MassMu’s Studio M to Host Portrait of US Exhibition

MassMu’s Studio M to Host Portrait of US Exhibition
The Massillon Museum’s Studio M contemporary art gallery will host Monica Jane Frisell and Adam Scher: Portrait of US from April 6 through May 19, 2024. The audiovisual archive of intimate stories told by ordinary people features black and white portraits of local individuals as well as people from around the nation.
A reception for the artists will be held on Saturday, April 6, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., concurrent with MassMu’s 2024 NEA Big Read kickoff. The exhibition is one of many events and exhibitions that complement this year’s book selection, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. During the afternoon, free copies of the book will be distributed; two additional Big Read-related exhibitions will open—Home Again: The Embodiment of Africa through Art and Fabric and Family Means to Me; and the Massillon Public Library Bookmobile will visit.
A MassMusings podcast interview with Frisell and Scher will be posted on Tuesday, April 30, at 12:00 p.m. EST.
Portrait of US is a continually evolving audiovisual chronicle of the USA, an archive of stories garnered by photographer Frisell and audio recorder/editor Scher from their conversations with people in rural and urban communities across the United States. Each story is a snapshot of one ordinary person sharing something intimately with strangers—but those snapshots, when threaded together, produce a mosaic of community life and what binds Americans together. Frisell believes that analog photography brings intentionality to each photograph in a fast-paced and over-stimulated world. 
“Everyone always has something to say, but in this digital age, as so many humans seek meaningful connection through 30-second soundbites and flashy visuals, it is rare for people to have a chance to slow down, sit and truly listen,” says Monica Jane Frisell. “With this project, and its slow, methodical, analog approach, we hope to bring people together through the timeless arts of portraiture and storytelling. Many folks find comfort in the experience of sharing with two seeming strangers and a relief in coming to realizations about their own lives and their commonalities with others. Our project gives everyday people a chance to feel their importance in this world, when grandiose noise and exceptionalism always seem to get the front page.”
Work/life partners Frisell and Scher live nomadically from a Toyota Tacoma truck that pulls a cargo trailer (“The Ark”), both custom-converted to create a living space, office space, and fully equipped black-and-white darkroom. The artists describe themselves as “collectors of faces and stories.” Their 500-and-counting portrait portfolio has been gathered by zigzagging across the country since 2021 as the isolation of the pandemic time began to lift. 
The team visited Massillon from September 25 through October 6, 2023. In each locale, they park The Ark in full view and then get to know established community members—librarians, city clerks, shop managers, farmers—to help them welcome locals to share a story. After each conversation, Frisell takes a portrait of the subject on a large 1940s Kodak Master film camera. She processes the images in the mobile darkroom, and Scher edits the audio. They give each interviewee a print to keep. A set of silver-gelatin contact prints and edited recordings is left with a local institution as a historical document. 
Some of the topics that have been entrusted to Frisell and Scher for Portrait of US include: grappling with health problems; issues of sexual or cultural identity and body image; dealing with grief; pressures of starting a business or becoming a parent; handling the impacts of addiction, sobriety, faith or politics; recollections of important personal memories such as a first kiss; and what binds someone to the place they live.
The impetus for Frisell and Scher’s project is public engagement across all boundaries, making and exhibiting art that can live within but also beyond gallery or studio walls. It is a seamless blend of fine art photography and documentary audio, one that resonates sociologically, historically, and even anthropologically.
The Portrait of US project has been hosted in: 
Birch Bay, WA
North Hero,VT (a small island in Lake Champlain)
Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY
ON::View Residency, Savannah, GA
Slavic Village neighborhood, Cleveland, OH—
    with the Cleveland Print Room and Slavic Village Development
Green Box Arts, Green Mountain Falls, CO
The Art & History Museums of Maitland, Maitland, FL
North Carolina State University, Centennial Campus, Raleigh, NC
Sulfur Studio Gallery, Savannah, Georgia
Innisfree Village, an intentional community for adults with intellectual disabilities, Crozet, VA 
An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. This exhibition is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Museum receives operating support from the Ohio Arts Council, ArtsinStark, and the citizens of Massillon.
In conjunction with the NEA Big Read and the exhibition, Frisell and Scher will present a program about Portrait of US at Spring Hill Historic Home and Underground Railroad Site on Saturday, April 6, at 4:00 p.m.  For details, visit
Massillon Museum exhibitions can be seen during regular Museum hours, Tuesday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. A visit to the Massillon Museum is always free.
The Massillon Museum, where art and history come together, is located at 121 Lincoln Way East in Massillon. For more information, call the Museum at 330-833-4061 or visit
Media Contacts:
Alexandra Nicholis Coon – Massillon Museum Executive Director  –  330.833.4061 x111
Emily Vigil – Massillon Museum Studio M and Silk Room Coordinator –
Margy Vogt  –  Massillon Museum Public Relations Coordinator  –  330.844.1525
Learn More about the Artists:
Instagram : @nomadicphotoark / @a.portraitofus
Substack Publication:
Monica Jane Frisell, Cadiz, Massillon, OH, 2023, Silver gelatin print made from 8×10 film negative

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