2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist in Memoirs (Career)
“This is a woman of extraordinary passion and enormous energies. The test of a person (and for that matter, a marriage) is how the individual handles and overcomes the challenges of life. Pressly time and again passes the test with flying colors in this candid memoir. A side benefit: the illuminating chapters devoted to her thoughts on what it means to experience great works of art….The author is a truly marvelous guide on a tour literally around the world…A wrenchingly honest account that deftly combines a marriage story and an art tour.”
“Exceptionally well written, organized, and presented, Unlocking: A Memoir of Family and Art is an inherently interesting and engaging life story told with an impressive composure and candor.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Nancy L. Pressly’s sensitive memoir, Unlocking, concerns the power of images to release memories, tell stories, and inspire future generations. . . . Love and loss play out as Pressly navigates her inner and outer worlds, revealing both strength and vulnerability.”
—Foreword Clarion Reviews
“This is an unflinchingly honest memoir, written with the clarity and powerful visual sense of an art historian. Particularly vivid are the retrieval of [Pressly’s] childhood memories through letters, diaries, and photographs. . . . Her career as art historian, curator, and arts administrator offer fascinating insights. But above all, this is a memoir about her love of family and her own evolution as a person. Finishing it, you realize you have been privileged to get to know a remarkably gifted and indomitable spirit.”
—Tom Dunne, author of Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize winner Rebellions: Memoir, Memory, and 1798
“In her searching and compassionate memoir, this keenly sensitive writer, noted art historian, and curator . . . tells how her own near-fatal illness allowed her to unlock her painfully lost girlhood with clear vision and empathy . . . . With Unlocking, she proves herself a woman of the deepest human insight.”
—Kate Moses, author of Cakewalk, A Memoir and Wintering
“In this clairvoyant and heart-warming memoir, Nancy L. Pressly shares her arduous path through the thickets of memory to reveal a remarkable and uplifting account of a woman who defined herself through positive energy and love. Guided by an agile intelligence and an eye for detail, honed by years in art history as scholar, curator, and consultant, Pressly animates memories long obscured by disappointments and losses. She makes the intensely personal universally compelling. We learn from her story how we might tackle the labyrinth of our own paradoxes.”
—June Hargrove, author of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and recipient of the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters
“In this memoir, Nancy Pressly shares a lifetime of intense experiences. Her extraordinarily careful and evocative descriptions of personal relationships, works of art, and places enrich this powerful autobiographical essay. Definitely worth reading more than once!”
—Ellen G. Miles, art historian and author
“Inspired by resilience and renewal, commitment and perseverance, love and trust—themes that are instantly relatable—Unlocking is an exquisite articulation of personal and professional stories, shared through the lens of someone who is deeply passionate about the connections between art and life. However, it is her commitment to learning, at each distinctive stage in life, that is the true lesson for all readers.”
—Allison Perkins, executive director of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art
“Nancy Pressly’s revealing personal journey is a powerful inspiration. Uncovering childhood memories and family history, battling physical challenges, acknowledging and owning the roles of wife and mother, researcher, and accomplished arts administrator—all underscore a passionate life hard-earned and well-lived. Artfully written, her life story is a compassionate reminder of the power within to remain positive through adversity and obstacles, to stay true to oneself, and, above all, to embrace love of art, self, and family.”
—Andrea Snyder, cofounder/codirector of American Dance Abroad and former assistant director of NEA Dance Program
“Pressly weaves a compelling memoir, revealing a history that extends across generations and time. Elegantly composed, Unlocking shares a deeply personal evolution. Pressly's story exemplifies the professional and personal challenges so many women confront, while showing how beauty and love can redeem those struggles.”
—Stephanie Heydt, Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of America Art, High Museum of Art
The subtitle of this memoir sums up this book—it is a story of family and art. Beginning with her family's genealogy, museum consultant Pressly (Settling the South Carolina Backcountry: The Pressly Family and Life Along Hard Labor Creek, 1767–1850) continues the narrative through her early life, weaving in family histories, as she relates her experiences and growth into adulthood through becoming a grandparent. Some dramatic points in her story are built up, and the point doesn't match the momentum. She clearly shows her passion for art, including her marriage to another art historian. Their story moves through sickness and health, world travel and art galleries, professional difficulties and successes. As she continues her story of her life with family and a career, she mentions specific pieces of art, and how they affected her. Images of the art are available in the book. Her descriptions were good, but the effect may be lost on a reader lacking knowledge or interest in such work. VERDICT This well-written memoir will please a specific audience who will identify with the author's zeal for museums, art, and art history.—Linda Gray, Blinn Coll., Brenham, TX
A memoir explores an art lover’s family life and career.
This account begins with photographs in Pressly’s attic showing her ancestors from the shtetls of Eastern Europe. Her ﬁrst-generation parents were hard workers who eventually made a comfortable life for themselves, the author, and her brother, Bobby, in America. Pressly describes her school days, ﬁrst love—which brought out her father’s scary, protective nature—and college life. In graduate school, she met and married a man named Bill. The author began a career as a museum curator, and Bill became a professor of art history. He remained a professor while the author sometimes adjusted her focus but stayed in the ﬁelds of art and curation. They confronted all sorts of career hurdles and, more importantly, health issues. Bill had serious heart problems, among other things. Pressly fared little better. In her 70s, she faced ampullary cancer, necessitating the very radical Whipple procedure and a long convalescence. Eventually, the couple moved to Atlanta to help their only child, David, cope with being the single parent of their two grandchildren. This is the author’s second book; the ﬁrst—Settling the South Carolina Backcountry (2016)—chronicles Bill’s roots. She writes well. This is a woman of extraordinary passion and enormous energies. The test of a person (and for that matter, a marriage) is how the individual handles and overcomes the challenges of life. Pressly time and again passes the test with ﬂying colors in this candid memoir. A side beneﬁt: the illuminating chapters devoted to her thoughts on what it means to experience great works of art. (The volume features copious illustrations, both art plates and family photos.) In Florence, she admired Jacopo Pontormo’s “enigmatic, strange, and beautiful” painting Deposition From the Cross (1526-28): “I was absolutely stunned by the intense, almost strident, pastel colors of the drapery, which in places clung so tightly to the grieving figures as to appear translucent.” The author is a truly marvelous guide on a tour literally around the world, insisting that art reproductions in books are a poor second to the in situ experience that she convincingly describes as life changing.
A wrenchingly honest account that deftly combines a marriage story and an art tour.