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Resounds: Jane Waggoner Deschner

Jane Waggoner Deschner, taken at the Yellowstone Art Museum
Anna Paige
Jane Waggoner Deschner, taken at the Yellowstone Art Museum

In a world filled with data and discard, Jane Waggoner Deschner has built a shrine to humanity.

The Billings-based artist is a collector of moments, and she shares those experiences through discarded family photographs and phrases from obituaries.

"They are about the life that someone lived,” she said during a discussion in early December with YPR at the Yellowstone Art Museum, where Deschner’s immersive solo exhibition, Remember Me, is on display. In total, she has embroidered more than 1,200 found photographs with text sourced from obituaries for this expansive exhibit.

Deschner began the project in 2015 in response to growing hostility in the U.S. and has since embroidered thousands of black-and-white photographs with text she has collected from obituaries. The photos are discarded portraiture of people taken in the 1950s through 1970s, all in black and white. The people in the photos are unknown to Deschner and obituary text is from contemporary times.

Paired together, Deschner sets a tone with each image that gives the viewer a glimpse into our shared humanity through the faces and memories of those who have died and their many regrets, hopes, dreams, and even nicknames.

“We see our personal truths reflected — through photos and words — in the life of others,” Deschner said.

Part of the works included in the Remember Me exhibition
courtesy Yellowstone Art Museum
Part of the works included in the Remember Me exhibition

Deschner is a familiar face at local thrift stores, and the immersive collection includes objects she has found during the past several years. Down to the frame for each photograph, Deschner has curated an experience that is transportive and highly nostalgic. She has found treasure in the discarded materials of others. Bowling trophies, children’s dolls and dollhouses, rotary telephones, and ash trays atop 1950s furnishings all set a tone of a time gone by. Many furnishings have been painted with black matte gesso to depersonalize the objects and allow the viewer to see their own memories within.

The exhibition also features hand-knit afghans, doilies, and stitched pillows. Items that have also been discarded, collected in mass, they represent thousands of hours of stitching by unknown women.

On display are 56 sweaters Deschner knit when her children were little.

"I did a lot of sewing and that kind of thing, because it was still there the next day,” she said. “Nobody ate it. Nobody got it dirty. Nobody threw it away.

"It was evidence that I’ve been there."

The exhibit is on display at the Yellowstone Art Museum through Jan. 15.

Anna Paige is a Montana-based journalist, poet and educator. She is originally from Wyoming and has lived in Billings for more than a decade, where she co-founded Young Poets, winner of the 2021 Library of Congress Award for Literacy.
Corby Skinner is an independent marketing professional with an enormous capacity for assessing issues and creating positive, effective messages.