Memories of Childhood…So We Are Not The Brady Bunch

roslyn bernstein
4 min readMar 9, 2024

When I first met gallerist Bernice Steinbaum in the 1990s, it was in her Greene Street Gallery in SoHo. I thought that her shows were the most moving and powerful ones in the neighborhood, always raising issues and asking questions. I was privileged to write several catalogue essays for her, among them one on Beverly Buchanan’s shacks and another on Hung Liu, whose stunning paintings took my breath away.

Hung Liu Self-Portrait

So, it was not a surprise that in my recent visit to see Bernice, who now lives in Coconut Grove, Florida, where she has transformed her home into a home-gallery, a wall-size painting of Hung Liu hung in her living room. Liu’s remarkable paintings and brushwork, which were combined with washes of linseed oil to give a blurred look, and her mixed-media work, were often inspired by historical and contemporary Chinese photographs — so often paintings of women, children, and refugees.

There she was, her eyes staring at me. I remembered interviewing her. I remembered her fierce intelligence and her profound respect for history. Liu was born in Changchun, China in 1948 and died in Oakland, California in 2021 at the age of 73, immigrating to the United States in 1984. She was working on an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery before her death, “Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands,” which opened twenty days after her death.

On view at Bernice Steinbaum’s Gallery in Coconut Grove, Florida this March was a group show, “Memories of Childhood…So We Are Not The Brady Bunch.” It was, I felt immediately, a quintessentially Steinbaum exhibit, one that crossed boundaries and blessed diversity, one that highlighted the work of artists, young and old, and one that valued mixed media — in this particular exhibit, textile and stitchery. Bernice had transformed her simple Florida house into a sleek modern gallery, with a swinging wall that concealed her office and with a gallery that was filled with light.

As Steinbaum writes in the show’s catalogue: the “curatorial question would be if [the artists] were willing to reveal enough about their personal histories to make these both different from and more profound than ordinary storybooks. Would their memories have universal appeal? Could such a project make a difference in the future of children’s literature?”

Steinbaum describes the stories as a patchwork quilt which somehow “comfort and warm the souls of all who see them and read them because the artists have captured a bridge between their cultural past and our global future.” The big question raised by the exhibit is: Are these universal stories?

When I arrived, Bernice was in a meeting and she asked one of the artists in the show, Marie Normand, who was of Dominican and French background, to give me a tour of the ten artists in the show, which included five pieces from each artist, including her own work. The artists were asked to write and illustrate autobiographical stories.

Aurora Molina “A Call From My Father”

Our first stop was a series of thread drawings on white canvas, drawn with fabric markers, by Aurora Molina from Cuba. Molina’s focus is anticipating a phone call from her father, calls that marked an eight-year separation from him. We see a father hugging his daughter and Molina reflects on the vast difference between her childhood and her children’s bond with their father, no longer separated. The choice of the thread for the drawing perfectly conveys a feeling of family and home.

Marie Normand “Little Baby”

Marie Normand’s work “Little Baby” uses colored pencils and crayons. Her world, she said was larger than she felt able to contain. To live in it, she created stories through drawings, “ones that made a seemingly unbearable reality easier, for it was more tolerable to play make-believe than to accept the things that made her sad.”

Enrique Gomez de Molina “Red Cardinal” Side View
Enrique Gomez de Molina “Red Cardinal” Front View

Artist Enrique Gomez De Molina’s father was a taxidermist. As a child Enrique was given parts of animals and challenged to make them into his own species. The pieces in “What My Father Taught me” are made of Rooster feathers, mink fur, vintage taxidermy bird head and wings and mice feet. Steinbaum Gallery will be showing a solo exhibit of Gomez’s work in their next show.

A moving exhibit. One that reminds us that We Are All Not the Brady Bunch.

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roslyn bernstein

An arts and culture journalist for Guernica, Huff Post, Tablet. Books include The Girl Who Counted Numbers,Engaging Art, Illegal Living, and Boardwalk Stories.