Volunteer Holly visits Call and Response at the Hamiltonian Gallery.

On my first trip to the Hamiltonian Gallery on U Street in D.C., I walked passed it without realizing. Doubling back, I saw a small sign declaring I’d arrived, and the crowd on the other side of the glass door confirmed I found had the right place.

The opening night of Call and Response was the evening of June 2, and the artwork/writing was on display until June 16. Call and Response is a pairing of short stories and artwork by writers and artists who have mutually inspired each other. A writer visited an artist’s studio to see their style and talk about the project. The writer then wrote a short story and the artist interpreted the short story into a work of art. To round out the call and response theme, the writer looked at the artwork and responded with a new short story inspired by the artist’s work – a true back and forth, give and take exchange of muses, the results of which are now on display.

The original short story is shown in a series of two-five pages side by side with the number one above it. The artwork is next. Whether oil, charcoal or even video screen, it is followed by the second short story which has a number two above it to clarify that it is the response to the artwork. Other than that, the room would seem sparse if it weren’t for the crowd of people milling around to take it all in. The only break in the flow was a large sculpture filling a small, dimly lit side room where a person could feel transported into a fantasy world.

The stories were as eclectic as the style of art. Some almost reading like poetry, many as abstract as the pictures in the frames beside them. Danielle Evans’ story “This is the Place You Will Always Be Leaving” stood out to me, though both of her stories were equally enthralling and emotional. Centered between the two excellent writings was an untitled oil painting created by Lisa Marie Thalhammer. An oversized canvas of a woman in orange with hair framing her face like fire and large hands reaching toward her from the sides of the frame immediately drew my attention even from the other side of the room. The look in the woman’s eyes captured the lost and still searching narrative from the stories’ characters. The color orange is a theme in the first story, as hands are in the second.

A perfect pairing came between Michael Kimball with his story “Country Marriage” and Trevor Young with his black and white painting “Consensual.” The story was about a young boy’s relationship with his father, which ended in a deep, insightful look at the boy’s parents’ marriage, were as haunting as the straightforward emotion found in the painting of a farmer and his wife. Both were an example of how simplicity can hold power and can impact the audience.

Another powerful pairing was between Kyle Dargan’s story “Triptych” and Mia Feuer’s sculpture “Reclamation Site.” The sculpture was impressive not only in its size but with its impact. A life-size replica of a tree trunk was upended and held horizontally through an archway that could have been either a bridge or a doorway. The tree trunk was completely covered in black rooster feathers, and the archway looked dilapidated and ancient even though it was covered in mosaic tiles painted with blue enamel paint. I had trouble understanding the meaning of the sculpture until I read its paired story. Dargan writes, “There is a sacrifice – quills shed and fall with their new dark weight. That is the toll for gaining freedom to cross between dimensions on wind – buoyed by so much light devoured and digested in plumage.”