Published: October 18, 2022
Review and Photos by W.A. Demers
GREENWICH, CONN. – The Bruce Museum is a work in progress as it marches toward an April 2023 reopening with new, state-of-the-art exhibition, education and community spaces, thanks to a $60 million transformative facelift that will double the size of the existing museum. Surrounded by chain-link fencing and pieces of heavy construction equipment, the museum nevertheless welcomed visitors to its grounds on October 8-9 over the Columbus Day holiday weekend to experience original work by some of the best artists from around the United States. A total of 44 exhibition tents were set up along the path that wends from One Museum Drive to the top of the hill and the entrance to the Bruce Museum for its 41st annual outdoor arts festival. Not only were shoppers enjoying great weather and compelling art both days, more importantly they had a chance to talk with the featured artists, present throughout the entire weekend and offering their works for sale.
The show is co-managed by Anne von Stuelpnagel, the Bruce Museum’s director of exhibitions, and Sue Brown Gordon, known for her series of juried arts festivals as well as the gallery she owns and runs with her husband David Gordon. This show was Gordon’s last one of the season. She manages nine others running from May to October, including the Bruce Museum Craft Festival, Westport Fine Arts Festival, Norwalk Arts Festival, Stamford Arts Festival and others.
On this weekend, there was a diverse lineup of contemporary fine art in oils, acrylics, watercolors, mixed media, drawings and prints, photography and sculpture. And with the Bruce’s well-known emphasis on science and natural history, it was quite appropriate that one of the exhibitors, wildlife sculptor Peter S. Bowe of Stamford, Conn., was on hand to offer representational bird carvings, traditional decoys and pieces sculpted with stylized realism. Bowe’s science background includes a stint as a chemistry teacher at Shelton High School and science coordinator for the Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Conn. He recently retired as head of the science department for Bunnell High School. He combines that knowledge with the precise carving skills developed as an artist for 47 years to create a wide range of sculptures of birds and marine mammals. His work has been exhibited in many galleries and shows, including the Mystic Maritime Gallery and Greenwich Workshop. Sculptures of penguins, seals, curlews, peregrine falcons, gulls, whales and a bevy of miniature shorebirds filled his booth.
Just to the left of the museum’s entrance, Bethany, Conn., sculptor Erich Davis was set up with metal sculptures that he calls “Liberations,” either indoor or outdoor pieces that start out as sheets of torch-cut steel, then are heated and pulled apart to create three-dimensional forms. He said this series “represents a transformation of one’s self from the structure of perceived limitation to the realization of true potential.” From a solo project he began in his garage in 2007, Davis has grown his business, E.J. Davis Aesthetics, into a design and fabrication studio specializing in custom furnishings and unique installations for residential, commercial and public spaces.
The art show program’s cover image featured an oil painting by Chris Curchin, an abstract and figurative artist from Philadelphia, whose abstract paintings involve multiple layers of slow drying oil glazes with heavily marked and scratched surfaces: “a kind of free-form sgraffito,” as he describes it. “I use structural elements to emphasize the contrast between the aggressive movement of compulsive mark making, and the minimalist structure of the compositions,” according to his artist’s statement. He studied film and animation in an experimental film program at Philadelphia College of Art, now University of the Arts, earning a BFA in 1982. He is self-taught, having begun painting in 1985, and has exhibited work at the Allentown Art Museum and other institutions. He currently teaches art and music at a non-profit arts-based preschool in Philadelphia.
Photography was well-represented. Among the more than half dozen photographers there was Tom Kretsch, from Westport, Conn., when he is not traveling the United States and abroad in search of “Peaceful Places,” those special spots where he is able to capture visual images that evoke a soothing and calming moment. His travels have taken him to magical spots in Tuscany, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Maine, Newfoundland, Cape Cod, Alaska, the Madeline Islands and North Dakota, where he photographed an abandoned schoolhouse featured in his exhibit.
Mostly self-taught, Kretsch said he has been inspired by the work of the Wyeth family of painters and Edward Hopper, among others, and his images convey serenity as well as a touch of loneliness.
Another photographer’s work was interactive in the sense that images appear, shift and change depending on where the viewer is standing. Bruce Reinfeld brings analog style in a digital world by employing his lenticular process. The Philadelphia artist arranges the artwork in layers, and that creates a shimmering effect. Two of the works on offer created in this manner were an homage to Andy Warhol, titled “Andy’s Flowers,” 48 by 48 inches, and a mesmerizing “Mirror Dots,” 48 by 64 inches.
In the realms of collage and assemblages, two artists, Matt Gabel and Tracy Hambley, brought their individual skills to the fore. Gabel is a mixed media collage artist based in northern New Jersey. He pieces paper or canvas forms together like a puzzle, creating an inlaid montage or solid, cohesive image painted with his mixed media techniques. Many of his works convey fantasy, somewhat akin to renderings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories or Aboriginal art. He has worked as a residential painter and decorative artist, embellishing people’s homes and estates and provides in-home consultations.
Hambley, who said she developed a love of both writing and collecting souvenirs while attending college at the University of Vermont, creates playful bespoke assemblages presented in shadowbox-like frames. She uses found, vintage and common objects and arranges them to tell a story or explore a theme. For example, she employed bits of sheet music, doll parts, assorted parts from violin, flute, trumpet, piano, clarinet, tambourine and guitar to construct a visually punny piece titled “I’ve Got the Music in Me.”
After the show concluded, Sue Brown Gordon commented, “The show ended as it began, with crisp, sunny fall weather – perfect for an outdoor stroll through the Bruce Museum’s outdoor art exhibits. The artists expressed that sales were above expectations at the two-day event.
“We are happy to be able to continue to provide an opportunity to support these full-time artists all while we are in major phases of renovation. It is important to keep the artists and the museum working at all times. It shows art and architecture in progress. I think the audience benefits from seeing the evolution.
“The gates were open for all to enjoy and to pay as they wish. Not surprisingly, we did well in both the donations and at the museum’s first Pop-Up shop.
“Next year the show will return with a full cast of 75 exhibitors, filling the new Bruce Museum grounds. The art will be amazing, and the new Bruce Museum will open for all to discover. We are already busy working on next year’s event, which will be October 7-8, Columbus Day weekend.”
The new Bruce is scheduled to debut on April 2, followed by another Gordon-managed show, the Bruce Museum Craft Festival, May 20-21. For information, www.gordonfineartsgallery.com or 518-852-6478.
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