A visit with the Ladd brothers

Family Matters

By Anna Carnick

Artists and brothers Steven and William Ladd are probably best known for their abstract “landscapes”: intricate, handmade works inspired by their shared childhood memories. Composed of upcycled materials, these labor-intensive assemblages are framed and hung in grids or placed inside stacked boxes that are then opened in ritualistic performances. On one recent, sunny New York afternoon, we had the pleasure of visiting the pair’s Chelsea studio. The brothers, it turns out, are also incredibly friendly; they prefer hugs to handshakes upon introduction, and sign off emails with the words “Love love.” Their studio’s high walls are lined with materials they’ve collected over the years—textiles, beads, found objects, and more—as well as, on one side, a large chalkboard that (above an extensive to-do list) bares the pair’s core values: “Spend Your Life Doing What You Love. Be Focused and Disciplined;" and "Collaborate."

The Ladds are having an especially exciting autumn. They joined the roster at Cristina Grajales’s esteemed gallery, and had their inaugural show at Grajales’s new Flower District location in September, presenting works inspired by games they played together as children. They also just opened a show at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Entitled Currents 111: Steven and William Ladd: Scouts or Sports?, it is a homecoming of sorts, featuring new works reflecting the Ladds’ childhoods on the outskirts of St. Louis, where they were raised as two of four kids in a close-knit, Catholic family. The exhibition’s name comes from a grade school recollection, when the Ladds’ mother asked each of her children to choose between the two extracurriculars. (All four chose sports.) The pieces on display depict the impact these activities had on them as children. As the Ladds told us in New York, though, the show is highly significant to them on multiple levels: “The SLAM exhibition is a celebration of our family and a testament to our parents’ advice to us as children—that we can be whoever we want, and that hard work and dedication will get us there. We hope that children growing up in St. Louis like we did will see our work and realize that they too can spend their lives doing what they love.”

William Ladd at a recent Scrollathon event Photo courtesy of the Ladds
And that’s not all the Ladds are up to. In coordination with the St. Louis show, the brothers are working on another Scrollathon® event, the latest in an ongoing series launched in 2006 in which the Ladds collaborate with members of the local community—originally school children, and now a broader range of participants—to create tightly coiled scrolls made from recycled fabric, which are then incorporated into larger works (like the Ladds’ signature landscapes) and publicly exhibited. Participants are exposed to art and collaboration and rewarded for their work with a creative outlet, a sense of personal satisfaction at working towards a larger goal, and the joy of teamwork.

According to the Ladds, “Originally making scrolls was a way for us to use extra materials in our studio, to upcycle and reduce waste. That concept and the simplicity of making a scroll made it the perfect link for collaboration with others while practicing and sharing our core values.” They go on: “We find everyday people endlessly inspiring, so the Scrollathon has become a way to interact with all kinds of communities—from school children and their families to special needs groups, patients at hospitals, and inmates at correctional facilities. The program sets them up for success through the creation of a simple art object and then challenges them to identify things that are important in their lives, while contributing to a collaborative work.”

When asked their hopes for the future of the Scrollathon project, the Ladds say: “We hope to continue to connect with disadvantaged communities, inspiring them to identify their values and live by them. We hope to find new ways to continuously re-engage with communities to reinforce value building and instill a sense of belonging.”

  • Text by

    • Anna Carnick

      Anna Carnick

      Anna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.

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