by Charles Cassady Jr.
When the new restaurant and culinary arts workshop 24 Karrot Kitchen (7059 Mill Rd.) begins serving in Brecksville later this summer, there will be more than food on the menu. Eyes will be able to feast on the photography installation “Mystic Woodland” by Brecksville photographer Catherine McManus.
The series holds a special place in McManus’s heart: It is dedicated to her late husband, Benjamin Somerlot.
“I photographed this series while walking the trail behind the Brecksville Reservation’s Visitor Center in 2007 after getting lost in the park with my late husband,” she said. “We had seen the film ‘300’ at Valley View Cinemas earlier that day, and I remember leaving the theater feeling like I’d just walked out of a vivid dream.’’
The dream soon became part of McManus’s reality.
“The gritty, bronze tone of the cinematography stayed with me and inspired the bronze-sepia glow I used while processing these photographs,’’ she said. “I have the memory of this day ingrained in my mind; how we ended up in this enchanted place and seemed to be the only people in the entire forest.”
McManus is a native of the east side of Cleveland, and she developed an affinity for photography early.
“When I was 14, I purchased my first 35mm SLR camera after saving for months and months. … Diving into the world of single-lens reflex was courtesy of my dad, a fantastic hobbyist photographer, designated family photographer and videographer,” she said. “He was my first teacher.
“I borrowed his old – and very heavy – focal SLR, and my first official project was to photograph the Kingwood Center Gardens in Mansfield, Ohio. This is where my passion for capturing the beautiful and often magical essence of nature was born.”
McManus learned Photoshop and studied art and graphic design at Lakeland Community College and Franklin College in Indiana. She worked at the Dodd Camera branch in Mentor, experiencing the revolutionary image-making changeover from wet-chemical processes to computer-based digital photography.
“I could go from processing 50 rolls of 35mm film to printing 500 digital prints in a single day,” she said. “It was a wonderful job to have right out of high school.”
But there was another tumultuous change, as well: the terminal illness of her husband, who was diagnosed with bone cancer.
“Losing my first husband when I was 29 was a life-shattering experience,” she said. “I really didn’t know what to do with myself after Ben was gone, after being his caretaker for most of our nearly three-year marriage.
“Ben and I had some very open, heartfelt conversations throughout his treatment and near the end of his life. He was adamant that I keep going, keep living. Not only live, but thrive. It took me awhile to really accept that, and sometimes I still struggle with it … But after he passed away, I felt a strength I’d never felt before. Ben gave me that strength.”
McManus had her first solo photography exhibit in Lynnwood, Wash., in 2009. She was also part of a show called Snap to Grid at the Los Angeles Center for the Digital Arts. Her imagery has adorned coffee shops and CD covers, and she has been printed in local and national magazines, newspapers and websites.
After Somerlot’s death, said McManus, “I traveled a little, capturing my new world and my ‘new normal’ as I was experiencing it as a young widow.”
Eventually, she met a fellow artist and fell in love again. She married Andrew McManus, an architect, composer, musician and vocalist from Armagh, a city in Northern Ireland.
Andrew made his debut this summer as a performer at the annual Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds, playing original compositions reflecting ancient Celtic lore, mythology and heroes.
“We are a great team and have collaborated on a number of creative projects since we first met, the latest being his first album,” Catherine said.
She hasn’t shared much of her newer photography, much of it from her time with Andrew in England and Ireland.
“A lot of my work since losing my first husband has not been as public as my earlier work,” she said. “I learned to live in the moment more, capturing compositions that evoked an emotion rather than just for the sake of a creating a pretty picture. I think I am finally ready to begin sharing it.”
Catherine photographed locations such as Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and Devon and Cornwall in England.
“I immersed myself into the land where the stories I’d read in my teens and early 20’s were based, especially the Arthurian legends,” she said. “… You feel a different kind of energy there. These places are special. And like the forests, meadows, lakes and oceans I also love to photograph, I think it’s important that we enjoy, appreciate and preserve them.”
After living in England for a few years, Catherine and Andrew decided to move closer to family.
“My younger sister has been living in Brecksville with her family for a number of years, so I fell in love with the area,” Catherine said. “… Brecksville’s vibe, to me, is driven by its location around and within a vibrant national park and the Cleveland Metroparks.
“I always say nature is one of my creative muses, and I’m a little obsessed with photographing trees. So, I may have had an ulterior motive moving here.”
Catherine continues to shoot with a Canon 20D digital SLR and sometimes a Panasonic Lumix. She also maintains a graphic- and web-design business.
She landed the show at 24 Karrot Kitchen after attending a cooking demo by restaurateur Kathleen Madden in Peninsula early this year.
“We learned so much, and the food was delicious,” she said. “We introduced ourselves and got together with Kathleen and her husband Paul the following month. When she learned that we were artists, Kathleen asked if I’d like to show some of my work in her café and if Andrew would like to play some music there. … We are both so honored to be the first artists to share our work there.”
The Mystic Woodland photographs will be on display at the restaurant for the next few months. Prints and postcards made on a metallic finish will be available for sale in signed limited editions after the restaurant’s expected opening at the end of July.
“Bringing this series to life in print for the first time, just down the road from where I captured it, is bittersweet for me,” Catherine said. “I feel like it was meant to be.”
To find Andrew’s performance schedule, visit amcmanusmusic.com. View more of Catherine’s photography and digital art at catherinemcmanus.com.