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030510 lysohir sculptures
Ceramicist Marilyn Lysohir holds up a bust of herself – one of 163 in her work “Good Girls 68” – in a campus museum at Washington State University in 2007. Courtesy photo

"Marilyn!"

Marilyn Lysohir turned and saw the woman who yelled her name across a gas station parking lot in Sharon, Pa.

It had been 32 years since Lysohir last heard the voice and saw the face. Both seemed foreign to her.

Awkward moment, but a teachable one. The voice and face belonged to a woman from the Class of 1968 at Lysohir's high school.

"I couldn't remember her," said Lysohir, now a Moscow, Idaho, resident, recalling that day in 2000. "But she recognized me enough that she could see me 30 years later and know it was me. Mainly, it was my chipped tooth."

We've all gone through a similar experience. Most of us blush, apologize, share some remembrances then move on.

Lysohir did, too, but the moment sparked something else: a desire to reclaim that face, to get to know her former classmate once again.

After she got back home to Idaho, Lysohir, a ceramic sculptor, art teacher and chocolate-store owner, dusted off an old yearbook.

"I looked at it and knew exactly who she was," she said. "She had a twin sister. She was in the band."

Suddenly, Lysohir became deeply aware of all those long-forgotten faces, the 163 girls she graduated with a year before America landed on the moon.

It wasn't the sadness of nostalgia, but the desire to honor those girls that ultimately led to the creation of Lysohir's massive sculptural work, "Good Girls 1968," ceramic busts of every single one of the girls in her class.

The work is on view starting Friday and through May at the Missoula Art Museum.

Seven years after the parking lot run-in, Lysohir's work was complete, a collection of nearly life-size busts that froze those yearbook photos in ceramic.

In them, Lysohir tried to capture the innocence of the age, even though all the "Good Girls" graduated at a time of political and social upheaval.

"One thing that happens is when you go back to the picture in the yearbook and you're 17," she said, "your future is ahead of you. There's an innocence there, even if there is no actual innocence."

But Lysohir works in three dimensions, and so the innocence and excitement of youth are even more poignant in the sculptures of old friends and old acquaintances, now never forgotten.

"Good Girls 68" also speaks to Sharon, Pa., a small town in western Pennsylvania that largely missed the countercultural awakening happening on the coasts. These are not busts of hippies, to be sure.

"Beehives were just going out," said Lysohir, who exhibited the collection at her 40th high school reunion, and at galleries across the U.S. "But we still had some hangers-on."

In creating each bust, Lysohir had to rely on a 2-by-2-inch, black-and-white yearbook photo. But she also wanted more. So she began contacting her old classmates, as many as she could by e-mail and phone, to get the updates on their lives. She found around 50 of them, and their stories are included in the exhibit, along with updated photos. Only seven or so of her female classmates have passed on, and their busts are adorned with stars in remembrance, and a fresh rose for each one every time the exhibit is shown. The roses are left to dry throughout the showing, as they will be in Missoula starting Friday.

Which begs the question: Why just the women from her class? What about the men?

Lysohir has heard the question a lot - and her answer is quick and determined.

"There was this underestimation of women in that time," she said. "And it was because of the culture. ... Back in '68, there wasn't much for women to do. You were a future nurse, or a homemaker or teacher. There were no sports for girls. Even when we played basketball, we could only dribble three times before we had to pass the ball or shoot."

At her 40-year reunion, the men, absent from the work but wiser than they were at 18, smiled and congratulated Lysohir.

"They understood that I was honoring the girls," she said.

Reach Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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