Aunt, niece collaborate on North Hills art exhibit

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 6:54 p.m.

It's not just about art on the walls.

When the "Urban Gurlz" exhibit opened at the North Hills Art Center in Ross Township this week, audiences had the opportunity to study photographs, videography, a life-size installation, oral interpretation and some tableau vivant performances.

Throughout the exhibit, which closes with a reception on May 5, the pulse of the big city will beat in this first collaborative effort of Marylloyd Claytor and Mary Williams, aunt and niece, respectively.

The focus will be on New York and Chicago in the original photos by Williams, but the choreography of Claytor will capture the influences of the pressures of life in the modern city in her two dance works, "The Schizophrenic" and "Ears."

The life-size installation will speak about decades past.

"My own grandmother came from Florida to Pittsburgh in 1925," said Claytor, 59, of Pittsburgh's Overbrook neighborhood.

Through interpretive oral pieces, Claytor will speak about the "energy women expend to make those moves, the stress and excitement to do that," she said.

Her mother lived through the time of the Jim Crow laws, when there was a distinct separation of the races in every aspect of an ordinary day. The fiber-art doll that represents her mother is wearing old-fashioned clothing and footwear and sitting on a vintage chair the artist has collected.

And as the representational figure rests in a moment of history, Claytor, who considers herself a "modern renaissance artist," will tell the story of changing lives and lifestyles. Through tableau vivant, a series movements and poses, she will express the emotion of those early days.

Williams' color photographs tell the cities' stories. She has selected just a portion of her 500 to 600 photographs for the exhibit.

"Photography captures special moments that you'll never get back," she said of an art she has been perfecting since high school.

She now is 24 and living in Pittsburgh's East End.

She remembers the late Robert Cooley, a faculty member at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, who inspired her work.

"Every time he opened his mouth, you knew it was gonna be a good day," she said.

Shooting landscapes is her favorite type of work, although she has photographed people - from newborns to senior citizens.

"Photography shows the reality of life," she said.

"Every sunrise, every sunset is different."

Williams caught the vibrancy of New York and Chicago immediately on her visits. In New York, she completed an internship with the Dance Theater Workshop, where she shot video of her aunt dancing in compositions that address the influences of technology in people's lives and the external impacts and internal processes that deal with its effects.

Claytor is dancing those two works for her North Hills audience. Characters in "The Schizophrenic" are The Good, The Human and The Bad. "Ears" moves through time when "rabbit ears" were used on television sets to the MP3 players of today.

Both artists will be on hand each day of the exhibit. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, from noon to 4 p.m. The closing reception is May 5 from 2 to 4 p.m. Claytor has a special performance planned for the closing reception.

On her travels, Williams found that people in larger cities have a greater appreciation of art.

"But Pittsburgh is coming along," she said.

"Urban Gurlz" reflects both the past and today.

Williams said she hopes the audience will "open their minds to endless possibilities and to expect the unexpected."

Claytor said she is pleased with the "breadth of things in this new format."

"If you like live performance, you'll enjoy that. If you like the gallery, you'll enjoy that," she said.

"We're bringing all of the unusual things together."

If you go

What: "Urban Gurlz" exhibit that includes a variety of artistic media by Marylloyd Claytor and Mary Williams, two Pittsburgh artists.

When: Through May 5. Gallery hours are from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Where: North Hills Art Center, 3432 Babcock Blvd., Ross Township.

Details: Visit , or call 412-634-3622.

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