Artists Take On Detroit - Projects for The Tricentennial
Petah Coyne



Altar Mary

Coyne’s wax-encrusted sculptures are a metaphor for emotion and memory. In this installation, she conflates a mother’s devotion for her children with Mary’s for Jesus. At the upper left of the main sculptural form, a robed figure, reminiscent of statues of the Virgin, is enveloped by the surrounding candles, flowers, and ribbons—all coated with white wax. Below, white and pink satin extends to the floor, more akin to feminine or bridal attire than an altar frontal. Wax-covered nosegays of flowers and bows are scattered over the satin and throughout the space. Situated in the museum’s early sixteenth-century French chapel, Altar Mary alludes to acts of private devotion and recalls Roman Catholic shrines dedicated to Mary.

Coyne’s installation commemorates the Irish Catholic women who immigrated to urban centers such as Detroit in the late nineteenth century and the sacrifices they made for the good of their families and their children’s future. In the repetition of form, the abundance of bouquets, and the allusion to celebratory or votive candles, Coyne honors her ancestors.

> Transcript of Narration from Video

> Downloadable QuickTime Version of Video (29.9mb)

Petah Coyne - Untitled #961


Petah Coyne
Altar Mary
Installation, 2001

> Video Clip (Flash Required)

> Installation Slideshow (Flash Required)

> Artist’s Biography