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Home » ARTS AND CULTURE » MASSACHUSETTS » Ladders to Somewhere
Ladders to Somewhere

Liz Shepherd’s Up and Out Transfixes — Boston, MA

By Melanie Lown | February 24, 2012

Parents with college-bound children experience a variety of emotions, but anxiety can often overshadow excitement about the journey ahead.

Liz Shepherd, a printmaker and sculptor, learned to let go of her fears by pouring them into a cathartic and evocative art installation in Boston’s South End. For Shepherd, the process of watching her daughter leave home inspired thoughts of Jacob’s Ladder (from the Old Testament) and the idea for her current exhibit Up and Out.

Religion itself has very little to do with Up and Out. As Shepherd says, “It’s not religion, but the archetypes and imagery of Jacob’s dream that interested me. It’s the idea of trandescendance, of a ladder that stands alone in space, that conveys movement and growth.”

Although a former commercial artist, Up and Out clearly showcases Shepherd’s passion, and training in sculpting and printmaking. After receiving her MFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Shepherd taught at the school’s printshop where she learned how to make photo etchings.

Originally born in New York, this distinctly all-American artist now embodies the charm and spirit of New England and has displayed prominently throughout the Boston area.

Up and Out centers on renderings of three ladders, or staircases, in different mediums — including etchings on 12-foot bed sheets, sofa cushions, and the mainstay: meticulously assembled pieces of doors suspended from the ceiling. Most of the materials are repurposed from Shepherd’s home or reclaimed from old New England houses to convey the sense of staying present and grounded in time and place.

Each unique installation has a matching, miniature version somewhere around the gallery, creating a smaller lens to reflect on the looming, larger-than-life stairways.

Visitors are immediately drawn into this dreamy world by one such model: the multicolored ladders that line the gallery window (and sit atop a black light for a very cool glow-in-the-dark effect). Harry Potter fans take note. Shepherd says that the pieces are intended to appear free-floating (like the staircases at Hogwarts), to create a sense of freedom and infinite possibility. In this case though, they aren’t meant to be functional but rather evoke the idea of climbing.

The exhibit is not just for new empty nesters, but also for anyone hoping to break free from the trappings and everyday anxieties of our modern age. If the concept sounds broad, it’s meant to be.

Shepherd explains the Buddhist (as opposed to biblical) idea that we make ourselves unhappy, because of our attachments. She says, “It’s about letting go and not sweating the small stuff, because when you do that, it allows you to leave the door open and let things in.” In this sense, Shepherd hopes to convey the importance of learning to shed fears, explore future opportunities (hence stairways to the unknown), and free up space for new possibilities.

Like most successful art, the experience of Up and Out is deeply personal. Shepherd’s own artistic journey evolved over the years from a place of anxiety about an unknown future to letting go of preconceived notions of parenting.

As a particularly anxiety-prone person myself, I left the gallery in a much calmer state, feeling focused, optimistic, and inspired to keep my New Year’s resolution to explore different career options.

I highly recommend the exhibit for anyone who feels stuck, or just wants to take the path less-traveled by.

Up and Out runs from February 8 through March 11, 2012.


Boston Sculptors Gallery

486 Harrison Avenue, Boston 02118

(617) 482-7781



Wed–Sun: 12PM–6PM

About the Artist:

Liz Shepherd received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and divides her time between making sculpture and printmaking.

Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as well as other public and private collections. She is the proprietor of the Shepherd Print Studio and President of the Boston Printmakers.

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