Tonya Solley Thornton hails
from a long lineage of crafters, and it’s a fact
she admits with unabashed pride. She developed a taste
for do-it-yourself visual theatricality from her parents,
inveterate holiday decorators who managed to make their
Florida home into a winter wonderland during the region’s
balmy December. Her Pennsylvania grandmother taught her
how to make ‘spoon roses,’ produced by gently
melting pink plastic utensils into flora infinitely more
graceful than their throwaway source material. The posies
can often be found in her sculptures, which often take
the form opulent, seemingly enchanted environments.
The pieces she creates are infused with
an insistent sense of melancholy, something that stems
from dying art forms and the powerful perfume that hangs
over import stores and estate sales. Thornton’s
art is steeped in a sense of a lost Americana, of a mid-century
pop culture aesthetic grown out of the foundations of
the Victorian era’s emphasis in excess ornamentation.
She also has a deep appreciation for endangered materials – things
like plastic flowers that have given way to seemingly
more tasteful, but much less interesting silk versions.
The garden folly of an installation included
in this exhibition was inspired by 1960s-vintage parade
floats, those seemingly hovering flower-covered platforms
meant to showcase beauty pageant winners in giant hoop
skirt dresses. Those anointed women were required to
slowly wave at spectators – for hours on end. That
repetitive motion is reflected in the slow, mechanized
rotation of Thornton’s swan-necked shrubs. Though
they may resemble mythic creatures that are running out
of steam, we’re equally aware that these things,
like Thornton’s work, are in it for the long haul.