By Talia Amorosano
In conjunction with the start of the last month of summer the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond House Gallery in St. James will host an exhibit devoted to the creative depiction of the nonhuman creatures who share our Earth.
Entitled Animals in Art — Our Partners on the Planet, the show kicks off with an artist reception on Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. The exhibit is juried and judged by renown art collector, Tim Newton, founder and curator of American Masters, a contemporary art exhibition and sale annually hosted by NYC’s Salmagundi Club. Prizewinners will be announced on opening day.
The exhibition will showcase 55 works by 39 artists from 16 states in a variety of media including pencil and ink, acrylic, oil, watercolor, bronze and pastel. Regardless of chosen medium or style, all of the works convey an appreciation for and attention to the unique lives and experiences of animals.
One of the 11 participating artists from Long Island is Sharon Way-Howard of Sayville, a frequent exhibitor at the Mills Pond House who describes her 36- by 30-inch watercolor painting of an osprey atop a sailboat, “A Perfect Perch,” as a work of art within her wheelhouse: “I tend to do a lot of marine-based art; birds, boats, shoreline creatures … I had done this piece a year and a half ago and it fit the description of the show perfectly.” She describes this particular painting as the result of her prolonged observation of one particular bird. “[My studio] overlooks a beautiful canal and there’s a sailboat two houses out from us,” she said. “That osprey comes almost every day and sits on that perch. I’ve observed him for many days and in order to help me with the painting I took many many photographs of him as well.”
Way-Howard, who was the first woman elected to hold the office of chair of the Art Committee of the Salmagundi Club, referred to juror Tim Newton as “an avid collector of art and sponsor of artists” who “really believes in the power of living artists.” She cited her work at the Salmagundi Club, plein air experience and bird-watching and boating-filled upbringing in Bay Shore as influences for her work.
To participating artist James Berger of Holtsville, the Animals in Art exhibit presented an opportunity to elicit artistic beauty from a deeply personal experience of loss. His 22- by 36-inch oil-on-panel painting of a wolf entitled “Twilight’s Preyer” was largely inspired by the death of Berger’s art teacher of over 15 years, Frank Covino, who resided in Vermont and had mastered the art of classical painting while working with the likes of Norman Rockwell. “[Frank] got sick and it bummed me out enough for a little over a year that I wasn’t doing anything art-wise at all,” said Berger. “It was depressing.”
When Berger received word of the Animals in Art exhibit, he initially wanted to submit an older piece, but eventually came to the conclusion that the piece would not be a good fit. This realization prompted him to begin work on his first new piece in over a year, inspired by an old photograph of wolves at a zoo. “I felt like something was pushing me into the exhibit,” said Berger. “You get this feeling like someone is looking over your shoulder — that’s how I felt — as weird as that sounds — throughout the entire creation of this piece … I feel when I back away and I look at that painting it was [Frank] through me and its him through me saying, ‘You can do it. You can totally do it’.”
As further homage to his instructor, Berger painted his piece in the classical style with a progression of layers: sketch, underpainting, painting and gesso. He also added marble dust to areas of the piece, bringing more texture, weight, novelty and value to his one-of-a-kind labor of love. “I personally enjoy the freedom of painting animals,” said Berger, who described the art of depicting wildlife as different from that of portraying people, who tend to be judgmental regarding images of themselves. In the immediate future, Berger plans to continue painting (largely in the classical style) and hopes to someday showcase his work in a local solo exhibit.
In addition to Sharon Way-Howard and James Berger, participating Long Island artists include Marlene Bezich (Middle Island), Maureen Ginipro (Smithtown), Donna Grossman (Smithtown), David Jaycox Jr. (Northport), Elizabeth Kolligs (Glen Cove), Jeanette Martone (Bay Shore), Dan McCarthy (Selden), Terence McManus (Mount Sinai) and Margaret Minardi (Northport).
Animals in Art — Our Partners on the Planet will be on view at the Mills Pond House Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James, from July 30 to Aug. 28. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For further information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.stacarts.org.