David Doonan's Photos Enliven TAWA Exhibit at Ellarslie

The Sunday Times, Trenton, N.J.
June 15, 1986
by Susan Doan-Johnson

Thank goodness for David Doonan. His witty photographs dress up an otherwise pedestrian exhibition at Ellarslie.

The exhibit is the second in the "TAWA At Ellarslie 86'" series at the Trenton City Museum in Cadwalader Park. Also included are tempera works by Guy Ciarcia and wire sculptures by Betty Parsons.

In nearly three dozen black and white photographs, Doonan tells the story of life in the Trenton area through some of its annual events. While these events nominally are the subject of the photographs, the focus is on the people who attend.

Doonan sees his photographs as cynical. "While these gatherings are meant to be the celebrations of our community, sometimes it's difficult to view them through non-cynical eyes," Doonan says. "The first time attended the Memorial Day parade in Hamilton Square, I had to laugh at all the comfortable, white suburbanites prancing around in war-paint and headdresses. I shall never forget the woman wandering around the dog show at Washington's Crossing, crying aloud for someone to buy her dog because he came in last in his class again."

Doonan's photographs aren't composed perfectly, and this is what makes them so charming and so human. For instance, in "Mondale Campaigning in Trenton," we only see the candidate's left eye and the part in his hair through a sea of members of the media, their cameras and microphones. A comment on the excesses of the media, perhaps?

In "Trenton CYO Cheerleader Class," a 1974 photograph, the earnest girls form a pyramid, but Doonan has cut off the head of the girl on the top, and the legs of the girls on the bottom. A balloon of Mickey Mouse's face seemingly replaces that of some politican n the 1982 version of "Bordentown's 300th Birthday." And in "Hamilton Square Memorial Day Parade, 1984" a baton twirler dejectedly limps along, not bothering to hide her disappointment at the rain that has ruined her parade.

Perhaps Doonan's funniest photograph is one that does not contain any people, and could have been taken any day if it weren't for the sign hanging on the front of the fried chicken business. It reads, "Geo. Washington Ate Here," which obviously he did not. The photograph is titled "1984 Commemoration of the Battle of Trenton."

As much as Doonan's photos delighted us, Ciarcia's and Parson's works disappointed.

Ciarcia's tempera paintings have intriguing names, such as "Prayer Cloth," "The Vestal's Transgression" and "Parabiotic I and II." But the works don't live up to the titles. They are uninteresting series of blocks arranged vertically or horizontally. Some overlap, and in one, "The Spiral," done in purple silver and gold, the blocks swirl around in a circle.

Ciarcia has participated in some prestigious group exhibits, including those at the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New Jersey State Museum and New York University. He currently is a teacher in the Trenton public school system.

Parson's wire sculptures are harder to figure out. Most are made of wire, paper and paint, with wood, plaster and clay thrown in for good measure on some. They are on the floor, hanging from the wall and on pedestals. One looks like an attempt at the Statue of Liberty's arm an torch, but the other efforts are childlike. All 16 are called "Untitled," a practice we find too coy.

Parsons is the recipient of a sculpture award at "Sweet Pea '83," in Bozeman, Montana and the 1982 David Gaiser Award for Sculpture at the "34th Spokane Annual" in Spokane, Washington. She currently is a faculty member at Mercer County Community College.

This second in the "TAWA at Ellarslie 86" series continues through June 29 at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park. Hours; Monday through Friday, 11 am - 3 pm, Sunday, 2-4 pm, closed Saturdays.