Fifth Arts & Craft Show in Melrose

... artist came from Melrose and all of the North Shore

Jackie Wattenberg

Festival artists shine brightly

Why were there such happy crowds elbowing their way through the fifth Melrose Arts Festival in Memonal Hall last Sunday?

Obviously, despite an onset of cold rain, people found it rewarding to view a show of all kinds of art -- oils, water colors and gouache paintings, sculptures, photography, box craft work, paper cut-out land-scapes: a teeming variety that brought out wallets and spurred visitors to pluck personal cards from artists, tables. Artists came from Melrose and all over the North Shore.

Another probable cause: This is the only day in the whole year for our artists to shine. No Melrose gallery to hold frequent shows, no out-door shows in summer or fall as so many cities have, so, if you enjoy seeing what artists are up to around here - this is it.

And hometown devotees have learned from the past that the quality of work is often admirable, lots of originality; not much work of modem extremism or experimentation, only a few drifts of abstraction. Still, interesting colorists, serious photography, lovingly rendered landscapes of delicacy, even Melrose landmarks handsomely presented.

And even a work of art upstairs in the "Cafe" -- huge crusty rolls, to hold clam chowder so delicious we had to devour much of the "bowl." Terrific!

Strikng in their exuberant colors were oil scenes of Joan Frank from Gloucester.  Her designs are simple but assured, and her palette of mostly primary colors make bold statements of boats in the harbor, or a stunning
scene of a Gloucester street and Our Lady of Good Voyage church.

A romantically shadowed portrait of a girl in a white hat, looking reflectively aside, made this oil by Dottie Ducette one of the finest portraits in the exhibit, almost Corot-like. A country scene of a bam
in stark isolation, in softly-done tones, was also outstanding.

Unique in the show were the clever and tenderly-crafted box art of letter carrier Clint Chadsey of Melrose. Whatever the assemblage in these little boxes - old prints, yellowed newspaper headlines, wee cubes or a bottle of ink -- the effect is cynical, amusing or curious, and always provocative.

Another original was Amy Seabrook of Rockport, who creates fairy-tale scenes and other scapes totally from tiny cutout bits of paper. She achieves an incredible delicacy in trees and flowers, and sometimes whimsy as in the stacking of mattresses for The Princess and the Pea, or as the musical (Melrose High School's spring show) is called, 'Once Upon a Mattress." Her colors are always subtle, total effect, charming.

For traditional realism, capably accomplished, there was the bronze sculpture of Charles Hahn of Melrose. Women with windblown hair are his subjects, and one especially interesting was the seated figure leaning back on her arms, a look of ennui on her face. Very different were wire sculpted forms of Carol Schena, deftly created linear animals.

The delightful light airiness that Diane Sawler-McLaughlin demonstrated last year in colored pencil works was maintained this year in gouache paintings of garden subjects: Roses and Chives proved enchanting in its siraple daintiness, and all her work holds distinctive sense of design and technique.

All 36 artists had merit, but space allows only a few more: Luke Volpe's rich contrast of darkness and gold-clothed table, a small gem, and another of shadowed room with table and chairs, sunlight from the window invitingly golden; Ellen Rolli's Melrose buildings, representational style with a sort of blurring of forms that adds beauty and interest, abetted by bright colors; serene landscapes by Margette Leanna, and the spontaneity in a slender nude looking over her shoulder; graceful lightness of Ruth Croft's flowers, and the vivid burst of exploding wave off Long Island Sound by Judy the Evans-Meagher; the sharpness and vitality in red apples reflecting onto a table's surface by Laura Elkns-Stover.

And there were the unusual frames by Nancy Babson, of birch wood coated with acrylic modeling paste which she can carve with designed patterns, and then paint many different colors. A wide range of photography: Cheryl Warner Foley's vignettes of Siena, Italy, including a lovely view of a rose-colored church, others narrowly chosen for their painterly focus; James Biggie's blue-evening view of Stone Henge, and other England sites; nature studies by Susan and Kevin Psaros, especially a remarkable shot of a friendly-eyed fox behind a tangle of branches; and lots more.

Artists rarely enjoy only working in their studios; they want and need to be seen. The public finds it enrichening to survey their creations. Another big exhibit in the welcoming air of summer would be something to explore.

Jackie Wattenberg is an arts columnist for the Free Press and a Melrose resident.

Originally published in
Reprinted in the Melrose Mirror with permission of the Melrose Free Press.

March 5, 1999

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