In 1995, Hunter Levinsohn was immersed in war.
She wanted to create an art piece to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This desire heightened her lifelong quest to learn more about her uncle, Pope Lott Browne, a soldier who died during World War II.
Levinsohn knew Browne had survived the infamous Bataan death march only to die when a Japanese ship transporting POWs from the Philippines to Japan was attacked on Oct. 24, 1944.
“There were 1,806 POWs in the hold of the ship. Of those I think ultimately five survived. My uncle was not one of them,” Levinsohn said.
Levinsohn requested her uncle’s personnel records from the U.S. government, read everything she could get her hands on about Hiroshima and Bataan, and wrote letters to people she knew who might have memories of those times.
“I asked my mother to ask her friends about their reactions to the Hiroshima bombing,” she said. “I got a wonderful letter from one of their husbands, an Australian man, who shared his recollections. He was stationed outside of Hiroshima after the war.”
The resulting art exhibit is at the Chapel Hill Senior Center through Sept. 22. “Looking Through Time’s Window” is a multi-media installation that explores Browne’s death and the Hiroshima bombing.
“One event was major to my family and the other was major in the world,” Levinsohn said.
We are not only meant to be touched by the exhibit, but we are meant to touch it, interact with it, think about it and let Levinsohn know the response to it.
Levinsohn seems to have awakened history. A woman came up to her at the senior center and told her that seeing the exhibit called up the memory of being able to take the tape off the windows of her city home when the war ended.
The exhibit includes a rug, a desk and several hung works of art. When I saw it, I felt like I was in the study of a young man who is perhaps outside smoking a cigarette, gazing at the stars, wondering what lies ahead.
Levinsohn painted the display’s rug — it is a map of Hiroshima’s harbor marking ground zero where the bomb went off. On the desktop is a collage Levinsohn made. The books and articles that she used in her research sit atop the desk, including the report on her uncle that she finally received months after she requested it.
A book asking for viewers’ comments is displayed along with a journal in which Levinsohn kept notes and made sketches during her research. It’s the artistic process laid bare. The artworks on the wall are collage paintings on masonite panels. Some have doors one can lift to read information Levinsohn collected.
This work originally was exhibited in 1997 at the Modern Museum, an alternative art space in Durham that no longer exists. I first saw it four years ago in Levinsohn’s home. It is an awesome experience to explore the room. While the details it shares are specific to World War II, it could be any war. Uncle Honey, as Browne’s family called him, could be anyone’s father, son or husband. The distant past is right before us.
Levinsohn’s mother, who lives in Charleston, S.C., was not a fountain of information for Levinsohn’s research endeavors. Then in her 80s, details of her brother and the war had dramatically faded.
“She did come to Chapel Hill for the opening but told me she couldn’t attend,” Levinsohn said. “I think when you have someone lost that way, there is never any closure. It was such a tragedy for her entire family. I think it would have brought back too many memories. But I think she’s proud of what I’ve done.”
During the initial display, a friend of Levinsohn’s sat outside the museum on three Sundays and folded paper cranes. The crane, which has come to symbolize peace and hope, is the image used in the children’s monument in Hiroshima. A basket of these cranes is in the senior center exhibit, and an article on the children’s monument is among the reading material on the desk. Everyone who wishes to may take a crane or make one to bring to the exhibit.
Levinsohn has never cared which month any of her art has been exhibited, but for this show, she wanted August. Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Aug. 11 is her uncle’s birthday.
The Chapel Hill Senior Center is at 400 S. Elliott Road in Chapel Hill and is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Call 968-2071 with questions.
Deborah R. Meyer can be contacted at 932-2019 or at email@example.com.