When Alecia Walls-Barton was a little girl, she loved watching her grandfather work with fabrics in the small shop in his home in Sheridan, Arkansas.
“My grandfather was a carpenter and an upholster,” Walls-Barton said. “I grew up watching him make fabrics. He always worked for himself and had a little shop at his house.”
Walls-Barton graduated Dec. 16 with a Master of Arts degree with a concentration in studio art. Her artwork combines photography and textiles to create unique pieces. She owes her love of working with textiles to those cherished early memories with her grandfather.
“My love of textiles and fabrics and wanting to work with my hands comes from him,” she said. “He taught me how to sew on his great big industrial-size sewing machine.”
Given Walls-Barton’s fond childhood memories, it came as no surprise that her master’s thesis exhibition, “Personal Myth,” is based largely on moments spent with her grandfather. The body of work explores Walls-Barton’s fragmented childhood memories and how people develop a personal identity based on information that might be flawed.
“What I discovered is my memory is not finite,” Walls-Barton explained. “My memories have shifted as I have aged. There are things I don’t remember that I wish I did and things I remember that I’m not sure are true. Some of the work is based on fragmented childhood memories and feelings, so they are not exactly recreations of childhood memories, but they are related to them.”
One of her pieces, “When We Gathered,” is based on a memory of gathering eggs with her grandfather.
“I have this memory of him taking my hand and leading me across the yard to the roosting box,” she said. “It was the first time I collected eggs. That memory is foundational to my relationship with my grandfather. It’s a really important experience that I’m not sure that I had. In the image, I am wearing a denim outfit like he would have worn. It’s not a perfect recreation of that experience, but it represents my emotional attachment to my grandfather.”
Another piece, “Mother Feels Like Satin,” is an up-close image of hands grasping at a satin top.
“I have this very vivid memory of my mother at two. I was really afraid of the dark and would end up in my parents’ bed,” she said. “My mom always wore satin pajamas, and she would give me her pajamas to use as a security blanket. I grew up seeing a photograph of a similar scene, and I’m sure that is where the memory came from.”
For Barton, her show is not about perfectly recreating foundational childhood memories. She has explored how people create their own life stories by filling in gaps in memories.
“I feel like we are the sum of our experiences. The question this work poses is how do you reconcile your memory and who you are if you can’t trust your memory, if you can’t be sure those are your memories,” she said. “What I learned through the making of this work is that we are all made of myth, and we all create the myth of our lives.”
Walls-Barton joined UA Little Rock in 2015. She worked as a graduate assistant and taught photography classes with her mentors, Joli Livaudais, assistant professor of photography, and Carey Roberson, associate professor of photography.
“They are the best,” she said. “They really pushed me to discover what I wanted to make. Joli and Carey encouraged me to experiment a lot. Grad school is not easy, so it’s nice to have people who are really invested in what you are doing and believe you have something to say.”
While at UA Little Rock, she won first place in the humanities category at the Research and Creative Works Expo in 2016. Earlier this year, she was one of the first members to join “No-Type,” a photography club for UA Little Rock students and alumni who held their first show this fall at Historic Arkansas Museum.
After graduation, Walls-Barton plans to find a position teaching art and eventually earn a Master of Fine Arts degree. She also plans to complete a new body of work featuring her grandfather.
“My grandfather has dementia now, so the urgency is there to spend more time with him and take more photographs,” she said.
Walls-Barton encourages new students at UA Little Rock to take some art classes.
“While you are here, allow yourself to take an art class and give yourself the freedom to follow your passions and broaden your scope,” she said. “I think the arts, especially, are important to people’s growth. I think I am a better, more well-rounded person because of the arts. I’m glad I came back to UA Little Rock to take the time to make my work.”
In the upper right photo, Alecia Walls-Barton holds pieces from her master’s thesis exhibition, “Personal Myth,” in the UA Little Rock Art Gallery. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UA Little Rock Communications.