New exhibition marks a spring 'Revival' for artist Amber Groome

The local artist's latest body of work, on display now at Lindsay Gallery, reveals a cheerful resilience and an inward transformation

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
"The High Priestess" by Amber Groome, part of her "Revival" exhibition at Lindsay Gallery

When Amber Groome first began making dolls out of polymer clay and drawing similar characters in her sketchbooks, it was a form of private self-therapy, not an artistic statement. For a while, she wasn’t ready to share her miniature dolls with others, much less display them on gallery walls for potential buyers. 

But about 13 years ago, Groome discovered she was ready to show her artwork, and Duff Lindsay’s Short North gallery began working with the artist, who became known for her one-of-a-kind, meticulously crafted dolls not just in Columbus, but nationally through the Outsider Art Fair in New York City. Groome made tiny clothes for the dolls, which she usually displayed in the compartments of antique drawers and trays, often accompanied by totems symbolizing femininity (doilies, lace), birth (eggs) and vulnerability (exposed hearts).  

Groome’s dolls can be dark, even downright creepy. Pins and needles inflict gory wounds. Bloody hearts evoke a surgeon’s scalpel more than Cupid’s arrow. “My dolls are a testimony to the trauma and sorrow of being female and living with mental illness,” Groome wrote in an artist statement on Lindsay Gallery’s website. “When I create the dolls, I become absorbed and preoccupied with internal conflict, as well as the private depths of my childhood and psyche. The dolls are adored and loathed by me at the same time.” 

But Groome’s current show at Lindsay Gallery, “Revival,” takes a new, more cheerful direction. The works feature flowers and brightly colored seashells. “Everything is coming alive again, so there is this spring-revival, frenzied feel to it that you see in the color palettes,” Groome said. “I think the expression that's happening with the dolls is more about resilience now. There is still the sense of pain and affliction, but there's also the transformation of that and moving beyond that. I can't hang around in those states of anguish forever. Naturally, people heal. I think there are constant cycles: birth, death and rebirth.”

"Transformation" by Amber Groome

The brighter colors and hopeful motifs are a reflection not just of the seasonal change, but of Groome’s well-being. “For many years now, I've been very stable and had a good emotional equilibrium. I think that allows me to be even more creative. I know that I am in a good place if I am creating freely,” she said. “If I don't have that stability, or the confidence isn't there, the ideas still come out but they get instantly squashed. If you have any self-doubt or other internal dialogues in your mind, it can really hold you up.”

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Groome’s healthier mindset has allowed her to experiment with other mediums — a creative freedom reflected in “Revival,” which, for the first time, features Groome’s watercolors, mixed-media collages, decorated skulls and an acrylic painting in addition to the doll boxes. “When I started to show the dolls and receive some attention for them, I got confidence in just being a creator and making things. … It allowed me to be more open to growth,” she said. “I will never abandon the dolls, but I've found other ways to express the same kind of themes and concepts.” 

“I like artists to have an evolution in their work, but I want them to remain true to their vision — don't copy yourself, but have a consistent voice,” Duff Lindsay said. “She's really managed to do that in another medium.”

"Spring Eternal" by Amber Groome

“Revival” also reveals Groome’s interest in Victorian culture, including the use of seashells on maritime-themed pieces such as “Assembled Heart,” which is modeled after a sailor’s valentine, a geometric style of mosaic popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. “The Victorian era really appeals to me. I think it's because things are so laden with sentiment,” she said. “Especially having mourning in the culture, which is something that we've kind of separated ourselves from. But that was an everyday reality for the Victorians.” 

Mourning shows up in a collaborative piece from Groome and fashion designer Meghan Kerr, a result of the recent “Fashion is Art” partnership between the Columbus Fashion Alliance and multiple Short North Galleries. Focusing on Victorian-era funeral attire, Kerr created a black gown adorned with jewelry made from human hair (another Victorian tradition), which also appears on Groome’s accompanying doll. The bottom of the black dress holds a special significance for Groome.  

“I had these bins of clothing in my grandmother's garage that came from my great-grandmother,” Groome said. “I went down there and opened up one of the boxes, and sure enough, in one of the boxes I found a mourning skirt.” 

The collaboration is yet another example of Groome’s newfound comfort in venturing down previously untraveled creative avenues. “There's always going to be adversity, but there's the ability to overcome it and heal and see things in a new light. I just want to encourage that and inspire that in others, too,” Groome said. “It's creating magic, in a way. I think it's a pretty magical thing for others to identify with your work. It’s a really special, sacred thing.”