‘Virginia Is For…’ Exhibition photographs

The Bridge exhibition images…

Images were viewed alongside comments and stories in pencil (which may not be visible in these photographs).  Exhibition contains Leech’s photographs, drawings and collected objects from her 5/6 weeks in Virginia.

Johanna Leech builds a mini-museum of collectables that tell a local story

Article Link – written by David Hawkins for Cville

“I’m an artist…but I’d also identify myself as a collector,” said Johanna Leech.

It is precisely this vocation that brings Leech to Charlottesville to participate in The Bridge PAI’s new artist-in-residence program. The 28-year-old native of Belfast, Northern Ireland has spent October scouring the area for kitsch objects, unusual stories, and local hearsay, myths and legends. An exhibition of her findings, drawings, and photographs —a mini-museum coined “Virginia is For…”—opens on  November 1 at The Bridge’s gallery.

LJohanna Leech, spoonseech’s practice is something akin to that of a Victorian-era specimen collector, and she has set out from Europe with funding (her residency is supported by a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland) and arrived on foreign shores to “discover” and catalogue new specimens. Add a dash of flea market virtuoso and a pre-disposition for good stories and you’ve pretty much got the picture.

“As a child, I’d have local pubs save their bottle caps and every week I’d go by and gather them up for my collection,” said Leech. “I’d store them in a big chest in the garage, and spend hours getting them out and organizing them. Postcards, dinosaur cards—proper collections. I would lay them out on my bed and actually feel quite proud.”

Her Charlottesville project is a big undertaking. For one thing, there is a lot of ground to cover when you’re discovering fox collections, Dessert Delight bubble gum, Foamhenge, Gusburgers, stolen hot dog statues, collections of travel coffee mugs, and stories, lots of stories. In the three hours I spent with her, Leech gathered about 300 photographs, one rusty jar top, a moon pie, a can of Mug root beer, a Tootsie Roll, a Wyant’s store T-shirt, and a note to research the amount of calories in a Crispy Honey-Chipotle Chicken Kickers meal from Chili’s (it’s 2,110 with the fries).

The fact that Leech has an outsider’s perspective is crucial. She seems to have a knack for finding the bizarre and unique, sometimes under your very nose, in locations you pass by every day. There are moments when her work can make one feel, as Walker Percy would say, “sunk into our own everydayness.” This exchange is perhaps what is most compelling about Leech’s practice; it challenges the unexamined inheritances of our day-to day affairs, and in doing so provides the platform to wonder, “What am I doing this with?”

“I hope that my [collection and images] have captured a unique perspective of Charlottesville and beyond,” said Leech. “And I hope there will be a few surprises in there. I really want people to come see it.”

In so many ways, Leech’s work exemplifies the tectonic shifts occurring in the contemporary art environment. She’s working internationally, her work is site-specific, there is virtually no commercial incentive to match her efforts, and she doesn’t rely heavily on traditional methods and materials—in fact, she hesitates to even identify herself as an artist in the traditional sense of the word.

But an artist she is. Across the globe, contemporary art practices are realigning the public’s expectation for what constitutes an artist or an art exhibition. Like their counterparts in other fields, the new breed of artist is tech savvy, socially conscious, compelled by community participation, and takes on new approaches for a new generation.

It is in this spirit that Bridge director Matthew Slaats initiated the artist-in-residence program, christened “Public Artists.” During the spring and fall of each year, local, national, and international artists will be hand selected by the local community to collaborate on projects that energize areas throughout the city and county. A Bridge press release stated that, “The primary objective of the project is to provide a platform which uses arts to think about the economic, social, cultural, historical, and environmental character of Virginia.”

Leech seems to be onboard with these objectives. Starting with a talk at The Bridge in early October, the artist has, in accord with the program’s central tenets, treated the opportunity not just as a chance for exhibition, but also as a chance for interaction. In addition to being a fixture at art events, Leech has connected and collaborated with many different folks in her research of central Virginia. For example, she initiated a project with a local woman who has amassed a unique collection of travel coffee mugs from Charlottesville over many years. The two of them will go through each vessel’s history and find the stores, or previous locations of the stores, where the mug was purchased. It’s a hybridized investigation of urban development, kitschy objects, and local history.

Hand in hand with Slaats, Leech has also been developing “Dinner in Belfast/Lunch in Charlottesville,” a trans-Atlantic, round table event that unites artists in Charlottesville with artists in Belfast for a “shared” meal on Skype. What’s on the agenda? Troubleshooting, comparing notes, talking shop, but primarily, and most simply, Dinner/Lunch is a platform for putting minds together and seeing what comes of it. Maybe nothing. Maybe something. But you don’t know until you’ve tried it, and that’s a notion that The Bridge and Slaats, to their credit, seem perfectly comfortable with.

“Virginia is For…” opens Friday, November 1 at 6pm at The Bridge PAI. More information on the exhibition can be found at johanna leech.wordpress.com.


I put together a review of what I’ve been drawn to / visit in Charlottesville so far (see below) I showed it to people for an Artists Get Together at The Bridge…

Something to share?

[ Link to PDF of what I’m looking for here: Johanna Leech residency write up ]

International visual artist Johanna Leech needs your help exploring Charlottesville…

Johanna is looking to meet with people who have collections, anything from thimbles to foxes. At the same time she wishes to visit places that hold unique treasures and unusual collections.

She is interested in why people place value in particular things and not others, how people ‘curate’ their own collections, why kitsch things or places draw us in- whether you love or hate them.  The documented collections she captures will be held in her on-going ‘Mini Museum’ project website.

She would like to hear about:

  • Historic stories and places (the more unusual the better) eg: The huge beacon that used to illuminate the Monticello from the roof of the Monticello Hotel in 1927.
  • Unbelievable/unusual stories
  • Interesting facts/happenings
  • Hearsay/myths/legends

She’s also interested in seeing/collecting/photographing:

  • Kitsch (diners, paraphernalia, trinkets, souvenirs)
  • Landmarks / Places – eg: Spudnuts, Foamhenge at Natural Bridge, Harry the fiberglass hotdog at Gibson’s on (703 Hinton Avenue).
  • Photographs you may have of tacky places, like ‘Road Side America’/ large attractions.

She wishes to document these collections / places of interest, put them on a platform/ give them exposure/ use them to influence her work and be part of her blog and upcoming exhibition. Johanna hopes that by gathering the stories and creating photographs and drawings she can capture an unusual but fun outsider’s perspective of Charlottesville. 

Her exhibition will showcase her work created during the residency, which opens Friday November 1st at 7pm at The Bridge PAI, 209 Monticello Rd. Charlottesville, VA 22902.

Please contact her if you have something to share or ideas to pass on. Johanna has hours at The Bridge PAI every Monday from 12-6pm and Thursday 4-6pm.

Contact Details:  Tel: 434-270-2931                   


Residency Blog: johannaleech.wordpress.com

Day 8 hotdog

Harry the fiberglass hotdog at Gibson’s Grocery (703 Hinton Avenue)

Harry was once kidnapped from his previous location in Earlysville- later found ‘buried alive’, his arms had been broken off and his shoelaces were stolen – the local community of Earlysville raised $2,000 to restore him

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Photographs by Johanna Leech


Circa – antique store rummage – found lots of postcards that will be a key part of the project, examples below:

Postcard. Virginia. Nickname-Old Dominion.1960 Population-3,966,949. 39,893 Sq.miles. Entered the Union, JUne 25, 1788

 (Description) Virginia. Nickname – Old Dominion. 1960 Population – 3,966,949. Sq.miles: 39,893.  Entered the Union, June 25, 1788.             (Hand written) July 23, 1965

Postcard. A Brilliant cardinal flashes through Virginia laurel. Waynesboro Oct 17, 1965

(Description) ‘A Brilliant cardinal flashes through Virginia laurel.’

(Hand written) Waynesboro Oct 17, 1965

Balancing Rock, Garden of the Gods, Colorado, 1925

Balancing Rock, Garden of the Gods, Colorado, 1925

Natural Bridge Virginia leaflet 1947. 1

Natural Bridge Virginia leaflet 1947

Day 4 Markets

Collector: inside the pink warehouse- lots of old signs and objects/paintings and lovely oddities collected by Roulhac who’s lived there for years and also had an antique store there.  The warehouse now has apartments, but has been many things including a grocery warehouse, railroad offices…
I’m going to go back here to chat to her and take photos.

Flea Market
I really like the state slogan for Virginia – ‘Virginia Is for Lovers’ found this pendent:

Virginiaisforlovers pendent cropped

Day 3 Acid Rain

On the way into town… there are squirrels everywhere


Local sign (reminds me of David Blaine)



Took photos around Charlottesville, pedestrian Mall area etc…


Acid Rain artist screenings at The Bridge PAI, really great selection of videos.

Check these guys out at: acidrainproduction.com

My favorite one was: http://jacobciocci.org/videos/whispering-pines-zero/

Went to Tom Tom Festival events and visited Mc Guffey Arts Centre

Tom tom festival sticker 1

Day 2 Government Services Day

Government Services Day, on the Mall there was tables out to promote Charlottesville’s Services, I got lots of free things…

day 2

Beside The Bridge PAI gallery is a very popular and well known doughnut shop ‘Spudnuts’ who use potato flour in their doughnuts… They’ve been in Cville for nearly 50 years.



Matthew mentioned that nearly every time he is describing where the gallery is he says “it’s beside Spudnuts”… I want to do a drawing about this.


International artist arrives from Belfast to work The Bridge PAI Charlottesville, VA

Throughout October and November of 2013, Belfast based artist, Johanna Leech, will be joining The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative as a part of their Public Artists residency program. A new initiative by The Bridge, this program connects innovative artists with the local community as a catalyst for new ideas and actions in Central Virginia. Ms. Leech will begin her residency with an artist talk on Friday, October 4th at 7pm at The Bridge, 209 Monticello Rd. Charlottesville, VA 22902.

“We are very excited to have Johanna bring her creative energy and experience to Charlottesville as both a way to see Virginia in a new ways, but also to build deep connections to conversations talking place in Belfast,” says Bridge Executive Director, Matthew Slaats. “Having worked with her in Washington D.C. last summer, she brings a unique interest in engaging local culture and working with the community to create dynamic works of art.”

This residency is supported through a grant by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.