Playing Favorites: Naomi Vanderleest & Dennis McNett

We’ve asked FWMoA staff the hardest question you can ask art museum people: so, what is your favorite artwork currently on display? As “art museum people”, we often get asked about our favorite artists, artworks, and the art we choose to hang on our own walls. Since not all of our staff are front-end, and not all of them write for the blog, this series gives everyone a chance to get to know them, too. Taking advantage of our rotating exhibitions of artworks, from painted portraits to sculpted bronzes, FWMoA staff from all departments are choosing artworks that enthrall and enchant them; or, in other words, playing favorites.

Naomi Vanderleest, FWMoA Education Assistant. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Naomi Vanderleest began working at FWMoA as a Security Guard in June 2021 before joining the education department as an Education Assistant in November 2021. Her current favorite? The Tales of the Rainbow Crow in Canyon of the Wolfbat, an installation/skatepark by Dennis McNett.

Dennis McNett, American, b. 1972. Tales of the Rainbow Crow. Papier-mâché, wood, acrylic paint, and wire, 2015. Museum purchase, 2018.295. Image courtesy of Alyssa Dumire.

Q: What is the first thing you noticed about this artwork? What drew you to this particular piece?

A: I have had a special connection with this artwork since I started working at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. On my first day I was given a tour of the building, and I couldn’t help but notice these large crows hanging behind the scenes. As the Education Assistant, when I started to prepare tour scripts, I learned that they were part of a 2015 show that Dennis McNett did at the museum, Dennis McNett: Legend of the Wolfbat. Now they are on display again as part of The Art of The Skateboard!

The first thing that drew to me to this piece was the absolute size of the birds, they transform any space. They remind me that crows are really quite large compared to the average bird you see outside, particularly in the Midwest. I also enjoy how they were made; McNett is known for his woodcut prints, but these birds are three dimensional works made from papier-mâché .

Q: Would you hang this artwork in your home? Why or why not?

A: Due to their size I don’t think I would be able to hang them in my home. I believe it would be best to keep them in an area with high ceilings so they can appear to be flying in the air.

Dennis McNett, American, b. 1972. Tales of the Rainbow Crow. Papier-mâché, wood, acrylic paint, and wire, 2015. Museum purchase, 2018.295. Image courtesy of Alyssa Dumire.

Q: What does this artwork mean to you?

A: Thinking about McNett’s connection with mythology, I think this artwork highlights the nature of crows in lore and everyday life. Crows are commonly seen as a bad omen, but in some mythologies they are seen as messengers for the gods. I have also learned that crows are very intelligent animals and have an amazing memory. If you are ever mean to a crow, they will remember it; we know this from studies of instances of people that were targeted by crows after throwing rocks at them. They also, however, remember if you were kind to them; there are just as many instances of crows bringing gifts to people who helped them. I believe that the eyes on the belly of the crow references this intelligence. Crows are always watching you, and their eyes mean a lot more than a ominous glance.

Q: Why did you choose to work in an art museum?

A: I chose to work in an art museum because art has always been a part of my life. As a child I was always creating artwork and, as I grew up, my family supported my interest by taking me to museums and galleries. Learning about art taught me about people from all over the world, and I began to understand how important art was to a variety of cultures. Later in life I found that not everyone was given this foundation in the arts. I now believe that it is my purpose to give this perspective to the general public so they can also learn about the world around them, and hopefully gain a positive world view.

The crows in their original installation in Dennis McNett: Legend of the Wolfbat in 2015.

Q: What has been your favorite exhibition at FWMoA during your employment? What exhibition are you most looking forward to in the next year or two?

A: So far my favorite exhibit at the museum was Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau. I have always had an interest in Art Nouveau and how it took inspiration from Japanese art. I am excited for the Bill Blass: Fort Wayne Fashion Designer fashion exhibit coming up this summer. One of my hobbies is thrift shopping, and I enjoy wearing vintage clothing.

Q: What kid of art (if any) do you have in your home?

A: I have a lot of textile work hanging in my home because I like the way it makes a home feel cozy. My favorite work is a vintage latchhook landscape that I have hanging in my bedroom!

Come visit FWMoA to see Dennis McNett’s crows and other artworks inspired by skateboard culture in The Art of the Skateboard, on exhibit through June 12th.

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