up our sense of intrigue when it comes to the paranormal. I was able to get a sneak peek of the exhibition and speak with some of the artists to get their spooky tales behind some of these rather haunting pictures.
Artist, curator and owner of Prama, Sean Mabin, talked about the inspiration for the exhibition.
“Supposedly, Ohio has more haunted sites than any other state," Mabin said. “Many of which are quite well known in paranormal circles, like Franklin Castle. I heard Ohio has over 1,000 haunted sites. These are a few of those…Myself, I became interested in this subject as a child. My father used to tell me stories about Franklin Castle. I enjoyed reading about the paranormal. In Catholic school I found the only book in our school library on the subject and kept in in my possession for most of my time in grade school.”
Artist Laura D’Alessandro, who said she suffered from some nightmares from the process, mentioned this experience to her friend. “My friend, the late Cleveland occult artist Stephen Kasner, used to tell me that, 'Everything is magic,'" she said. “We spent many hours discussing our beliefs and odd experiences during this lifetime. We had been fellow classmates at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and lost touch over the years. But, during a mini reunion in 2018, we became reacquainted and he gave me a spark to get me going again with my artwork after a hiatus due to my breast cancer and having had a baby.”
House of Wills was considered to be the largest Black funeral home in the state and its last location was in a remarkable building on East 55th Street. The history of this location has attracted everyone from skeptics to ghost-hunters, including the Cleveland Paranormal Society. The House of Wills also, according to Case Western reserve Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, “…offered a regular meeting place for social clubs, music recitals, civil rights activities, and other black community gatherings. Wills’ son, J. Walter, Jr., died in 1967, and Wills, Sr., continued to oversee the family business up to his own death in 1971.”
Mabin said that all of the artists in the exhibition are interested in the paranormal in some way, but artist Jim Szudy had suggested some of them go see the Mansfield Reformatory specifically.
“All of us were productive and had many great images. Mansfield Reformatory, for me, had the most paranormal energy. One could feel the spirits in the many small cells, especially the solitary confinement cells. At one of the cells I was drawn to, a prisoner died by setting himself on fire.”
One of the most haunting, as well as artistically vigorous of the pieces I have seen from this exhibition is the image called “Time Out” by artist Jennifer Gleason, taken at Shawshank Prison in Mansfield/The Ohio State Reformatory. The image is that of a lone chair shrouded by the decay of the room as the light permeates the peeling paint and plaster like the sun casting its gamma rays across of the "seas" of the moon. It is indeed otherworldly and incandescent, and taps into the psyche in a way that connects art and our inability to explain the way an image makes us feel, similar to how it can be difficult to explain why being in a certain space or hearing a certain story can make the hair stand up on the back of our necks or to make our stomachs drop.
“There was just something about that chair,” Gleanson said. “The style of it, the way it was positioned in the space and the way the cross-light from the window just kissed it so elegantly — it spoke to me as if it was whispering a story to me. Secondly, I was drawn to the delicious textures that canvased the space, filling in their own character and backstory. In an attempt to tell their story, I composed the shot in such a way that all of the elements could not only speak for themselves, but also holistically.”
Get a preview of the exhibition in the video below.
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