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This article by Jamie Saxon was prepared for the October 20, 2004

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Art Inspired by Turkey Pot Pie

Plenty of artists find inspiration in nature. Others in beautiful

nudes. Potter/painter Judy Keenan found inspiration for her upcoming

show in a turkey pot pie. "After I put the pie in the oven, I drew

what was left on the counter – the pot, the leeks, the blue reflection

on the knife blade, and two leftover red potatoes. The next day I went

into the studio."

Her studio is a converted two-story, two-car garage that was tacked on

to her 1800 stone farmhouse in Newtown, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s by

the former owners. It is a muse unto itself, boasting shelves and

tables groaning with art books, half-squeezed tubes of acrylic paint,

glass jars of brushes, a woodworking bench, drawings tacked upon

easels, and two walls of windows that overlook pastoral Bucks County

acreage.

"The former owners must have been gardeners because the shelves

underneath those windows are the exact depth of seedling flats," says

Keenan. The original farm had 230 acres steeped in Revolutionary

period history. The infamous Doan brothers robbed the Federal Reserve,

located in Newtown at the time, and one of the brothers was captured

on the porch of the original farmhouse – disguised as a woman. "He

forgot to put on a bonnet," says Keenan, "and someone recognized him."

The view from the studio windows is an exquisite feast for an artist’s

eyes, with a lush lawn, a serene pool hugged by the purple blooms of

butterfly bushes, a garden gate Keenan fashioned from twigs and

branches, and a large tree under which Keenan – an artist in the

kitchen as well as in the studio – hosts elaborate al fresco dinners

for friends and family.

It is here in the studio that Keenan has created the three-dimensional

still lifes for her upcoming show, "Tables and Shelves; Needle and

Thread," which opens with a reception on Saturday, October 9, from 5

to 9 p.m. at Riverrun Gallery, 287 South Main Street, in Lambertville.

Each piece, which rests on table legs or a shelf, depicts a pastiche

of ordinary "found" objects, artfully arranged with a touch of whimsy.

"I think found objects have a compelling presence on their own," says

Keenan, adding that she believes the work in this show, which combines

painting, ceramics, woodworking, and draftsmanship, represents a

blending of her whole artistic life.

That artistic life began in New York, where Keenan grew up. "Central

Park West was my backyard," she says. Her father was a press agent for

the Group Theater as well as for the actress Katherine Cornell, and

then became vice president of publicity for United Artists. Her mother

worked later in life at the National Education Association. After

attending the High School of Music and Art, Keenan earned a BFA from

Cornell in 1962 and "half a master’s" from Columbia the following

year. She traces her success as a freelance art director and graphic

designer to her father, who secured a summer job for her while she was

in high school learning paste-up at the ad agency for United Artists.

She married and had two children, biking every day to her studio on

Bleecker Street, producing sales promotional materials, ads, and

catalogs for Manhattan ad agencies and for a documentary film company.

She and her family left the city when her husband’s work took them to

Society Hill in Philadelphia, where Keenan started painting full time.

They had a summer home in Stockton, and one year, finding Philly "cold

and unfriendly," they just stayed in Stockton through the winter, and

eventually found the house in Newtown.

Keenan attributes her introduction to pottery to a friend she met

through her children’s school. "She was holding a pottery class at the

Germantown Y and needed a third person to hold the class, which had a

minimum of three," says Keenan. "It was great fun." That great fun

translated into works that Keenan ended up showing at a gallery in

Chestnut Hill; in Rhinebeck, New York; and in the prestigious

Philadelphia Museum Craft Show. The piece that put her on the map was

"a crazy teapot with a house on the lid. The steam came out of the

chimney. A New York Times reporter covering Rhinebeck did a write-up

on it, and it ran with a photo." The thing caught on like wildfire,

and Keenan started making dozens and dozens of them, each with a house

custom-made from the photos that her clients sent to her. The

now-famous teapot was picked up by House Beautiful, the Chicago

Tribune, Newsday, Country Living, and Gourmet magazine. "I made

teapots for three years," Keenan says. "Be careful what you wish for."

She made all her own kitchenware, as well, and began to sell

functional pottery like plates and casseroles.

"In 1994, we were hit by a tremendous ice storm," Keenan says. "I was

out walking and noticed some wonderful wood. Some pieces were

handle-shaped, some were like legs. That’s when I began to make my

first teapots with legs made from natural branches. I simply

contributed the porcelain to go with the wood. One day I had a firing

that went bad. The lip of the teapot sagged, and I decided it looked

like a piece of Cubist art." She then went through an "art history"

period, creating her first three-dimensional still lives, inspired by

Cezanne, Matisse, Gauguin, and van Gogh.

These functional porcelain vessels with wood embellishments have won

the James Colavita award and prizes for three years in a row at the

Artsbridge annual show at Prallsville Mill. The pieces for "Tables and

Shelves" each incorporate a functional vessel. "Tables and shelves are

part of the everydayness of our lives," says Keenan. "They hold the

foods, the tools, the flowers, the ephemera. There’s life and dynamism

in these ‘nature mortes.’ And there’s function in my versions as well.

The porcelain vessel works. Put flowers, parsley, or leeks in it, and

the shelf or table is altered. It has a kintetic life just as the

original still life did when I discovered it in my kitchen." These

pieces also create an artistic marriage of wood, clay, and paint. "I

always felt there was something missing," says the artist. "Clay has

no draftsmanship; draftsmanship has no color; paintings aren’t

dimensional."

One piece in Keenan’s show that isn’t for sale seems the perfect

example of this integration of artistic media. "Workbench" is inspired

by her father who, she says, "was a skilled craftsman in wood and made

furniture in his spare time. As a child I helped him and learned what

to do. When my dad died, I went down to the basement of his house in

Cape Cod, where his workbench was. I gathered some of the tools – a

C-clamp, a plane, a folding ruler, a wrench. They gave me an intimate

sense of his work and mine. It drew me close to the good memories I

had of helping him work when I was a child."

The tools, represented by painted pieces of flat, cut-out wood, strike

a pose – a moment suspended in time – on an abstract workbench painted

to mimic Keenan’s own workbench in her studio. The functional vessel?

An old El Pico coffee can painted with a reflection of the tools. "The

coffee tin is a totemic object in artists’ studios," says Keenan.

"They hold nails, paintbrushes, everything." She points to the painted

wood "wrench," which bears the brand name Companion. "That says

everything, doesn’t it?"

— Jamie Saxon

Tables and Shelves, Needle and Thread, three-dimensional still

life works by potter/painter Judy Keenan and fiber art by embroiderer

Pat Klein. Riverrun Gallery, at the Laceworks, 287 South Main Street,

Lambertville. Through November 8. 609-397-3349.

Art in Town

Arts Council of Princeton, 102 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-8777. "A

Half Century of Art," an eclectic exhibit of works by Princeton

resident Jules Schaeffer. Although he works primarily in sculpture,

collage, and assemblage, almost all of the pieces are made from "found

objects." Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4

p.m. Through October 22.

Dynasty Arts, 20 Nassau Street, Unit F, 609-688-9388. The recently

opened Chinese antique and art gallery features a silk-screen series,

"Last Dynasty," oil and watercolor, and limited edition prints. Artist

and owner, Lu Zuogeng, combines Chinese brushwork with Western

watercolor. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and

Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street,

609-921-6748. "Princeton Recollects" exhibition was organized to

celebrate the accomplishments of the Princeton History Project. The

exhibition includes original letters, documents, and artifacts. Free.

Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

CG Gallery, 10 Chambers Street, Princeton, 609-683-1988. Exhibit by

Shelly Lependorf and Stan Shire. Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6

p.m. Through November 30.

Princeton Jewish Center, 435 Nassau Street, 609-921-0100. An exhibit

of abstract acrylic painting inspired by flowers and gardens by

Princeton resident Gilda K. Aronovic. Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to

5 p.m.; Friday until 3 p.m.; and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Closed

Saturdays. On exhibit through December 5.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-4377. Waldorf

Student Art Exhibition. Works are on display through October 31.

Area Galleries

Babbet Gallery, 120 Georges Road, New Brunswick, 732-828-5150. Group

exhibition featuring art work by the Princeton Artists Alliance in

honor of the gallery’s 20th anniversary. The alliance was founded in

1989 by artists seeking opportunities to exhibit as a group and to

offer educational events to the community. On view through November

19.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, 609-333-8511. "The Large

Print," a contemporary photography show by the members of Gallery 14.

Photographs are no less than 16 by 20 and some reach 50 inches.

Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment. Exhibit

through November 14.

Gold Medal Impressions, 43 Princeton Hightstown Road, West Windsor,

609-606-9001. Newly-expanded gallery of photographer Richard Druckman,

a freelance photographer for Associated Press. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Montgomery Center for the Arts, 124 Montgomery Road, Skillman,

609-921-3272. Annual juried show of works of art in oil, acrylic,

origami, watercolors, pastels, collages, prints, photographs, and wood

sculpture. Through November 21.

Peggy Lewis Gallery, Lambertville Public Library, 6 Lilly Street,

609-397-0275. Gretchen Altabef’s exhibit featuring photographs she

took at the largest memorial assembled after 911 in Union Square.

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.;

Friday 1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Through November

9.


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