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Exhibit recalls Hiroshima, artist's uncle


By Rebecca Bailey : The Herald-Sun
Aug 4, 2005 : 9:13 pm ET

CHAPEL HILL -- At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, 60 years ago Saturday, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

The blast was equivalent to 13,000 tons of TNT. Survivors of the event called it the "unforgettable fire."

Ten years ago, local artist Hunter Levinsohn set out to make an anti-war piece of art about Hiroshima for the 50th anniversary of the bombing. But as she gathered information about Hiroshima, the making of the bomb and the war in the Pacific, one subject led into another.

"I had never really studied World War II," recalled Levinsohn, who has lived in Chapel Hill since attending UNC as a graduate student in 1967. "I began to realize that the family stories always told about my uncle had the wrong chronology. I started a search for historical fact."

Levinsohn's uncle, Pope Norris Lott Browne, or "Uncle Honey," was among the 1,805 American prisoners of war on a Japanese transport ship when it was torpedoed by an American submarine on Oct. 24, 1944.

"I became obsessed," said Levinsohn of her research into the Bataan March and the prisoner of war camps in the Philippines. "I was distraught and having nightmares -- I had to stop reading about POWs and go back to reading about Hiroshima."

As she studied and worked, said Levinsohn, she realized she could not make judgments with the advantage of hindsight. "I had to try to go back through time's window and try to understand what people knew and didn't know, what life was like." The resulting art installation, "Looking Through Time's Window," is now on display at the Chapel Hill Senior Center.

The multi-media work focuses on the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on the loss of Levinsohn's uncle. "One [event] is a defining moment in history that has affected every life on the planet, and the other was a tragedy in my family that put a human face on war," said the artist.

The work is interactive, with windows and doors to be lifted and opened. At times a new surface reveals new information; at other times the seeker is met with a granite wall or a watery emptiness.

Visitors are invited to sit at "The Student's Desk" and leaf through the diary of preliminary sketches and ideas, or page through a thick notebook of researched information. There is room for visitors to add stories or comments. "The installation has always been about participating," said Levinsohn.

One pervasive image is the red dragon. "The dragon is my image of war," said Levinsohn. "Like war, the dragon is fascinating, compelling, terrifying and deadly."

Ashes are also a powerful symbol in the installation, both on panels and on a floor cloth, where the map of Hiroshima harbor is composed of ash. "You may walk on the piece," said Levinsohn, noting that she did so at home.

Ashes lie under the "doors" into Levinsohn's "8:15 am 8.6.45: Unforgettable Fire." On the undersides of these hinged pieces are drawings made by Japanese people who survived Hiroshima.

"I happened on a book full of these drawings in a used bookstore," said Levinsohn. "They weren't artists, just ordinary people."

Levinsohn's "The Home Front" includes the ration book that she was issued -- she was born in December 1943. Another panel, "Putting a Face on War," opens to discover a document headed "Data on Remains Not Yet Recovered or Dead."

"Getting information was a very slow and tedious process," recalled Levinsohn of her year-long pursuit of information about her lost uncle. "In desperation, I finally wrote Jesse Helms and had a call from his office the day my letter was received."

The Freedom of Information Act gave Levinsohn access to military records and the Individual Deceased Personnel File on her uncle.

The installation "is a way of celebrating this uncle I never knew," Levinsohn noted. Her 96-year-old mother, Agnes Culp, still has not seen the work because the memories it evokes remain too raw. "I take it down when she visits," said Levinsohn of the art, "but on some level I think it pleased her that I did this work."


What: Art exhibit "Looking Through Time's Window"

When: Through Sept. 10. Call 968-2070 for exact hours

Where: The Chapel Hill Senior Center, 400 S. Elliot Road

Free to the public

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