About Unlocking: A Memoir of Family and Art
• Paperback: 224 pages
• Publisher: She Writes Press; Illustrated Edition (May 5, 2020)
While recovering from a near fatal illness, Nancy Pressly discovers a treasure trove of family material stored in her attic. Haunted by images of her grandparents and her parents in their youth, she sets out to create a family narrative before it is lost forever. It takes several more years before she summons the courage to reconstitute a path back to her own past, slowly pulling back the veil of amnesia that has, until now, all but obliterated her memory of her childhood.
In this sensitive and forgiving meditation on the meaning of family, Pressly unravels family dynamics and life in a small rural town in the 1950s that so profoundly affected her. She then moves forward in time, through to her adulthood.
With an eye attuned to visual detail, she relates how she came into her own as a graduate student in the tumultuous sixties in New York; examines how she assumed the role of caretaker for her family as she negotiated with courage and resilience the many health setbacks, including her own battle with pancreatic cancer, that she and her husband encountered; and evokes her interior struggle as a mother as she slowly traverses the barriers of expectations, self-doubt, and evolving norms in the 1980s to embrace a remarkable life as a scholar, champion of contemporary art, and nationally recognized art museum strategic planning consultant. Full of candor and art-inspired insight, Unlocking leaves the reader with a deep appreciation of the power of art and empathy and the value of trying to understand one’s life journey.
Unlocking by Nancy L. Pressly is a beautiful memoir highlighting the importance of art, family, and memories.
After discovering family photographs and letters in her attic, Nancy ties together pieces of her personal life and family history. As she retells her life journey, we learn about her upbringing in the 1960s, her personal successes, and her battle and recovery from cancer. While I can only imagine how difficult her journey with cancer was, Nancy’s perseverance and outlook on life are both refreshing and inspiring. When asked how she coped with it she said, “I try to find small pockets of pleasure in the present moment.” Though we all fight different battles in life, I think this is a wonderful reminder that we all need to hear.
Nancy Pressly’s story is the story of a smart, brave, resilient, and accomplished woman. I enjoyed reading it and appreciated the inclusion of art prints and family photos. As we all know, pictures speak a thousand words, and in Unlocking, Nancy finds the words to keep those memories alive.
About Nancy L. Pressly
Nancy L. Pressly, a graduate of Goucher College, received her master’s degree in Art History from Columbia University. She began her career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and subsequently held curatorial positions at the Yale Center for British Art and the San Antonio Museum of Art, where she organized several important exhibitions, most notably the acclaimed Fuseli Circle in Rome: Early Romantic Art of the 1770s.
In 1984 she became Assistant Director of the Museum Program at the National Endowment for the Arts; was a visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts during the fall of 1992; and in 1993 founded Nancy L. Pressly & Associates, a nationally recognized consulting firm specializing in strategic planning for art museums. She has authored numerous publications, most recently a book titled Settling the South Carolina Backcountry (2016.)
She and her husband, also an art historian, live in Atlanta, Georgia, close to their son and two grandchildren. They have lived in England, traveled extensively throughout Europe, and most recently toured Morocco, Ireland, and the Baltic. In addition to writing, Nancy is an avid cook, passionate gardener, and an enthusiastic potter.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for inviting me on this blog tour for Unlocking. I received a free copy of this book through TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.