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Chester County Press

Ordinary objects are clues to a mystery

03/12/2018 11:33AM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

In Joshua Schaefer's solo show at Bookplace in Oxford, the small paintings, hung at eye level, capture everyday objects – a new pink eraser, two Lego bricks, a brown lunch bag, three pennies and a ball of pocket lint. Then there's the set of cardboard 3-D glasses, rendered three times – alone, being worn by the artist in a self-portrait, and tucked between the jaws of a skull. They represent the past, the present and the future.

 The tiny things take on significance only as you grapple with what they have in common. They are, in fact, little touchstones of Schaefer's life -- or anybody's life, really – rendered with the calm formality of a portrait. The show's title, “Pyrrhic Victories,” will send you scrambling to your dictionary, but basically, a pyrrhic victory is something you accomplish that comes at a cost that's higher than the value of the victory. To illustrate that point, Schaefer paints a wall socket with a metal fork jammed into it. We put together the back story: Someone wondered what would happen if the fork was stuck in there, and they found out, painfully.

There's a wry wit behind the show, which continues through April 8. It's subtle, and served up without explanation, but Schaefer manages to make these mundane objects beautiful. The brown leaf suspended on a white thread echoes summers past. The worn-out footwear in “My Father's Chinese Dress Shoe,” the roll of bright blue painter's tape, and the scattered wisdom teeth become clues in a mystery. And you find yourself thinking about all the brown paper bags you carried your lunch in after seeing a crumpled bag posed so nobly. They were your constant companions and they were so easily tossed away.

 All these objects are rendered more or less life-size, so they are sometimes only four inches wide and invite the viewer to get up close to see what's going on. It's a quiet, contemplative show, but its fine-tuned observations make it resonate long after you've left the gallery. It finds the emotional resonance in very ordinary things.

Bookplace (2373 Baltimore Pike, Oxford) is open Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Visit

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email

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