Ellen Harvey’s ‘The Disappointed Tourist’: A journey through lost places and collective nostalgia

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Places lost to time, war, terrorism, natural disasters, and gentrification are all included, preventable and inevitable losses all shown side by side. - Arts & Entertainment Editor / Al Harmon

In Rowan’s Art Gallery, the new exhibition that will be running until March 9 is Ellen Harvey’s “The Disappointed Tourist.” The exhibition is part of an ongoing project by Harvey that is comprised of over 300 paintings. The pieces are done in muted colors, with clean lines and clear composition, and are labeled prominently on the paintings. All of the pieces are painted in the style of vintage postcards, and all of the subjects of the paintings are locations that have been lost in some way. Subjects were chosen by submissions made through a website created for the work. 

Ellen Harvey said she created the piece to bring viewers’ attention to the collective nostalgia that comes with places. “We all have things that we miss and things that we look back at and I thought, I bet if you asked a whole bunch of people about nostalgia, you would get a huge variety of different audiences… that nostalgia could be something that maybe could be used to provoke… a conversation or to provoke empathy,” said Harvey.

Locations featured vary greatly, ranging from well-known to obscure, light-hearted to tragic, ancient to modern. Everything from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Titanic, and the World Trade Center to personal things like specific homes are included. Some of the paintings are also more abstract, featuring things like the pre-plastic world, the United Kingdom while it was still a part of the European Union, and a pre-pandemic New York City. 

Places lost to time, war, terrorism, natural disasters, and gentrification are all included, preventable and inevitable losses all shown side by side. Kristin Qualls is the Gallery Coordinator. “We’ve been getting some really good press we were featured on why we’ve been featured on row one today,” said Qualls.

Harvey added 11 paintings to the project before it came to the Rowan Art Gallery which features locations from South Jersey and the Philadelphia area. The gallery partnered with several organizations throughout Glassboro to put out the call for submissions of places important and nostalgic from area residents. 

“When you walk into the space… it kind of engulfs you, because you’re surrounded by it. But at the same time, there’s a feeling of vastness, because you’re looking at the scene and some of them are just broad and large landscapes are spaces that you can kind of get lost, lost in the paintings themselves,” said Mary Salvante, who is the Gallery and Exhibitions Program Director.

All of the paintings are the same size, though some are vertical and others are horizontal. The paintings are arranged so that places that come from more fun and happy memories, like amusement parks, are not directly next to places that carry the memories of tragic events that caused the loss of human life. Beyond that, the Titanic’s proximity to the painting of the iceberg, and Moskva Pool and the Palaces of the Soviets are next to each other because they were located at the same site. Beyond that, the placement is largely unintentional. 

“And in the end, I thought maybe having a kind of project that was about a collective loss of place would be what could provoke people to think about what we could do collectively, to save places to kind of preserve places like what makes life worth living for people,” said Harvey. 

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