By Heidi Sutton
The lazy days of summer are still a few weeks away, but inside Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond Gallery the flowers are in full bloom, a warm breeze of salt air tickles your nose, and if you listen closely, you can hear the splashing of water in a pool. There are other sights and sounds as well as you travel from room to room throughout the first floor of the historic 1838 Greek Revival mansion — a Ferris wheel goes round and round at a carnival, children giggle as they play hopscotch on the sidewalk and waves softly lap at a fishing boat tied to a dock.
Now in its 40th year, STAC’s annual Juried Fine Art Exhibition is back with fervor. Aptly named A Summer Song, the colorful show, which runs through June 24, features over 50 original works of art by 45 artists depicting scenes relating to summer. And if one catches your fancy, it may just be available for purchase.
Artists were invited to submit “representational images of summer-related sights, activities, impressions, or atmosphere — as well as surrealistic or abstract evocations inspired by the subject” from “images of sun, sea, surf and verdure to a more melancholy awareness of summer’s last gasp, a prelude to fall.”
And much to the delight of STAC’s Executive Director Allison Cruz, the entries that poured in by local artists from Bay Shore, Brookhaven, Centereach, East Hampton, East Northport, Farmingdale, Hauppauge, Hempstead, Holbrook, Holtsville, Huntington Station, Commack, Montauk, Nesconset, North Babylon, Northport, Patchogue, Port Jefferson, Ridge, Rocky Point, Ronkonkoma, Setauket, Smithtown, St. James and Stony Brook were on point. Artists from as far as Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Vermont answered the call as well.
According to Cruz, a national show is good for a lot of reasons. “There’s so much talent here but I see it as an eye opening experience for [local artists] in a way for them to learn how to grow their art,” she said.
Chosen mediums run the gamut from oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor and pen and ink to paper lithograph, resin mix media and torn paper collage, stoneware and kiln-formed glass.
The exhibition’s juror was Carol Strickland, an art historian who contributes feature stories on visual art to Art in America magazine. Her articles on culture have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Art and Antiques, MOMUS and Private Journey magazine. The author of “The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern,” Strickland also writes a monthly column on art and politics for www.clydefitchreport.com.
“The excitement in this exhibit for me was having a juror who has never juried anything out [on the Island] before and whose credentials throw the exhibit into a whole different light,” said Cruz, adding, “There are a lot of new artists this year. [The juror] attracted a lot of new people.”
“It was a pleasure to see so many varied responses to the theme, which hit all the notes in terms of sensory and aesthetic interpretations,” said Strickland. “Some were so expressive and lively, I felt a jolt of energy, as if inhaling a big gulp of freshening wind from the seashore. Others captured a more tranquil or pensive mood, inducing contemplation of both summer’s joy and transience.”
Participating artists include Janet Amalfitano, Shain Bard, Jorus Beasley, Victoria Beckert, Marta Beltramo, Renee Blank, Jean Marie Bucich, Renee Caine, Kevin Casey, Frank Casucci, Carol Ceraso, Gerry Chapleski, Donna Corvi, Claudia Cron, Julie Doczi, Anna Franklin, Janice Gabriel, Vivian Gattuso, Maureen Ginipro, Jan Guarino, Katherine Hiscox, Paul Hitchen, David Jaycox Jr., Jim Kelson, Lynn Kinsella, Mary Lor, Jeanette Martone, Frederic Mendelsohn, Joseph Miller, Margaret Minardi, Debra Puzzo, Kate Rocks, Micheline Ronningen, Joseph Santarpia, Stacey Schuman, Kathee Shaff Kelson, Margaret Shipman, Roxene Sloate, Rosemary Sloggatt, Hannah Steele, Rita Swanteson, Alexandra Turner, Nicholas J. Valentino, Adriann Valiquette and Patty Yantz.
While finding the task difficult because “the level of technical skill in the entries was impressive,” Strickland eventually chose a first-, second-, and third-place winner along with three honorable mentions.
First place was awarded to “Summer on the Sidewalk,” pencil and ink on paper, by Jeanette Martone of Bay Shore; second place went to “Summer Bouquet,” acrylic on canvas, by Renee Blank of Holbrook; and “Eternize #3,” paper lithograph and mixed media by Claudia Cron from Connecticut, garnered third.
Honorable Mentions include “Driveway of the Artist,” oil, by Frederic Mendelsohn of Port Jefferson Station; “Sight,” charcoal on wood, by Hannah Steele from Massachusetts; and “Golden Grasses,” pastel, by Julie Doczi of Port Jefferson Station.
According to Strickland, she made her final decisions based on presenting “a wide array of different facets of the theme, to show images that varied in media, subject and style,” as well as looking “for works that aroused a response in me.”
For Cruz, Strickland’s presence was an important one for the gallery and the participating artists. “For me personally, it was an opportunity that fits into my line of thinking,” she said. “When I do a juried show and I’m hiring a juror, the point of it is to give the artists a different experience, a different opportunity to have someone with a different background to look at their work.”
For Strickland, the feeling was mutual. “In all cases, I appreciated each artist’s originality and individual approach to mark-making … and wish all entrants a satisfying future of art making.”
The Mills Pond Gallery, located at 660 Route 25A, St. James, will present the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Member Artist Showcase through June 24. The gallery is open Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.millspondgallery.org.
All images courtesy of Allison Cruz