Abbie Reese is an independent scholar and interdisciplinary artist. In her relationship- and research-based practice, she utilizes a hybrid of oral history, documentary, and ethnographic methodologies to explore individual and cultural identity – the construction of new identities and the performance of social roles. She has been particularly interested in primary oral cultures and enclosed communities.
Abbie is author of Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns (Oxford University Press, 2014) and director/producer of the collaborative documentary film in-progress, Chosen (Custody of the Eyes).
She received a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual arts from the University of Chicago (2013) and she was a Fellow at Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office Summer Institute (2008).
The Embassy of Switzerland in the United States awarded Abbie a ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship; she spent three months in residence at the University of Bern’s Institute of Social Anthropology (2013). Part of a team of five selected for a Group Study Exchange with Rotary International, Abbie spent a month in Germany (2006). She has traveled approximately forty countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
As a college student, Abbie interned at Roll Call covering Capitol Hill alongside Senior Reporter Damon Chappie. After graduating with a B.A. in History (1999), she worked as a reporter for a Gannett newspaper in Indiana and as the editor of a weekly community newspaper in Illinois before volunteering for one year in the Communications Department onboard the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship (2003-2004). A highlight while the ship was docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone (for seven months) was working as the media handler for a BBC news team, preparing their itinerary and then driving Reporter Robert Pigott and his cameraman by Land Rover to the border of Liberia for TV and radio reports on the World Service and the Six O’clock News about the women’s health issue, vesico-vaginal fistula.
Upon returning to the States, Abbie was admitted to the University of Iowa’s MFA in Nonfiction Writing program and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She deferred at both programs. In 2005, she began working with the Poor Clare Colettine nuns in Rockford, Illinois.
Projects have included: Faces of West Africa, a traveling photographic exhibition (22 photographs); Untold Stories: Freeport’s African-American History, an oral history and photography traveling gallery exhibition and outdoor exhibition, with six eight-foot by four-foot photographic panels installed across the street from Debate Square, where Lincoln and Douglas debated and Douglas voiced his Freeport Doctrine – a compromise on slavery; and the traveling exhibition Erased from the Landscape: the Hidden Lives of Cloistered Nuns (40 photographs and a soundtrack album consisting of audio narratives from the oral history interviews).
Abbie has received funding from Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library (2014) and the Illinois Arts Council (2011, 2009, 2007, 2006).. She is an elected Advisory Counselor of the Luminarts Cultural Foundation Board, formerly called the Cultural and Arts Foundation at the Union League Club of Chicago (2010-2015). She was a Panelist/Reviewer for the Illinois Arts Council's Individual Artist Support Initiative (2012). She was a Resident Artist in Photography at the Vermont Studio Center (2010).
While at the University of Chicago, Abbie was the Artist’s Salon Assistant at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality; she prepared Cartoonist/Artist-in-Residence Alison Bechdel’s work for exhibition (2012).
Her retreat is a house built in 1888 that she renovated in Northwest Illinois.