A Soul’s Refreshment – Art

            Looking for a way to shed the pandemic blues? Tired of being stuck, unable to travel, and feeling trapped due to a lack of freedom of movement? Well, there is a cure, and it’s called art. And no artistic institution offers more per square inch of gallery space than the Marion Art Center. As I’ve often said, “It is small but mighty.”

            A large part of the “might” that is the MAC is the caliber of artists that comprise the membership. And so it is always a grand experience to take in the annual Winter Members’ Show on exhibition now through February 26.

            Entering the first-floor gallery space is like being a kid in a candy shop with visual goodies hanging from every wall or positioned on pedestals. Among those delicious art pieces, one will find not only watercolors, oils, and acrylics but also carvings, woodworking, and fabric art. In commenting to one artist that it seemed as though the MAC continues to evolve from one show to the next, offering a broad spectrum of artistic expression, the response was that art itself is shifting and changing as it always has done. Art reflects the moment the artist is living in, a reaction to that moment, and quite possibly hopes and fears. All that one can find in this show.

            Alanna Nelson is a fabric artist who understands that people’s ideas of what art can be are changing. Her exhibit piece is titled “The Glove.” She explained that one of the activities she joined after moving to the area is sailing. The glove is one she used while pursuing that passion. She has taken that glove with all the joyful memories it conjures in her mind and positioned it over a piece of blue handmade felt.

            “I work a lot in wool, raw wool,” Nelson explained, working the material until it reaches a satisfying texture and shape. After repeated soakings and drying, she achieved a “wave-like” texture to the wool felt. “You’re never sure what you get when making the felt,” Nelson shared, but when she saw the wave-like curves, she knew where the glove belonged. The two are merged, forever a sailing glove moving across waves.

            Nelson lived in Italy for many years, including six in Rome and five in Milan, where she was exposed to exquisite fabrics and wools. While there, she created quilts and delved into embroidery.

            Russel Saunders is a photographer, first and foremost. But it takes a creative eye and imagination to create an image others will respond to, an artist’s eye. And it takes patience to capture the right image. Saunders’ large canvass now on view in the MAC’s second-floor gallery required patience as he waited along the shore of Ogunquit, Maine. “Nothing much was happening, and there were a lot of children splashing around,” he recalled. But his patience was rewarded when, suddenly, the seabirds were marching around, the children were out of the frame, and the lighting was correct. “March of the Piping Plovers” was born.

            Saunders then takes the best images, or in some cases commissioned images, and reproduces them on fine art canvasses. Some finished works are substantial, as is the case with the plovers; the piece measures 55 by 40 inches. The resolution for such reproductions has to be extraordinarily high, in this case, a whopping 20 million pixels. He said that by wrapping the canvass around the oak frame, he achieves a three-dimensional effect. “It’s never still.”

            Saunders said of art today: “People are getting more in touch with their higher feelings.”

            Filipe Miguel has always been an artist, but his career path took a side road into the world of tennis, teaching the sport for 25 years before he returned to creating art. His paying gig now, if you will, is as an art teacher at Barnstable High School, where he finds a very supportive administration and community. After completing his education at UMass Dartmouth and the University of Connecticut as an art major, he said that he intended to teach at the university level. He ended up teaching tennis until recently. Now it’s all art all the time, both at work and at home.

            Miguel said he is always pushing the boundaries of his creative output. He described an installation of a bedroom covered in cement that was exhibited at the Fuller Art Museum. But like many creative types, when the exhibit closed, he didn’t simply throw away the bits and pieces; he conserved them for later use. One such item, a pillow, became his work of art titled “My Pillow,” now at the MAC in the first-floor gallery. The piece features a pillow embedded with tennis balls and a pack of cigarettes. “Some people have called my art abstract; I don’t feel that way,” he said. “My works have a narrative in them, a story.”

            That is certainly true of the second piece on display in the second-floor gallery titled “Adjustment Factor.” Many will identify with the meaning behind the word “adjust,” the letters “FA,” and the numbers “150”— it all relates to the daily challenges faced by those dealing with diabetes.

            Miguel hopes the wall piece, which is textural both in appearance and meaning, will help people understand that diabetes impacts the whole person from physical to mental health issues. He also wants to shed light on the politics, policies, and pharmacy industry’s economic structures. “There are a lot of layers to this. People depend on medications to survive; it’s monetized by the medical industries,” he said. Miguel’s intent was to create a group of pieces that work together, bringing this theme to light.

            The work itself is comprised of Styrofoam, burlap, glues, and resins. “It’s a process that requires some alchemy,” Miguel said. Some of the ingredients have an aroma, he said, which adds to the experience.

            “Art, in general, is a cathartic practice; it’s emotional, personal,” Miguel mused, adding that it can be especially true if the theme is one of health. Going back to the “My Pillow” piece and its origins as part of a bedroom installation, Miguel said, “It was an entire bedroom, a strange child’s bedroom about the tooth fairy not leaving a dime under the pillow— dreams made into artwork.”

            Hugh Kelly works in stone or, should I say, stones. He commiserated that when taking a walk along a beach, he is always looking down for a stone he simply must have to add to his collection at home. But the stones that he carves are not those found along the shore. “I carve alabaster, marble sometimes, or soapstone.” For the MAC exhibit, Kelly is showing two pieces, one of which is black chlorite quartz carved into a charming fish. “The stone tells you what it wants to be,” he said. Kelly uses a combination of hand tools and electric drills but noted that the most important part of stone carving is the sanding, which is all done by hand.

            Kelly and his wife and fellow exhibitor Donna both have taken lessons in clay but abandoned that artistic track for stone, in his case, while Donna moved on to acrylics. She is exhibiting two still life paintings at the MAC show.

            Donna discussed an artistic journey that has found her studying nearby at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln and as far away as California. She said that she has been painting for years, but when her children were little confined it to “once they were in bed.” She calls painting “a lifelong hobby” that she believes is more important now than ever before. “We are so confined.”

            How do two artists coexist under the same roof? For this couple, it’s been easy. “We’ll be married 62 years on Groundhog Day!” Donna cheerfully exclaimed. She said they appreciate each other’s artistic endeavors. “We are together but separate.”

            Liz Howland’s fabric pieces are not only works of art; they are wearable works of art. Howland explained the process of making Kantha cloth, which employs layers of repurposed saris quilted together to make quilts and blankets. Howland takes these large pieces and repurposes them again into jackets and pouches.

            “India is a colorful country,” Howland began, “so the saris are colorful.” But the saris possess much more than beauty, she believes. “The saris have positive energy in them; they have lived a life and then become something new but carry that energy forward.

            “They have a special soul to them.” By repurposing the fabrics, she said, “it keeps the energy moving.” That energy is on view on the second floor of the gallery, standing like a mother, exuding wisdom and kindness.

            There will be a virtual reception for the show to be held on Friday, January 29, from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Contact marionartcenter.org for registration details and learn more about these artists and others whose works are on display.

By Marilou Newell

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