Our lives are a mixed portrait with vibrant colors and blurry moments steeping into the canvas we enter the world with. It is only by taking a step back and truly looking at the emotions that followed our lives, reflecting on family, and considering the chronicles of our experiences that we are able to unlock a form of understanding about our life’s art.
The process of reading Nancy L. Pressly’s work was a very cathartic experience. In the spirit of authors such as Mitch Albom, Pressly is able to convey a deep sense of empathy in our human condition by welcoming readers into her own life. From reconnecting with her own childhood and welcoming the folds of recent events, portraits of the past become beacons to a future of reconciliation. During this process, Pressly’s open heart is able to inspire readers to delve into their own histories and observe the contours and movements that color their lives.
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 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.
About Nancy L. Pressly
Atlanta Portrait Photography
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.