To get a postcard about a show entitled Veils of Color ensures I will be wanting to go. Elizabeth Osborne‘s oil paintings are on display until November 15, 2015 at the James Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA. In University of Pennsylvania alumni profile, the author quotes Philadelphia Inquirer critic Edward J. Sozanski’s praise for Osborne’s “Dionysian commitment to vibrant, saturated color.” Yes, vibrant, saturated color. I felt like I was stepping into sunshine, and in fact, some versions of these paintings have figurative versions, with a woman sitting at a window.
She was born in 1936, and grew up in Lansdale, where I now live. I was taken with the fact that she taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts(PAFA) from 1963-2011, teaching into her 70’s. She recorded an oral history interview with the Senior Artists Initiative, and organization that heartens me by its existence. In addition to oil painting, she has work in watercolor and printmaking.
I realized that I had seen her work at both the Woodmere and the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinius. I like to imagine that her veils of color saturating the Philadelphia area, appearing all around me, and that her legacy of teaching will continue to move outward.
Curated by Kirsten M. Jensen, Ph.D., Gerry & Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator, James A. Michener Art Museum
July 25 through November 15, 2015
Fred Beans Gallery
Stratoz and I went to see the Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection Exhibit at the James Michener Art Museum(on view until October 25, 2015). I was interested to note the context of this collection, assembled by the Edward Steidle(1887-1977) Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State. Steidle purchased and commissioned these paintings to as a way to demonstrate the various industrial processes and the critical role of the extractive industries in Pennsylvania to his students. The Industrial Art homage at the Michener is notable for the predominance of flame, with the glowing orange of molten steel. Artists were drawn like moths to a flame, and each had a style that captured the scenes of the furnaces in a different way. The blazing colors are beautiful, and yet ominous in the power to cause injury and in their intense heat.
I’d never seen a steel factory until I moved to Bethlehem, PA, from Canada in 1985. It rose up like a mountain from the South Side, and had produced steel for the Golden Gate bridge and much of the New York skyline. 1985 was at the tail end of the Steel, losing money, cutting workers. When I started college a few years later, I took a class in United States Labor History, and have been drawn to stories like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser who wrote movingly of the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster.
We lived in Dunmore, PA in the early 1990’s. The coal mining industry left its mark with a network of tunnels beneath the town, and the threat of homes and grounds sinking. Subsidence was a new word that I learned in those years, especially when a hole opened up in a friend’s backyard in a neighboring town. I was interested to see that the Michener exhibit had a painting by a Dunmorean, John Willard Raught(1857-1931). He studied art in New York City, and returned home to paint portraits and landscapes of the area. He had an exhibit at a local club in 1915, where most of the paintings appear to be tranquil landscapes rather than the mining scenes. The Michener Museum notes that Raught felt conflicted by the coal industry which while providing jobs for those he knew, also scarred the landscape, and the forboding fears of disaster, and painted many of the anthracite breakers which he called “Black Castles.”
“I don’t make marks. I make moves.” – James Siena
Stratoz and I went on an excursion to Ithaca, NY, and one of our stops was the Johnson Museum at Cornell University. I was smitten with the James Siena: Labyrinthian Structures exhibit, and the intricate patterns of Siena’s prints. I have walked labyrinths, and the convolutions calm my mind. Siena says he hopes to take the viewer’s eye on a walk with his patterning, and it is a fine walk indeed.
It troubled my librarian heart that I couldn’t find gallery labels for the art, and it didn’t look promising online either, probably because the exhibit wasn’t officially open yet! I didn’t realize this fact until writing this post and saw the start date was September 5th, 2015, and we were there August 25th. I’d like to give a shout-out to Troy McHenry and his James Siena Print List, his wonderful “unofficial online print catalogue raisonné in-progress” (as he terms it). McHenry is a collector of Siena’s work, and any artist would love to have such a labor of love. Go explore it to see many more of Siena’s works.
James Siena: Labyrinthian Structures at Cornell University Johnson Museum of Art until December 20, 2015.
A Conversation with James Siena: Figure / Ground
To make her mark she was searching for a material never before used. In grad school she had worked on rice paper, and made installations and books. “I didn’t want to use something you could get in an art supply store. I was experimenting. I would try and try until I could get a conversation going with the material. I would talk with the paper and it would talk back to me.”
That was when she started working with rolls of adding machine paper and cash register tape. She began with small spools, working flat, trying new things. Putting the paper in water, she discovered, expands it and creates new shapes. She added sumi ink to the pool of water, and the results looked like car tires. She was drawing not on paper, but with paper. WHYY Newsworks.
I love what sculptor Jae Ko did next ~ when the amount of water she was using became too much for her studio, she went to the ocean to see what the tides would do with paper. Stratoz and I saw her exhibition at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ, which will be there until February 7, 2016.
JK 437 Red and Orange was several feet tall, and bursting with ombre. Color gradation is one of my passions in the studio. I found Jae Ko’s use of the tightly wound rolls of adding machine paper resonant with the closet of arcane office supplies I inherited when I took a job as a hospital librarian in the late 1990’s, and admire her transformation that goes beyond the “I should do something with that.” Art as an alchemical process.
In 2014, Stratoz took a photo of me standing with the Beverly Pepper Vertical Vantaglio statue in Rochester, and so when I saw this Paolo e Francesca by Beverly Pepper at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ, I asked him for another photo.
I love the arrow implied within the African Black Granite, and the green trees behind filling in the color. This sculpture was part of a retrospective of Pepper’s work at The Grounds for Sculpture in 1999, when she was 75. She’s still making art in 2015. What I aspire to, yes, indeed.
Stratoz and our photographer friend Paul Grecian have a tradition of going to Longwood Gardens during Spring Break. I appreciate that Stratoz is always on the lookout for orange. These fine variegated Nasturtiums have a sunny yellow orange with darker red orange gathering in the creases. I looked up the etymology of Nasturtium and it’s not a quite as sunny: “nose twister,” for its pungent smell.
Stratoz and I made our second day trip to Craftsman Farms, museum of furniture great Gustav Stickley, in Parsippany, NJ. I first discovered Craftsman Farms from an ad in American Bungalow quite a few years ago. We took our first tour circa 2003, and I was smitten with the tiles, the copper hearths, the textiles and inlaid wood. Stepping into the house was stepping into another world. Photography is not permitted inside, but I noticed the row of lanterns visible through the door, and asked Stratoz to take a photo for me. The lanterns light a trail into beauty.
The hammered brass letter opener I found in the gift shop by Frank Glapa
G is for Grey Towers, the home of Gifford and Cornelia Pinchot(1881-1960)and built by Gifford’s parents James and Mary Pinchot in Milford, PA. Grey Towers is now a National Historic Site. Gifford Pinchot had a passion for forestry and is a father of sustainable forest programs in the US, and also served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania. Note the majestic mustache.
Cornelia Pinchot campaigned for women’s right to vote, child labor laws and after her husband died, ran for the governorship, as well as for Congress.
Stratoz and I had driven by the signs for Grey Towers many times but it was closed for renovations; finally we stopped in 2002 when it had reopened and took a tour. It rises up like a miniature castle, made of PA bluestone. Beyond it’s formal appearance, we discovered the Cornelia’s sense of playfulness, with the outdoor dining room table called the Finger Bowl. Guests passed the dishes afloat.
The Letter Box was an office for Gifford Pinchot and archive of his papers, which are now at the Library of Congress. At the end of a reflecting pool was the Bait Box, a playhouse for the Pinchot’s son. There was some larger than life Maple Leaf wallpaper inside the mansion, and I discovered that Gifford’s father made his fortune in wallpaper.
Long before I began making mosaics I was drawn to visual wonders, places where art was made, and historic buildings. Moving to the Philadelphia Suburbs, I found some places that delighted me with their creativity. I would absorb the beauty through my pores, breathing it in. Here are 5 to put on your list.
Outside Paoli, just west of Valley Forge Park, in the woods, Wharton Esherick’s house sits like a secret waiting to be discovered. The carved wood spiral staircase, the custom made furniture, the peek inside a sculptor’s mind–it’s all good. Guided tours of the Wharton Esherick Studio are available by reservation only.
James Mercer, founder of the Moravian Tileworks in Doylestown PA, built himself a mansion entirely out of concrete. It rises up from the grounds like a fairytale crossed with science fiction. The inside is covered in samples of Moravian Tiles, and Mercer’s collection of tiles and artifacts. There are concrete reading tables at strategic windows so he could follow the sun as it rose and set.
This is where Mercer’s tiles were made Doylestown, and it is open for tours, a tile festival in May(which is a tile lover’s dream), a gift shop full of tile goodness, and classes if you are interested in making ceramic tiles.
All I knew about Swedenborgians was that Helen Keller was one, but then I moved within driving distance of Bryn Athyn, and discovered the Bryn Athyn Cathedral and the adjacent Pitcairn museum of religious art. The Cathedral was constructed in a mini reconstruction of the craft guild past with workshops for stone, wood, metal, and stained glass that were built on site by experienced craftsmen.
5)Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park, PA
The only Synagogue built by Frank Lloyd Wright! Just knowing Beth Sholom is nearby makes me happy.
I’d love to hear about more art places in the Philadelphia area!
Related Posts from my Column at Handmade in PA:
Over at Stratoz: