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State Historical Society of Iowa

Art at the Cafe photo exhibit explores aging and family transitions

Jan 26, 2017

Stephanie Brunia's "Thursday's Child" opens Feb. 3 at State Historical Building

DES MOINES - When Stephanie Brunia returned to Iowa after being away a few years, she noticed her father had aged more than other family members.

"I came back home in 2012 and there were several moments when I noticed my father was aging. That marked the beginning of a transition in our a relationship," Brunia said. "Ultimately, that transition is the circle of love, and it's not only having accepted care from him when I was a child but also giving care to him as he grows older and acknowledging that this person will not be there forever."

Brunia, 32, captures those moments in "Thursday's Child," a collection of photographs that feature her father's aging process and the transitional nature of their relationship. The photographs are the most recent entry in the "Art in the Cafe" exhibit series that opens with a reception 5-7 p.m. Feb. 3 through April 29 at Cafe Baratta's in the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. The reception is free and open to the public.

A native of Ames, Brunia attended the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University before receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa in 2007. She spent a year working as a photography assistant at Meredith Corporation before enrolling in graduate school at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in 2012.

After accepting an offer to become a visiting instructor of photography at the University of Iowa, she moved into an old, converted storefront in Oxford that doubles as her studio. Her father, Steve, 65, makes the drive to her place, and she often visits him at his Ames home to take photographs.

In those photographs, she uses gestures to explore her anxieties about her father’s aging. In one photograph, she wraps her hair across his face -- an abstract gesture that speaks to the notion of wanting to shield and protect him while also visually obscuring him. In another image, she reaches out and softly smooths the wrinkles on his brow -- attempting to erase and undo the evidence of his aging.

"He's always been a fixture in my life, and the awareness I felt went from knowing he is aging to seeing and feeling it," she said. "We were both born on a Thursday, which is totally insignificant, but it's those minor links that become people's stories. And those kinds of little details became the story of us."

In addition to "Art in the Cafe," Brunia has exhibited at the Griffin Photography Museum, Rosalux Gallery, the Center for Fine Art Photography, and Rayko Photo Center and Musee d’Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland. She was one of three artists to be featured in the Des Moines Art Center’s annual 2011 Iowa Artists exhibition and was included in the Sioux City Art Center's 2016 SCAC Selects exhibition. Most recently, she was awarded the Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellowship.

"Art at the Cafe" is a quarterly rotating art exhibit presented by the Iowa Arts Council, State Historical Museum of Iowa and Café Baratta's. The Iowa Arts Council and the State Historical Society of Iowa, which oversees the State Historical Museum of Iowa, are divisions of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. 

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.