Drawing on European folk traditions, Tole painting is a technique of decorating metalware so as to transform nondescript household objects into family heirlooms. The style was first imported into America by the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch, the German immigrants who settled in the region starting in the seventeenth century. In her exhibition “Lead Sister,” Victoria Smith—who hails from Pennsylvania, where the aesthetic is still deeply entrenched in front parlors and roadside inns—borrows from the visual vocabulary of Tole tofosterconversations about craft, skill, and, crucially, the hierarchy embedded within the notion of the art object.
Family is central to Tole as both subject and intended audience; the objects typically feature domestic motifs or inside jokes. In The Smiths (all works 2023), the artist renders a bright-red love heart, plump and bouncy, in oil paint on an oversize cutout wood panel. Across its surface, black childlike lettering reads, “The Smith’s.” One can easily imagine this sort of knickknack hanging off a doorknob or on the wall of a kitchen: a whole family contained in a single heart. As with Sharing Horizons, the watering can of tulips mounted on the opposite wall, this is a painting about painting. Similarly, for Love Garden, Smith applies oil directly to the gallery floor, creating a trompe l’oeil of two sketchbooks whose pages are penciled with drawings of flowers and small maps of housing estates. The scribbles wait as if only momentarily abandoned, but the flatness reveals the image for what it is: a painting, invested with a different, more self-aware kind of charm.
The works in “Lead Sister” hold you close. The compositions seem familiar and acknowledge the domestic but do not feel intrinsically about the home. They read more like an investigation into folk art and kitsch as a means to capture the ties that bind.