Sanford Opens Minds to Understanding Art

            Maybe you’ve gone into an art gallery or museum and stood in front of a painting and your jaw dropped. Or perhaps you’ve viewed a painting that took your breath away, made you smile, cry, or otherwise struck an emotional chord, leaving you wondering about the painting’s deeper meaning beyond the images therein.

            Jill Sanford has a gift for speaking in a manner that invites you to explore art in ways you may not have previously thought you could. Her “Art For Your Mind” series takes listeners on art journeys. Whether you are a novice, accidental tourist in a fine art museum, or just beginning to investigate art, Sanford has the tools and enjoys sharing them.

            On August 19 at the Marion Art Center, Sanford once again wove her magician’s wand of art knowledge over her audience. The theme of this presentation, she has many themes by the way, was America’s Unique Regions.

            Sanford began by showing a painting done by Grant Wood whose depictions of American life and history can be summed up as masterpieces of regional rural scenes. The first painting before the audience was a scene of Paul Revere’s midnight ride. She asked the assembled to begin thinking about the choices the artist made, those individual bits and pieces that were necessary to tell the well-known story as he wished to tell it. Sanford directed the viewer’s attention to the dark night scene, the use of light that could only be moonlight, a church spire, a winding road, and surreal tree formations. When taken together as a whole after studying those topics, one gets a fuller sense of what the artist was doing and why.

             In juxtaposition, Sanford displayed Wood’s New England landscape against a more realistic style of painting, one done by George Inness. She pointed out how this artist’s use of the horizon gave depth to the scene whereas Wood was not striving for realism but for symbolism in his night scene.

            Inness strove for realism giving his paintings a photographic quality. Sanford pointed to the size of the people in his paintings and how they were placed as a reference point giving the landscape its scope. The trees are real, the pastures lush, the sky a true representation.

            Moving on, Sanford shared works done by Eastman Johnson whose genre of “people doing ordinary things” had become popular in the 19thcentury. She said that this style of painting placed the people as if on a stage, their gazes to be followed where they led, possibly off the canvass.

            Sanford shared how artists give us the illusion of depth of height with the ability to present immense vistas on a single small canvass. “It is realistic, believable,” she said.

            As she spoke, Sanford explained how the artists were influenced by the regions they were located in demonstrating this by contrasting a New England scene against one of the Midwest. She spoke of the Hudson River School, started by Thomas Cole, which would eventually expand during the second generation to include the Catskills, mid-Atlantic, and even South America.

            The Pacific School gives the art lover massive scenes of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, and even influenced Albert Bierstadt, a former resident of New Bedford, who started with the Hudson River School.

            Jumping into jarring, striking colors, Sanford introduced Jonathan Green, whose paintings of African Americans drew on the colorful quilts he grew up with in his grandmother’s house. Again, Sanford pointed to the choices artists have to make before putting brush to canvas.

            And no art presentation of American art would be complete without Georgia O’Keefe. Sanford explained that O’Keefe began her career in New York City where her paintings of buildings were not widely received by the primarily male-dominated art industry. Surprisingly, however, art lovers appreciated the contemporary forms and use of color O’Keefe employed. One of her city scenes sold for $2,800 to which O’Keefe stated, “… then they let me paint buildings.”

            Such is Sanford’s gift, helping us see art, even pieces we’ve known for decades, in new ways with a deeper appreciation for the skill employed and the choices made by the artist. To learn more about Art For Your Mind, you can visit

Marion Council on Aging

By Marilou Newell

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