AIDS and Covid-19:Art in the Time of Epidemics

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The first in a new online series dedicated to the artistic discourse during Covid-19. Three artists came together for a reflection on artistic activism and practice during the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and reflect on those experiences as the world enters the era of another pandemic. Gallery artist Susan Greer Emmerson, who was a young medical doctor during the height of the AIDS pandemic, was joined by guest panelist Antoinette LaFarge, Professor of Art at UC Irvine and an artist whose practice includes the multi-year project The AIDS Chronicles. Their conversation was moderated by Kingston Associate Artist Amy Kaczur, who reframed their experiences from the 80s and 90s to our present day. This talk was presented on Zoom on April 15, 2020.

Due to COVID-19: The gallery will be open by appointment only. Please contact the gallery at for an appointment. Stay tuned for ongoing updates on our schedule.

Kingston Gallery is on Artsy


Kingston Gallery is excited to be partnering with Artsy, the online platform.  Now, our artists at Kington Gallery can connect with more viewers and more collectors upon uploading their works to the Artsy website.  And in a world of COVID-19, this has not come at a better time for our gallery!  All that the viewer needs to do is to click on, log in and search with the words “Kingston Gallery” to see the fabulous works of our artists and what works are for sale.  Viewers who log-in can stay up to date with our gallery shows and our online Artsy shows too. Make sure you follow the gallery by clicking on the “FOLLOW” button to get alerted of new artworks as they are added. Also, check out the work included in our current exhibition by artist Erica Licea-Kane: Half Spaces.


When browsing through the Kingston Gallery works, Artsy allows you to access specific information about each artwork.  Information about the size of the work, the materials, the year the work was made, and the signature details, among other things, are on the site.  Inquiries can be made immediately with clicking on either “BUY NOW” or “MAKE AN OFFER.”  The “BUY NOW” option allows a purchaser to buy the artwork immediately, while the “MAKE AN OFFER” allows the purchaser to negotiate the purchase price.  We promise to get back to you promptly with a response.

Artsy offers quite a lot of interesting information on the art world in general – viewers can see work from galleries around the world, the latest art news, articles ranging from art criticism to art book reviews and so much more. It’s amazing! Keep returning to the Kingston Gallery Artsy site to see more work as we are continually uploading more artists and their work.

Due to COVID-19: The gallery will be open by appointment only. Please contact the gallery at for an appointment. Stay tuned for ongoing updates on our schedule.

In the Project Space: Mira Cantor: Under Siege


In the Kingston Project Space, ​Mira Cantor​’​s ​exhibition Under Siege ​presents new drawings developed out of her reconsideration of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. She says of the work, “After leaving a studio that I had for 25 years and downsizing, moving and going through work I barely remember, I produced a series of new drawings that address humanity in 2019! Under Siege.” The frenetic energy in the figures is quite engaging. She works from a small stuffed sewn doll that she rearranges in different positions to indicate emotions and relationships between two people. While the works are primarily pencil drawings, she also applies watercolor to small areas of the works.

The colors applied are sparsely done and they seem to indicate a connection between figures or highlight a space shared. When asked about what she is highlighting in the intersection of the figures and how the process of applying the watercolors charge or change the work, Cantor states, “The meaning is often ambiguous, but I use the watercolor to enhance ideas. The ambiguity is important to engage the viewer, for them to bring their own understanding to the images.”

This body of work resonates in these trying times and reflects humanity’s search for meaning. With the daily deluge of anxiety producing news and the pressing fears of climate change, Cantor asks through the Eden expulsion myth and these works questions about the trials and tribulations we face. Her work deals with the difficulties of the struggles, but ultimately she suggests through this body of work that we (in concert with the drawn characters of Adam and Eve), “somehow manage to move on, out of the canvas, into the ambiguous state of the unknown, given hope to dispel the grief.”

Erica Licea-Kane: Half Spaces is on view in the Kingston Main Gallery, Susan Alport: Close Relations is on view in the Center Gallery and Mira Cantor: Under Siege is on view in the Kingston Project Space March 4 through March 29, 2020. An opening reception will be held on Friday, March 6, 5-8pm.

New Work by Erica Licea-Kane


Kingston Gallery artist Erica Licea-Kane discusses her upcoming exhibition, Half Spaces:

The fact that these works are made with acrylic paint, but have the texture and appearance of textiles is so engaging. There is a heavy quality, like a warm blanket or quilt, in many of the pieces. What types of textiles have influenced you or are you drawn to?

I have always been attracted to fiber art that is mixed-media oriented. I never saw myself as a weaver or maker of utilitarian objects even though in both undergraduate and graduate school I was well trained in a variety of textile and dying techniques. Technique was always a means to an end or a way to get a certain effect or surface quality that I desired. I actually wove my painting surfaces up until about 1999. I would weave small panels of fabric that I would then sew together, attach to the wall, stretch into the shape I wanted, cut holes in the fabric and then stiffen it on the wall. That would then become my canvas or painting surface. This way of working allowed me to have interesting edges, something that has carried through to my current studio practice. I would also make handmade nets that became scaffolding for my grid based compositions. Today I continue to work with grids that I make with the extruded acrylic medium or with burned patterns on the initial surface.

I really do think of myself as being an abstract painter from a weavers point of view. I continue to use all of the elements that are attributed to textiles. Grids, layers, transparencies, repeat patterns, surface, color, edges (selvages), are all components that are found in both using the loom and in textile design in general. Even basket structures are about repeated actions that create a built three dimensional structure. I realized early on that I was an additive artist, and naturally build surfaces in many parts.

The heaviness of the surfaces comes from many layers of extruded medium that happen when a surface needs to be resolved. This way of working does not allow me to take parts away from the surface once the medium has dried, so I keep adding to the piece. The many layers gives the edges, especially shaped edges, a roundness that gives the work an “object” quality as they become low reliefs.

I have always been drawn to Amish quilts because of the boldness of the color and the minimal compositions. They become more complicated as you get up close and start to discover the layer of sewn patterning in the fabric. I intend for viewers to get up close to my work to discover the many layers and nuances in the surfaces. I am often asked about the time invested in my work and how they are made. Ultimately, I always think of my paintings as being about time and balance even though they reference aerial views.


There is an interesting intersection between abstract art and fiber arts in your work. Textiles being an arena for women historically to express their creativity. Are there any specific painters or textile artists you are inspired or influenced by? Where would you situate your work in relation to them?

I have always been surrounded by fabric. As a child my mother was always sewing and I spent a lot time with her in fabric stores. I still love the smell of fabric stores. I spent a lot of time going through her button box, creating embroideries and looking at my Grandmothers linens, stored away in a special cedar chest. There were always Craft Horizon magazines lying about the house, so I was very aware of the craft mediums at a very young age. My parents were both professional artists, so I grew up with “makers” and I was surrounded by art materials. As a college student in a textile program, I spent a lot of time making samples while I learned various textile techniques that were wide ranging. When I got out of school the first works that I made involved using hand sewn gauze that eventually moved on to working on hand-dyed and painted surfaces with layers of machine sewing. Later on I went back to hand-sewing as the work became more developed. I really can’t think of a time in my life when fabric wasn’t a part of it.

The artists that I have looked at for a long time and that I always describe as my “happy place” are both Lee Bontecou and Alberto Burri. They both have a brilliance to the way that they mix media and both artists used a lot of fabric in their surfaces. More specifically, I respond to Burri’s minimal compositions and Bontecou’s sewn reliefs. Bontecou is still working today and unfortunately Burri passed away in 1995.

Erica Licea-Kane: Half Spaces is on view in the Kingston Main Gallery, Susan Alport: Close Relations is on view in the Center Gallery and Mira Cantor: Under Siege is on view in the Kingston Project Space March 4 through March 29, 2020. An opening reception will be held on Friday, March 6, 5-8pm.

A Discussion with Artists On-Kyeong Seong and Vaughn Sills

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Kingston Gallery artist On-Kyeong Seong talks about the making of her work for the exhibition, Embedment, and her unique process:

Your practice of pushing the painted canvases through a sewing machine is intriguing, as is the fact that many needles break during this process, raising issues of labor in the work. Can you further explain the connection between the physicality of making the work and the layered, tactile qualities you achieve? How does the practice influence the intent of the work?

I have to share my personal childhood story when people wonder about machine stitchery in my art work. When I was little, I still remember, my father wanted to be an artist and he practiced everyday, all day long. I was 5 or 6 years old at that time, and I loved to sit by him and play or draw while he painted. During that time he was a full-time painter, so my mother had to support our family to make a living. She quit her Kindergarten teaching job and instead did embroidery work at home with her special embroidery sewing machine. She made lots of beautiful embroidered bed covers. Whenever she was done with her work, she did additional embroidery work for the local factory. The sounds of the sewing machine while she worked were my lullaby at night. I believe those memories show up through the processes of the making of my work and in the abstract forms of organic layering with the inorganic geometric surfaces within my work.

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There is a tension between the geometric backgrounds and the organic, floral forms stitched and painted into the foregrounds of the work. It often feels as if the organic forms are reasserting themselves over the architectural components. How would you describe the interplay between the foreground and background elements? Are there specific examples of interactions between man-made and natural forms you are working from? 

Over the years environmental issues have been very big concerns for me. Ever since my father was ill and passed away from cancer, I have researched cancer cells desperately and learned that many diseases arise due to environmental changes and pollution. People think that we live with up-to-date technology. It makes me wonder why there are so many diseases still uncured. These ideas give me a lot of questions and I want to integrate them into human made structures vs. organic forms, representing the origins of nature, as well as the pollution of nature.

Queen Anne's Lace, Bedeque

Also showing at the Kingston Project Space is work by Kingston Gallery artist Vaughn Sills. Her exhibition is titled, Inside Outside. She discusses her process and insights below:

The vibrant colors in the photographs speak to both natural and artificial aspects of beauty. Is the constructed nature of beauty a consideration in your still life set-ups? Can you expand on how beauty is a part of your images and your creative process? 

In nearly all of my work, I am interested in how nature influences us and how we influence nature. In this work, Inside Outside, the influence is seen most obviously in how humans have cultivated flowers for their beauty: from wild flowers, humans have nurtured, propagated, and intentionally bred plants to create particular blossoms and accentuate certain colors to appeal to our aesthetic sense. I don’t think I would say that those colors are artificial – rich deep colors can be found in wild meadows on mountains and beside craggy rocks near the shore.

Flower gardens, which are after all, decorative gardens, have in many cultures traditionally been created and taken care of by women. For many women the garden was one of the few places where their creativity and artistry was given a place to exist. I honor that in these photographs. However, human activity has created climate change – so the land and sea (shown in the “backgrounds” to the flowers) are changing, and they sadly remind me also of how humans negatively effect the natural world.

Once I’ve chosen a bouquet of flowers, considering color and tonality and shapes, I select from my small library of sea- and landscapes in search of the one that will work best and set these up in my studio to work with the available natural light, which gives me reflections on the vase and shadows on the (photographed) sky. With these elements, I work to create a beautiful composition. I lean, consciously or not, on all that I’ve learned in my art education about what constitutes beauty (including ideas of beauty that have been questioned). While in some of my work, I have challenged what has been seen as beautiful in the dominant culture, in this work I am not doing that. I don’t think we need to be taught to admire a field of Queen Anne’s lace, a sunset, or a stormy sky over the sea. In these photographs I do seek to create beauty – a beauty that feels beyond social construction.

There is a quietness present in the work, as well as a sense of longing. Are there specific memories or stories you are thinking of when making the images? Can you share one or two?

I am working here within a tradition of still lifes, and by its very name, the term still life connotes mortality (the French term for still life is nature morte – in literal translation, “dead nature”) – just as all photography is about the past, or even death, as Roland Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida. Additionally, the sea and landscapes you see in these still lifes are from my series “True Poems Flee,” which is about grieving for my mother, about savoring who she was and our deep connection. Perhaps it is the influence of those landscapes that creates a sense of quiet longing. But when I’m setting up and photographing the still lifes, I don’t consciously think about my mother, about particular memories of my life as a child with her, or our more recent long walks beside fields of goldenrod or on the shore at low tide. Rather I am completely in the present, in the moment, with my chosen flowers, glass vase, and landscape photograph — seeing something come into being through my lens. When all the parts do come together – color, light, shapes, reflections, I am usually startled, excited, awash with a sense of the miracle of the scene. And I become consumed with figuring out how to create the photograph that will convey the fullness of my constructed still life. And while I realize the scene does include a mood and feelings, it isn’t about a memory or a particular story. Instead, these images describe a new experience for me, one that includes living with grief – through beauty.

On-Kyeong Seong: Embedment is on view in the Kingston Main and Center Galleries and Vaughn Sills: Inside Outside is on view in the Kingston Project Space February 5 through March 1, 2020. An opening reception will be held on Friday, February 7, 5-8pm. There also will be a Cupcakes & Conversation with the Artists event on Saturday, February 22, 2020, 3-5pm, with artists’ talks at 3:30pm.

Walker and Emmerson On View

In the Center Gallery, Kingston Gallery associate member Anne Sargent Walker is showing mixed media paintings in an exhibition titled Can We Bear It, which asks us to consider our impact on the environment. In a discussion about her work I asked her the few questions:

The layers are peeking through in most, but in some, as in Here So Briefly, entire cityscapes appear in the distance. What do you imagine is behind the lush greenery and nature that is slowly dripping away? What do you imagine will remain?

My paintings are about the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our natural world. The abraded surfaces, or places where other imagery peeks thru the foliage as in Here so Briefly simply imply that all is not as simple as it looks- that we have taken a toll on this earth and that habitat is being destroyed, the planet is heating up, species are dying out. The collaged images are just man made spaces, altered, that have impacted nature around them. I don’t want to hit people over the head with depressing images or didactic ones- I just want people to see beyond the main imagery in the painting, and perhaps think about our relationship to these places and other species.


What are the species you are working with in this series? Are you working from photographs? Can you describe your process while working in the studio as you are painting these works?

I have almost exclusively used birds as my metaphor for all of nature. I love them, they are small enough to paint actual size, and they are powerful symbols of loss in our world. There are 3 billion less of them in the skies than there were 30 years ago! Many bird species are on the brink of extinction. However, I do paint other animals: deer and fox mostly. One of the paintings for this show I did recently when I heard that a White tailed Buck had crashed through the plate glass window of a beauty salon in Long Island, scattering patrons, and then exited through the broken window. It was amusing in ways, but then I thought our world has become so small or overpopulated that the intersection between wild animal and human activity has become

My method is usually subtractive, in that I paint in layers but never cover everything up. As I paint over layers I decide what to let peak through or to remain in entirety. Many times the bottom layers are acrylic paint that I slather or pour on with no rhyme or reason except to get the surface covered. Subsequent layers may be either acrylic or oil, but the final detailed images, namely the birds, are in oil. In the hand series I use pencil.

In a conversation with artist and Kingston gallery member Susan Emmerson about her show, Tears Along the Edge in the Project Space, I ask her about the process and materials used in her unique approach to art making:


There is a visceral reaction to the Hundreds Still Missing form, in its charred and melted form, that is quite different from the Tears Along the Edge work with its fragile form with hints of color. Have they been installed in the same space before? Is there perhaps a conversation happening between the two and what does it mean for the viewer to be in-between them?

I will be interested to see the conversation that develops between the pieces, as they have never been shown together before.  In both I allude to the imagery of a devastated landscape and the profound feelings of loss of home and community triggered by such scenes of destruction.  I explore the concept of solastalgia; a deep longing for a home or way of life that is forever altered by environmental change, and a similar though not perfectly translatable term in Welsh, “hiraeth,” which describes a profound homesickness for a home to which to which one cannot return or that may never exist again.  My goal is not to preach to viewers about the science of climate change nor present a didactic map of the Florida coast but inspire them to perhaps contemplate the human emotional toll that the irreversibly changing natural environment will take on all of us.

I usually include this quote with my artist statements as it defines the motivation behind my work:

All art is here to prove, and to help one bear, the fact that all safety is an illusion

                                       – James Baldwin


What is your process in the studio working with the Tyvek? What types of tools do you use and processes do you go through to get the fragility in some of the work?

Tears Along the Edge is composed of about 40 separate units made of painted and molded Tyvek.  I painted sheets of Tyvek measuring 2-3 feet square with various acrylic colors the heated it so it curls in on itself, forming capsules with a white exterior and a painted interior surface.  I then take these and make openings in them with a wood-burning tool, exposing the painted interior and making them seem skeletal; fragile and exposed. (See photos)  I fix them to the wall with entomology needles, long thin pins usually used to impale dead insect specimens.

For Hundreds Still Missing I took black Tyvek and repeatedly melted and manipulated it to form the collapsed piles, then glued smaller pieces together to create the form of the final piece.  I coated it with gloss varnish to better define the details and augment the melted appearance.

Nat Martin: Studio Views is on view in the Kingston Main Gallery, Anne Sargent Walker: Can We Bear It is showing in the Center Gallery and Susan Emmerson: Tears Along the Edge is on view in the Kingston Project Space through February 2, 2020. An opening reception for all is Friday, January 3, 5-8pm. Special event: Open Mic Poetry Night with Lewis M., Friday, January 10, 2020, 7:00-9:00 pm

Musings by Artist Nat Martin


When discussing the upcoming exhibition, Studio Views, with Kingston Gallery member artist Nat Martin, I raised several questions about his process and work. Below are fragments of his responses to everything from the overall theme of the work to why he makes the work he does:


The overall theme is one of worry and anxiety as it relates to climate change.  Late at night in 2018 and 2019 I had been listening to podcasts about climate change.  It was often literally the last thing I was doing before going to sleep and I think of these photos as being like scenes from a nervous dream.

I was creating views from imagined satellites or probes that could be looking for a safe home on alien worlds.  Some suggest a violent, hostile future earth.  For me, they all suggest a moment of exploration or discovery: the discovery of more and more unaccommodating and strange places.



At one point I was going to include looping videos in the show, but I ended up switching directions, but they were so much fun to make I kept making them.  I had a number of outtake photographs that I ended up liking as animations rather than photographs.

I started thinking of them as video feeds from far-away places and planets.  I placed them in television screens because of the photograph Transmission, which suggests a house illuminated by a glowing TV screen.  I was imagining a distant event that someone might be watching.


Almost everything was shot in my studio.  They are photos of small, constructed spaces.  I tried to avoid the use of any model making materials and instead used found materials and copious amounts of glue, sand, paint, etc.. Then I would take pictures with exposures of 30-60 seconds in very low light.  Many were created on Plexiglass so I could then light them from below, suggesting something volcanic.  I would then edit in Photoshop.




The images above shows the set up for Sea Tubes and the final image.

It is a Plexiglass sheet raised up on boards.  Coating the top is a crackled mixture of house paint, glue and sand.  A lamp is shining from above.  The tubes were created by putting a blob of hot glue on a rock that I quickly dropped into ice water.  The glue stretched until the water hardened it, then I glued them to the Plexiglass.

This was one of many that I intended to look underwater.  I had read an article about the possibility of a probe breaking through the ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa and exploring an alien sea- it conjured up all sorts of visions. To see more process images and GIFs go to

Nat Martin: Studio Views is on view in the Kingston Main Gallery, Anne Sargent Walker: Can We Bear It is showing in the Center Gallery and Susan Emmerson: Tears Along the Edge is on view in the Kingston Project Space through February 2, 2020. An opening reception for all is Friday, January 3, 5-8pm.




Speaking with the Artists: Stacey Cushner and Linda Leslie Brown

Cushner _ Intangible Aspects of the Forest color pencil on paper 24 x 26 inches 2015


A discussion with gallery artist Stacey Cushner about her exhibition, Intangible Aspects of the Forest:

Your work has a sense of wonder to it and you speak of feeling that wonder as a child taking a walk. Can you describe the place or walk where you first decided to make artworks about trees and the woods?

The idea of drawing trees, which I find magnificent in form and in values, came to me when I was walking through the Back Bay Fens which is right up against the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston where I used to teach drawing.  Frederick Law Olmsted planned out this park as part of the City’s Emerald Necklace green space.  The design of this space and the varied old trees are still extraordinary. I would invite my students to spend time there and draw. I took many photos with my phone and started drawing in graphite.

Inspiration from old single color drawings by Millet and others brought the idea of drawing trees with using just blues – these older drawings were not in blues but in reds.  I was interested in using the different values in blues to create a realistic effect.  In art, you have to try different things to see what can come of your creations. Watercolors in blue and blue pencil didn’t work for me, but working with all different colors in blue pencil did.  I also discovered The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben and other current books to try to understand my attachment to woodlands and forests.  I realize now that it comes from a childhood place, this tiny woodland I used to frequent, where I observed plants, trees and changes in nature up-close.  It drove my imagination in a creative sense.

Cushner _ Infinite Immensity color pencil on paper 22 x 33 inches (2015)

The color blue is so unusual but captivating. What was the impulse to create these cool, blue environments?

The blues I use range from quite dark ultramarine blues to green phthalo blues that are vibrant.  Drawing this way comes from the value scale that is commonly used in art. Blues are calming and give others, I hope, a sense of tranquility also. When combined with greens, it also signifies growth and renewal.  Blue is a symbol of strength, trust and wisdom.

Blues are a favorite of mine. I pay attention to set designs and films to see how magical blue trees can be.  When the protagonists go through the wardrobe in the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the blue trees against a white, winter background really stops you in your tracks.  It’s awe and wonderment at its best. I had the same response with the movie “Tomorrowland” where stunning blue trees are depicted at the end of the movie – it’s a hopeful ending.

Also showing in the Project Space, gallery artist Linda Leslie Brown shares her thoughts on her exhibition Survival Mode:

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The sculptures you create have a sense of agency, where they become newly formed creatures. Can you describe your process in making one and where you find your materials?

My sculptures are composed of parts. Some are made from ceramic clay slab and coil forms; some are cast in plaster, and many are found objects made of plastic, ceramic wood, metal, rubber, foam, fiber, or shell, or fungus. My husband and our dog help me find things on their long rambles through the city, but some parts such as the vinyl tubes are sourced in hardware stores or on Ebay. The assemblage process is at least partly aleatory, improvisational, a bit like cooking. There is a lot of tasting as I go. I have a studio arsenal of glues, silicones, paperclay, epoxies, screws and wires. Sometimes it’s necessary to break a piece apart to expose a certain quality in the materials, and then I’ll begin again. Usually, I’m looking for an element of energy or balance that unites all the different parts with a sense of purposefulness, or of belonging together in their accumulation.

The imaginative hybrids you create have a speculative nature. What are your influences?

Your choice of the word “speculative” seems apt. In one sense, my sculptures’ hybridity gives them a decidedly queer quality: of being in a trans state, of having fluid identity, of being un-formed. That fits in well with a lot of current theories I suppose. I’ve always admired work by artists whose pieces seemed capable of changing into something else the next time you saw them.

I can definitely agree that they embody a quality of being “putative, hypothetical, conjectural, suppositional and based on guesswork.” Another definition of “speculative” works pretty well here too: “uncertain, chancy, and involving a high risk of loss.” Those are some things that keep me interested in a work of art. I see those qualities in the works of Hesse, Bourgeois, Mendieta, Benglis, Voulkos and Ewen Henderson among many others.

Stacey Cushner: Intangible Aspects of the Forest is on view in the Kingston Main and Center Galleries and Linda Leslie Brown: Survival Mode is on view in the Kingston Project Space through December 29, 2019. An opening reception for both is Friday, December 6, 5-8pm.

Solitary by Joan Baldwin

Baldwin_OK, no problems

When viewing the work in the Project Space at Kingston Gallery by member artist Joan Baldwin, one is very conscious of being watched. This installation of paintings moves between the feeling of a guard looking into a cell to a sense of looking out windows towards strange and imaginative vistas. The impulse for making the work is just that, as Baldwin intended it is “to have a person in a cell, confined and imagining scenarios out the windows.” The painting, Interior Door, sets the scene and evokes a prison door with a guard peering in. The effect of the work being installed in the white walled space is to create an imaginary and dreamy space. Baldwin states that, “a few people commented that the eyes looking in looked like my eyes, so maybe I was monitoring myself and checking in on my imaginative visual thoughts.”

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The Project Space at Kingston Gallery is a place for member artists to explore new ideas and to present new and in-progress bodies of work. Baldwin is know for her fantastical landscapes, using characters derived from ancient Roman statuary and gargoyles in her last show, but for this exhibition she wanted to take the opportunity to experiment with something new. Using the entire space for an installation was another idea Baldwin had in mind when creating this work. The Project Space was a good fit for this and the resulting work created “a place where the imagination can rule, and a metaphor for someone going a little crazy,” says Baldwin.

Ann Wessmann: Gathering: An Homage is on view in the Kingston Main and Center Galleries and Joan Baldwin: Solitary is on view in the Kingston Project Space through December 1, 2019.

An Interview with Artist Ann Wessmann

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How did you come to making work about trees? What was the initial impulse?

To start at the beginning, I grew up in Scituate, a small sea coast town, in a family who valued the handmade object.  Our home was on a corner, with a hedge and 17 trees, which provided a cozy existence. In the summer we went to the beach most days, and there was one particular beach near us that had the most beautiful stones, which we collected. That was probably the beginning of my love of nature and of the observation/collection habit.

 My parents were curious people and when they wondered about how weaving worked, one thing led to another, and my father wound up designing and building a loom for my mother.

When I went off to college, the weaving studio, housed in a beautiful Victorian carriage house, caught my eye and imagination.  I fell in love with weaving and fiber art.  After graduate school I began a 40 year career, teaching in the fibers area of the 3-Fine Arts Department at MassArt. In October of 1981, I travelled with 5 faculty and 70 students to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, where for 5 days we made works mainly outdoors in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Deer Isle, Maine. This annual MassArt trip to Haystack, which became in a way a pilgrimage, had a profound effect on me.   It initiated my love for making work out of natural materials in the environment.

While my studio practice does not always include natural materials, it is always material based, and materials are chosen for their expressive potential with an overarching theme of conveying the fragility and strength of humanity and the natural world.

Over the years I have continued to collect natural materials and have spent much time collecting, cleaning, sorting, combining and developing large and small pieces.  About ten years ago in the fall, while in Scituate, at my home which was passed down to me, I came upon some horse chestnut twigs with bright orange tips.  They had fallen from one of two horse chestnut trees in the yard and I found them incredibly beautiful and very calligraphic.  From my early childhood, we always collected the beautiful horse chestnuts in the fall, but somehow the twigs were not something that I ever really paid attention to, despite the fact that I have been caring for the yard for a long time. I immediately started collecting them, and have continued to collect them year after year.  It took me about five years to be ready to make a piece. After much sampling, I decided to make a piece called Poem for my old Horse Chestnut Trees as a way to honor the trees that have stood in the yard for so long, and in fact may have been already old when we moved to Scituate in 1953. One of the horse chestnut trees has since died, as have many of the 17 original trees on the property, and also my parents and brother have passed away. In many ways the work is about parallel life cycles and honors not only trees, but my family as well.  A year ago in the fall, when I was doing my annual gathering of twigs, I started to become interested in the chestnut hulls or husks, and then the leaves caught my attention.  I started to collect them as well (this may be an obsession), and just as I said to myself “at least I am not collecting the leaf stems”, all of a sudden they became fascinating as well. It was around this time that I decided to make a body of work focusing on the gathering process, honoring the horse chestnut trees, and in some way all trees, for their value in our personal lives as well as their immeasurable value to the planet.

The pieces in the Center Gallery, Homage to the Linden Tree #1 and Homage to the Linden Tree #2 came about in a similar way.  The Linden tree is growing in a school yard directly behind my urban backyard in Dorchester.  Around 6 years ago while working in my garden I came upon a small leaf that had deteriorated, and was partially skeletonized.  I thought it was quite beautiful and I thought it would be interesting to find more of these leaves and to skeletonize them. I investigated in the school yard and found the tree and discovered that the leaf was really a bract. In the spring the flowers develop on a stem on the bract and later a nut is produced on that stem. I had been looking at this tree out my kitchen window and behind a pine tree for about 40 years. It is so interesting to me, what we notice and what we don’t. Eventually I skeletonized several hundred of these bracts and made an ethereal hanging installation for a show Earth to Heaven at Spoke Gallery.

Again, these linden tree pieces are meant to honor a tree that has been in my life and provided beauty in an urban environment for a long time, but it has been only in the last six years that I have gotten to know and appreciate it on a deeper level.  In an unfortunate turn  of events, this past July as I worked on this piece, I learned that the linden tree along with my beloved pine tree is slated to be cut down in order to expand the school parking lot. I am hoping that this doesn’t happen.

17.Wessmann_Homage to the Linden Tree #1 - detail 4

There is a meditative quality to the work. Is that part of your process when making it?

I come from a textile background and have a textile sensibility in most of the work that I do.  Many textile processes have a meditative component to them.  Weaving in particular, generally builds up row by row in a rhythmic, repetitive and often meditative way.  In other processes such as knitting, crochet and embroidery surfaces are built up stitch by stitch, and so gathering twigs, hulls, or bracts one by one is similar.  I find the process of picking up an object, observing its particular qualities and beauty and then picking another and another and another to be very satisfying and meditative. I am quite focused during this process, although at some points the process evolves into the absurd when I realize just how much material I need to gather in order to create the piece that I have envisioned.

Once the materials have been gathered, a system is developed for the production of each piece.  For example, in Gathering #1, most of the horse chestnut hulls or husks were cleaned, scrubbed with a tooth brush , rinsed, dried and then two holes were drilled in each hull, and the hulls were then threaded onto 12 foot strands of waxed linen thread. Eventually 48 strands were built over a long period of time.  The process itself is a kind of meditation.

18.Wessmann_Gathering#1 Installation photo

How do you want the viewer to experience the work? What do you want them to walk away with after the encounter?

This exhibition is an homage to trees.  The main gallery pieces are poems to horse chestnut trees that have been in my life for 67 years.  The two center gallery pieces are an homage to a linden tree that I have seen out my kitchen window for 40 years.  The materials used are ordinary, often overlooked, raked up and thrown away, but to me they are beautiful and they perform an important function in the life and propagation of trees.  I have tried to create an atmosphere of ephemeral beauty for the viewer, a place where, especially in the center gallery viewers can participate in the piece, and hopefully feel enveloped in a peaceful place. There is so much beauty in the natural world, and while it is strong, it is also fragile.

Ann Wessmann: Gathering: An Homage is on view in the Kingston Main and Center Galleries and Joan Baldwin: Solitary is on view in the Kingston Project Space through December 1, 2019.