I first encountered Kay Healy's artwork a few years ago at Paradigm Gallery. At the time, Healy's "Stuffed" project was, appropriately titled, Starter Home. Since then the project has expanded to fit larger show spaces like the Philadelphia International Airport, Fleisher Art Memorial, West Branch Gallery in Stowe, Vt., Philadelphia's City Hall, Moore College of Art, and on Oct. 2, Lost and Found – Healy's latest exhibit featuring "Stuffed" – will be housed at the Homepage Café in the Central Library of Philadelphia.
The carefully curated collection of three-dimensional screen-printed, sewn, and stuffed objects presents a plush version of the interiors of five bi-level Philadelphia row homes. The life-size images of household objects complement the subject matter; items etched into memories and objects of comfort. The home settings, often installed like backdrops, hold object narratives. Each item on display, whether it's a piece of living room furniture or a kitchen appliance, has a story attached.
When Healy started this series in 2010, the pieces were inspired by abandoned furniture and her own childhood home. The project has grown to encompass furniture pieces and objects based on the memories of other people's homes. Coming Home, a 350-square-foot instillation, which was held at the Philadelphia International Airport, was created based on interviews with four Philadelphians of different ages and from different neighborhoods. Each participant described cherished objects and the memories associated with them. A cathedral radio, floral kitchen wallpaper, an armchair, a claw-foot tub, and 30 other items took center stage in terminal E.
After the success of Coming Home, Healy opened the question to a broader audience. "I asked people to describe objects that they had lost, and wished they still had," Healy said. Lost and Found features around 90 objects in total and spans over 1,000 square feet — her largest instillation to date. The work itself, experiencing the life-size dollhouse-like world that Healy creates, isn't complete without the narratives behind them. Though seamlessly organized, the items speak for themselves emanating a nostalgic quality that Healy's work has come to be associated with.
"Julia Zagar [co-founder of Eye's Gallery] instantly knew what object she wanted. It was this black, early 1960s, modern couch in her mother's house. Every time she was sick she would spend the day on that couch. That was the sick couch that she remembered her mother would take care of her and bring her soup on." Healy explained, recalling the objects and people she's worked with on Lost and Found, "When she gets sick, to this day, she thinks about that couch. Wishing that she could have it again. A lot of our attachment to objects has to do with comfort, being nurtured, and having someone take care of you."
Accompanying the exhibit, WHYY's Peter Crimmins has recorded and interviewed 16 of the project's participants. Thanks to the collaboration, audiences will now be able to hear firsthand the object narratives that inform Healy's work.