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Michelle Maguire and Kelsey McClellan

Work / Photography

Michelle Maguire teams up with Kelsey McClellan for a visual homage to her Italian American grandfather

“I grew up in a family of loud Italian Americans,” says stylist Michelle Maguire. “They drank, they ate plentiful amounts of pasta and cured meats, they went to mass, they gambled. During nightly gatherings at my grandparents’ house, I absorbed the sights and sounds of this beautiful and boisterous crew.”

Lodged among Michelle’s Proustian memories of platters glistening with carbohydrates are recollections of her grandfather’s dinner table game which became the inspiration for her latest self-initiated series Towers. “There was my grandpa’s usual dinner-party balancing act, grabbing any remaining post-meal items from the table, and then building his own Leaning Tower of Pisa – my grandma, her siblings, and their spouses whistling him on with great delight. For this particular show, from bottom to top: salt-and-pepper shakers, a porcelain sugar packet holder, an empty Michelob bottle, a dinner roll, all topped by one last salt shaker. Exuberant, headstrong, and robust, my older relatives made my childhood rich and colourful. I was dazzled by them. I remember nothing but good times while being raised in this village.”

Towers was built with the help of photographer Kelsey McClellan, who Michelle regularly collaborates with under the name Terrence Caviar. “In addition to a lot of really terrific commissioned assignments, Kelsey and I still crave the freedom that comes with creating personal work,” Michelle explains. “It’s there, especially that I’m always slipping in little things as a nod to those who no longer occupy the earth. It keeps me connected to my loved ones who have passed.”

The series is a fitting tribute to Michelle’s “good time-having grandpa” and her family, with the hallmarks of Italian American culture, from hunks of meat and breadsticks to rosary beads becoming the building blocks of each tower. “I made sure to stick with items that would’ve regularly been found on my family’s table – my uncle’s staple Busch cup made a frequent appearance, a rosary was usually within reach, and pizzelles and anise toast were never not around,” Michelle laughs. “It felt great to hold my breath and get stacking, and I think my grandpa would be pleased to see me carrying the torch.”

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Michelle Maguire and Kelsey McClellan

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Michelle Maguire and Kelsey McClellan

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Michelle Maguire and Kelsey McClellan

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Michelle Maguire and Kelsey McClellan