A conversation with Alisandra Wederich brings to mind one of those deities with 10 arms and 20 hands. Indeed, if she had 10 arms, this set of hands would be creating art, that one would curate galleries, another one would promote New Jersey artists through social media, yet another set would launch a fund raising event for a beloved relative. But wait, she already is doing all this arts-related activity, and more.
Most recently, she has been collaborating with Mercer ARC’s Arctists Collective, working with ARC’s Eric Zimmerman, to curate an exhibit of paintings and mixed media by members of the Collective, creative individuals with disabilities, ranging from physical to cognitive. The exhibit opens Saturday, September 7, in the galleries at the Straube Center in Pennington, and runs through Wednesday, November 20. An opening reception on Friday, October 18, from 6 to 9 p.m., is free to the public and will feature live music and hors d’oeuvres.
Arctists Collective program is rooted in the Arts Access Program, which is grounded in the belief that self-expression through art can, and will, allow each artist to demonstrate that they are more than just a person with a disability. Founded in 2011, the Collective is a group of 60 or so artists who have not been trained in the formal sense, but rather, use art as a free form of expression.
Individuals who love to communicate to others through all forms of art, these artists are members of the Arc Mercer in one way or another. They come from the ARC’s different programs, including the Adult Resource Center, the Occupational Training Center, the Recreation Department, and the respite Program.
The Collective has exhibited in numerous venues around central New Jersey, including Grounds For Sculpture, UMDNJ’s Medical Science Building in Newark, the Princeton Bank Gallery in Lambertville, and the Princeton Public Library. For the last several years, the group has also participated in Art All Night at the Roebling Wire Works in Trenton.
“We’ve grown from a group of maybe 40 clients working as more of a hobby into 60-plus artists painting to earn paychecks and shows,” Zimmerman says. “We’ve had numerous shows since the programs started, all around the state, and have earned revolving spots in shows at UMDNJ in Newark. We recently began working digitally so I have begun to show the artists how to use PhotoShop and the Wacom tablet, again applying the Arts Access Program, just in a different medium. I typically curate, install, de-install all of shows, etc. We’ve also been asked by buildings around the area to decorate their halls. Our most recent show at the Princeton Public Library saw sales in excess of $1,500.”
It’s an excellent synergy between the Arctists Collective and the galleries at the Straube Center, which Wederich has managed for about three years. The Straube Center (pronounced STRAW-bee) is an office complex offering a unique exposure to the arts. Complete with two galleries and an outdoor sculpture garden, the center merges business and esthetics, and is able to operate the gallery without fees or commissions.
“This works very well for both artists and tenants, as it enables us to provide rotating exhibitions that tenants or their clients can purchase from, and at exceptionally low prices, since artists only need to consider their personal costs, and not the typical costs associated with showing,” Wederich says.
In the meantime Wederich is balancing her role at the Straube Center with her position as art director and co-founder of the Red Filter Fine Art Gallery on Bridge Street in Lambertville. Along with Forrest Old, the gallery was founded with the purpose of exhibiting fine art photography, and just this year has presented works by Stephen Perloff, Wendy Paton, and Bruce MacDougall. It has also included works by Old, as well Wederich’s own photography and mixed media works — photography transfers onto turtle shells and skulls of coyotes, deer, and dogs.
In her artist’s statement Wederich writes, “I am constructing taxidermy to create forms which evoke a sense of Victorian nostalgia and a commercialized sense of death, combined with modern photography transfer methods to produce a final work which encompasses the glamour of death and the dark experience and reality of death simultaneously.”
Getting to know Wederich a little better, you sense that making art was inevitable, considering that her father is artistic, and her great-grandfather was designer and watercolorist Gottlieb Wederich.
“My great-grandfather was especially known for his scenes from Maine,” she says. “But he also designed and crafted lamps and chandeliers, as well as iron works, such as fences and grills. He did it all himself, by hand.”
“Art seems to run in my family, but in particular I always compare myself to my great grandfather,” Wederich writes on her Facebook page dedicated to her great-grandfather. “He was an amazing man and produced some absolutely outstanding work. I feel like I fall short of many of his accomplishments, but he remains a role model in my life even though he is long deceased.”
Growing up in Belle Mead, Wederich couldn’t collect enough art supplies and was exploring photography with her SLR camera at around age 12, long before digital technology.
“I used to go on ‘photo safaris’ at the zoo with my father, who taught me how to use a telephoto lens,” she says.
Her father, whose main profession is statistical analysis and who currently works at UBS in New York City, was also a dabbler, enjoying many kinds of creative media.
“He did mostly painting and photography, but was also talented in medical illustration,” Wederich. “With photography, he did a lot of pets, birds, and fish. My aunt is also an art teacher, so it really does run in the family.”
Coming up through the Montgomery school system, Wederich remembers her middle school art teacher, Mrs. Sprout, as an “enthusiastic, out-of-the-box thinker.” Attending Montgomery High School, Wederich also remembers Ken Vieth, her art teacher, who included one of her pieces in his book, “Engaging the Adolescent Mind.”
“The cover of this book features these huge, 4 feet by 8 feet self-portraits his students made,” she says. “He has a reputation, locally, from those who have had him, of being full of creative projects. My older sister had him as a teacher, too.”
In 2009, Wederich graduated magna cum laude from Ramapo College of New Jersey, in Mahwah, receiving her bachelor’s degree in visual art with a K-12 art teaching certification. However, she came out of college at what was perhaps the abyss of the recession, when schools were cutting programs in the arts. The only job she could find was as a barista at the Thomas Sweet cafe in Skillman.
“I figured I’d rough it through until (I found work in my profession), plus Thomas Sweet was close to home; it’s a cafe environment, and I happen to love coffee and ice cream,” she says. “I helped found and build the gallery at their original location. At first, they were in the space that used to be Orfa’s, which had a lot of art events. They had this big wall in the back, and I suggested a gallery system there, convinced them to put it together. They installed it and took it with them when they moved.”
“I figured they must be more than content with the addition of art to their establishment,” she adds. “From there, I found the job post for my current position at Straube, and that’s where I’ve been since.”
Wederich found the position at the Red Filter Gallery through a posting on Craigslist about two years ago. Meeting Old for the first time, they realized that they balanced each other out perfectly.
“Forrest knew little about running a gallery; he had a business background,” Wederich says. “I had no business background, but all kinds of gallery experience. Since then, since March in fact, I’ve also joined with the Hopewell Valley Arts Initiative. I searched online and they had no social media, no website, which is an area of expertise for me. I contacted them and have been running their social media.”
“I’m also running a community for artists online,” she says. “In March, 2011, I started NJ Artists on Facebook (www.facebook/NewJerseyArtists). I realized that I was not the only person with an arts degree (who was struggling). It’s a place where we share news of exhibitions, opportunities, anything arts related. It started out with just me and my friends, and has grown into a community of 900 people.”
When asked about her influences, Wederich laughs, saying there are far too many to name them all. However, whittling things down, she notes recent influences including the literary — English writers Jeff Noon and Neil Gaiman, science fiction author C.S. Friedman, celebrated short story writers Edgar Allen Poe and Jorge Luis Borges, and American writer Steven Chbosky — and the visual — her late cousin Avery Jane Fey, photographers Luca Norbiato and Anka Zhuraleva, fantasy-inspired artists Robert Kraiza and Bao Pham, American sculptor Clifford Ward, and fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
She is also fascinated with the works of Tarsem Singh Dhandwar and says, “OK, technically he’s a movie director, but it’s his attention to visual detail in his movies that I love, films like ‘The Fall,’ ‘The Cell,’ and ‘Seven.’ He worked on all these movies, and they are visually stunning, while also embracing many of the same dark themes my work is concerned with.”
“I just have so many inspirations,” Wederich says. “Sometimes it’s tough working in a gallery. I’m inspired by so many artists and I see new artists’ work daily.”
Arctists Collective Exhibit, Straube Center, 1 Straube Center Boulevard, Pennington. Saturday, September 7 through Wednesday November 20. Opening reception Friday, October 18, 6 to 9 p.m. 609-737-3322.
For more information on the Arctists Collective: www.arctistscollective.virb.com. For more information on the Straube Center: www.straubecenter.com. Alisandra Wederich on the Web: www.alteredaesthetic.com.