WAKEFIELD, R.I. — In 2006, photographer Stephan Brigidi and his wife, Julie, were commissioned to document a roughly two-week family reunion in Portugal.
Portuguese-Americans living in the Bristol area had traveled to Rabo de Peixe — a fishing village on São Miguel Island in the Azores — to gather with their family in Europe. Brigidi took scores of photos during the trip, but one stood out: A picture of a mother and her adult daughter walking through the doorway of a home.
Brigidi has kept the photo, which he titled “Mother and Daughter,” for over 15 years. And when he came across a call for entries for a Hera Gallery show titled “The Perfect Age: Reflections on the Passage of Time,” he saw it as the perfect submission.
“It was like one of those so-called ‘a-ha!’ moments,” Brigidi said of snapping the picture. “It’s like, I felt that this was gonna be a good image.”
Now, “Mother and Daughter” is one of only 24 pieces created by 19 artists to be selected for The Perfect Age, out of around 450 entries from nearly 200 people.
The exhibition opened at Hera Gallery earlier this week and will run through June 18. Gallery Director Sonja Czekalski said the show reflects on childhood, death, nostalgia, history, memory, traditions, and the aging body.
“We had a list of ideas and the topic of time and aging stood out the most,” Czekalski said. “As Hera approaches 50 years and the pandemic approaches three years, time seems to have passed in the blink of an eye, yet it also can feel like an eternity.”
The show was juried by Lydia Gordon, an associate curator at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts who Czekalski said has put together nationally-touring and critically-acclaimed exhibitions.
Gordon chose pieces made using a variety of mediums, including photography, fiber arts, painting and mixed-media, Czekalski said.
Among those pieces is one created by artist Tina Tryforos, who used a broken water glass she inherited from her maternal grandmother to create a still-life photo.
The photo, titled “Cracked,” was the first picture she took in a series of still lifes, and she said it’s of the 100-year-old glass etched with flowers.
“Even destroyed, it was a beautiful object,” Tryforos said.
Familial bonds are a common theme in The Perfect Age, as artist Michèle Fandel Bonner created a group of 18 crochet baskets called “Empty Nesting Baskets,” with one basket representing each year her son lived with her before he went off to college.
Bonner actually has two pieces in the show, and she said the other depicts her hair going gray. Describing the piece as a “physical observation” of the passage of time, she said she started it during the summer before her son’s senior year of high school.
“I was becoming aware of the shift in my life, from mother of a teen, to the mother of an adult,” Bonner said.
Artist Cynthia Zeman explored the passage of time and different phases of life in her piece, as well. Titled “The Bride,” Zeman created a digital collage that depicts a bride superimposed over four copies of a photo that was taken when she was in college.
Zeman made the piece last year, and said she was inspired to create it after thinking back on her time in college as a film major at New York University.
She described her college years as “a time where I was forming my identity,” but also an era in which she was plagued with questions about her future.
“That was, like, a really rich time period of my life, but also had these anxieties, like ‘Was I going to get married? Was I going to have children? Was I going to do all of these things that were sort of expected of women at the time?’” Zeman said. “So that was the inspiration.”
Though the specifics of their inspirations may differ, all the artists said they were excited to be included in the show. And after selecting the pieces, Gordon noted that the works “have powerful qualities for transportation and reflection,” Czekalski said.
“Viewers can expect to leave the exhibition with a sense of empathy and wonder,” Czekalski said.