She Was Not Like the Others

Why should Bob Dylan and Emmy Lou Harris be allowed to sing out their stories—all our stories–when Barbara Ensor can’t? Trapped in the body of a visual artist Ms Ensor,  a frustrated storyteller,  until recently, was reduced to stilt walking as a masked puppeteer,  tapping out articles as a journalist, and telling bedtime stories as a mother. One mournful day, when her kids had outgrown her, her marriage gone sour and her journalism career gone belly up, Ms Ensor wrote a sad story for children. (Singing a country music song which might have been more appropriate was not an option because  she did not have the talent.) In Ensor’s version of the story Cinderella wrotes letters to her deceased mother, moving letters. replete with cross-outs and regretful tear-stains, penned by the author herself. The story needed pictures which Ms Ensor provided with a sharp pair of scissors she used to cut up  black paper. When the book got a full page in the New York Times Book Review, a smile from Vanity Fair and thumbs ups from girls nationwide, much of the praise went to the pictures.  Well, this went to their heads, of course, and the pictures began to imagine a career of their own.  By now dear reader,  Barbara’s children had flown the coop, she herself had fallen madly in love, and the pictures in her next book were mostly of birds in flight. The birds and all the other pictures were not content to be back-up singers any longer.  Nothing could keep them out of the spotlight.  Group shows lead to a series of one woman shows (of which Primordial Hybrids at The Old Stone House is her third in as many years.)

Laboring in the fields of fairy tales and mythology it was inevitable Barbara would come across a hybrid creature now and then. When she did she tended to look  away,  thinking it best not to stare. Then one chilly morning  about a year ago a group of them, gryphons, centaurs, mermaids and so forth, surrounded her. With their slippery fish tails and their flashing eagle eyes, they would not leave her alone.  Pretty soon winged babies were accosting her from the pediments of buildings, and lions with the breasts of women were staring down at her from atop their marble bases. This spring 2011 exhibit at The Old Stone House was to have been an early peek at pictures from her upcoming book, but the hybrids would have none of it. So many of them  turned out to be gods or devils that there really was no ignoring them. Since the Old Stone House has its own hybrid history as battlefield, baseball clubhouse, classroom, theater and gallery perhaps it is fitting.  When they are not painfully shy hybrids can be horribly aggressive and this was one of those times. At the very last minute Ensor was forced to rename the exhibit ‘Primordial Hybrids’ to reflect this powerful new preoccupation.

We are all primordial hybrids lugging around ancient longings and dim long- forgotten feelings.  As our power animals struggle with our so-called civilized selves we want to giggle and look away from the startling revelation of these mythical beauties. I hope the sight of them will be like getting a surprise glimpse of yourself in the mirror—or hearing a familiar song that just says it all.