Reviews ...

Arts Festival as colorful, exciting as ever

... Something for everyone

by Jackie Wattenberg

"Pride" is not an appealing word; perhaps "appreciation" is better for our approach to the arts here in Melrose. With our symphony orchestra, choral society, Beethoven Society, monthly art shows at the Beebe Estate--and last weekend our annual Arts Festival at Memorial Hall, which drew steady throngs to view a variety of items--the arts are secure in Melrose.

If variety is the spice of life, the exhibit was tastefully spiced and included landscapes, of course, in oils, acrylics and watercolors; more portraits than usual, big and small; crafts made in pottery, glass and cloth; those fascinating and original boxed satiric observations by Clint Chadsey; and for the first time in memory, furniture, beautiful furniture.

In this time of extremes in art, I wondered if there would be increased abstraction, new materials or daring ideas at this year's festival. I was eager to see how much farther Melrose artists Ellen Rolli and Debra Corbett had explored abstraction after their provocative work last year--but they did not exhibit this year at all! (Note: Corbett decided not to exhibit this year; instead, she created and organized "Make  your Mark," a participatory community art project at the festival, which was free to the public and appropriate for all ages.)

The exhibiting artists showed admirable originality, and yes, there was one abstract artist, Charles Spuglio, who was successfully abstract. There was no hesitation in his tall, thin frames of monochromatic colors, mystically glistening surfaces of deep green or blues with a minimum of design in thin twisting lines, subtly relating to the canvas's tones. But the artist can capture the contours of faces too, as he did in a section of fashion-style sketched women's faces, black on white canvas. Spuglio is an artist we hope to see more of around town.

Furniture, sculptures

Kevin Mack's group of handcrafted wooden furniture was impressive in its classic designs and elegant surfaces. A wooden chair patterned after one now in the White House had a decorative curl in its back and a contrasting pale-wood strip atop its back, the Regency style modeled after the chair made in the 1700s. A desk with drawers and many open-faced nooks was fashioned from the 1760s Federal style of renowned Boston woodcrafters John and Thomas Seymour. One contrasting piece, and fascinating, was an end table formed of thin strips resembling fingers, inspired, said its maker, by a dream!

Back again this year, Carol Schena offered a touch of sculpture in bas reliefs of sensitively sculpted children seen from the rear walking along a seashore. The children's forms are so relaxed and natural that Schena could surely give us a whole sculpture of a child from fulll view (she said she will try!). Along with these unique works were distinctive white-lined block prints.

Upstairs at the festival, there was a brilliant new exhibit of astonishingly fine pen-and-ink drawings by young artist Eli Helman. Imaginary city and country scenes were drawn in the finest details--tiny delicate lines adding up to a charming wholeness; some works of soft and deeper-edged lines for striking design contrasts. Unique, masterful; he's an original.

Our town's notable watercolorist, Tom Sutherland, showed his handsome cityscapes and some European sites, all in his never-missing lush, loose style. If you rifled through his paintings to the side, you found some so loosely colored that they held stretches of near abstraction. I was looking for another oil with human figures like the superb oil last year, which he said was coming soon.

Where was friend Don Fox, retired owner of the lamented Melrose Drug Center, and a marvelous painter of Boston Harbor and Venice? We missed him!

Variety of portraits

Portraits abounded, which was rewarding, Pamela Perras showed a delicately done young woman's face, lots of hair, and a face displaying some trouble or concern. An interesting artist of contrasting styles, Perras showed a shimmering still life and a landscape with fine blurred light. A couple of dreamy, delicately done portraits by Cal Dray Dellaria stood out in his variety of oils, including city scenes interestingly simplified in tones and forms, and a nicely blurred country scene. Different and intriguing was a huge, terrifyingly ornate frame surrounding three atrtractive women's floating faces.

It's always interesting to see how artists paint similar scenes so differently.  J. J. Long has full command of his city scenes, simplifying their contours and colors with striking success, creating an admirable individual style. But he also showed one small, fine, still life of apples and an orange glowing.

Luke Volpe's Boston city view offered a different city scene, darkened with night, quite romantic and glowing with excitement.

Cassandra Scharmm showed striking figures and a good command of her acrylics in tone and form. Jodi Callahan depicted body forms impressively, one cleverly showing a ballet dancer bending to tie her shoe. Distinctive still lifes by Jeffrey Hayes almost glowed, with small one-subject fruit perfectly detailed, each dramatically framed with very dark wood. Diane McLaughlin also showed glowing fruit--three independent pears. Her confident oils also showed the calm side of nature.

Landscapes and animals

Landscapes by Jeannette Steele Esposito emphasized broad currents in her handsome streaks of colors. And Paul Devine dramatizes his landscapes with almost cartoon quality, distinctive and quite charming. Heather Karp designs her cityscapes calmly, especially one lovely blue scene with thin trees. An astonishing work was Sunny West's great cavernous form, as in a castle, which was impressive and rather alarming, and appealing children in dappled sunlight on the beach. Charles Tersolo's one sizable oil showed his distinctive virtuosity in recreating branches of trees.

And there were animals, including a great muscular horse and rather hostile owl by Robert Cyr; Jen Barbati's serious lion; and Eliza Hamilton's fiber-felt friendly menagerie.

There was fancifully decorated pottery by Julie Fox; multi-colored glassware by Gary Borkan; attractively delicate enamel on copper jewelry by Lorrie DiCesare, and handsome jewelry designs by Caren Travis and Jennifer Manic. Unusual were covers for challah, the Jewish bread, and toddler outfits of batik fabric in lovely colors by Leora Mallach.

The city's big art show is now over...but with such attention and support, why not a summer open air art show, the kind held in many cities?

This article was reprinted with permission from the April 14, 2011 issue of the Melrose Free Press

May 6, 2011

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