She is not, no, the Margaret Whiting who sang that song some of us might know. Rather: Margaret Whiting the artist who currently resides in Iowa, where I was introduced to her work back in 2013. Catalog was the piece in her solo show at the Dubuque Museum of Art that spoke to me, prompting one of my first ekphrastic poems. Comprised of library catalog cards and items from the natural world—an egg, a shell—the work spanned a gallery wall.
I walked its length more than once, stopping to study the honeycomb and the delicate seed pod, to make out what one book that one card spoke of. There’s a blurry picture I took of the egg—what I think might have been a quail’s—and another from the end, showing the gentle curve of the cards that called up for me, then, memories of water and a pier stretching out into the distance. Now, when I think back, the cards, lined as they were, resemble the underside of a Browning Parasol mushroom.
Whiting’s work, overall, focuses on the environment, something that matters to me. Her framed pieces that use human anatomy textbook illustrations and geologic survey maps illustrate the connection we have with nature. As she writes on her website, “Our impact on the land affects human health since air pollution and disposed waste will ultimately lead back to us.” Her installation piece Deforestation is a room full of tree stumps made from vintage law books. Like Catalog, the tight packing of paper—its semblance to another form—readjusts our view and, more importantly, provokes us to think carefully about what we are doing to save this place we inhabit. ~Kelly R. Samuels