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September 22, 1999. All rights reserved.

Behind the Scenes: A Curator’s Vision

by Nicole Plett

Set in a grassy corporate park overlooking an expansive

artificial lake, the Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb has long been

a place where corporate employees and area artists have rubbed

shoulders.

For over a decade, the gallery has provided a haven of sorts, for

engaging, thought-provoking exhibitions by a spectrum of artists,

both prominent and lesser-known, many of whom live and work in New

Jersey. The remarkable personality behind the shows and their

sensitive

installation has been Pamela Vevers Sherin, curator of the gallery

since 1988. A woman with an eye for art and a knack with people, she

earned the respect of her professional peers even as she earned the

affection of the area art community.

Having determined to escape from the routine world of work before

age 70, Sherin retired from Bristol-Myers Squibb last June, just one

month before the watershed birthday. As a woman of some elegance who

had long preferred to gloss over the matter of her chronological age,

Sherin admits that she was surprised to hear herself broadcasting

it generally to her many fellow employees who, she says, seemed

indignant

that she was moving into retirement "so soon."

"So soon," has proved the right time for Sherin, a

self-described

"workaholic" who has already launched her retirement

activities.

One year ago, Sherin joined the board of Artworks, a volunteer job

she expects to keep her closely involved with her art community. Among

the more enjoyable aspects of her mission is the class she will be

taking with artist Margaret K. Johnson. She is also working as a

consultant

for Bristol-Myers Squibb on its upcoming show, "Theater of the

Night: Films and Dreams, 1900 to 2000." Yet Sherin was recently

surprised by an enforced idleness when, completing her annual summer

holiday on Cape Cod with her children and grandchildren, she slipped

and broke a wrist. Unable to drive for six weeks, she caught up on

reading, movies on video, as well as the Yankee season on television.

The living room of Sherin’s Lawrenceville home is crowded with art

of all kinds — but most particularly the work of her art mentors.

A number of large oils by her brother, artist Tony Vevers, hang high

in the two-story vaulted space. A series of diminutive pots by Toshiko

Takaezu are ranged along the mantle, above a wooden sculpted figure

that stands on the hearth, brought back from Easter Island by her

father.

Holding pride of place is a relief portrait of Sherin created by

George

Segal, the American artist for whom she has modeled for 25 years.

"That’s me," she announces, in case there was any doubt.

"George

gave me that on my 60th birthday. I was posing for him and he said,

`Oh Pam. I’m going to do your head again.’" The calm, mask-like

face looks out from a support created from a piece of a weathered

door, its peppermint green and white paint peeling down to raw,

weathered

wood. The clapboard is a memento, she says, of her youthful years

in the theater in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Photographs are also here in abundance, primarily photographs by or

of family members. There are paintings by other members of her

extended

art family, including niece Tabitha Vevers, and a plethora of colorful

crafts from around the world. Surrounding the fireplace, for instance,

can be found a red and white flower- basket baby quilt nestled near

a bright, geometric rug from Yemen, beside a large African woven

basket.

Dominating the room is a homey, well-worn,

eight-foot-long

leather couch. Purchased in England more than 40 years ago, and now

scattered with colorful handwoven pillows and at least two knitting

projects in progress, the mother of three sons notes with obvious

pride, "I can’t tell you how many boys have slept on this

couch."

"Weaving, sewing, and knitting are all things that have been part

of my life. My mother did them, and I think that’s a very important

part of what I want to do as I retire," says Sherin. Being unable

to knit was the worst aspect of her summertime wrist injury.

"I must have started using my mother’s sewing machine when I was

about six. I just loved it. She sewed and made things all the time

and I think that is one of my connections with her. She knitted, and

she also had a loom in the living room. So I think all of that is

part of my background — color, and someone creating."

"The other through-line of my life is that I’ve always lived in

a circle of people who are doing creative things," notes Sherin.

"My brother started drawing and painting when he was very, very

young." Trained at Yale and in Italy, Tony Vevers became both

an artist and a professor of art.

"I’ve stayed close to my brother and I’ve learned a tremendous

amount from him. I remember him dragging me into a New York gallery

where we saw Motherwell’s first show — it must have been in the

early ’50s. I said to him, `Tony, look at what a weird name, `mother’

and `well.” And he said, `Look at this and remember it, because this

is what it’s all about.’" (As her life unfolded, Sherin eventually

became goddaughter to Motherwell’s daughter, Lise, whom she calls

her "surrogate daughter.")

The Vevers’ childhood, which was to be abruptly ended by World War

II, was in itself extraordinary. Her father, Geoffrey Vevers, trained

as a medical doctor, became director of the London Zoo, before going

on to found the Whipsnade Zoo. He was a liberal activist who forged

friendships with institutions in Soviet Russia. These included an

animal exchange program, the Anglo-Soviet Journal, and the Russian

Red Cross.

The Whipsnade Zoo was revolutionary in its own way in its day and

remains somewhat mythic in British animal-loving circles. The first

zoo to cast off the Victorian model of confining cages and concrete

boxes, it let animals roam in comparatively "natural"

environments.

It was the prototype for today’s big, ambitious safari parks.

As a young child, Pamela and her family lived in a house within the

zoo grounds, and in the late 1930s she was featured on her father’s

British television program riding baby elephants and Galapagos

tortoises.

Such whimsical activities came to an abrupt halt when war broke out

and Sherin’s mother died shortly thereafter. In 1940, at age 10,

Sherin

and her brother, then 14, became child evacuees, sent by their father

to Connecticut for safety. The topic remains a painful one for Sherin,

who was placed with several families, none of which proved a good

match. The dislocation left an indelible mark, and neither Pamela

nor her brother Tony reunited with their father or ever lived

permanently

in England again.

Sherin graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1951 and proceeded to Cape

Cod, together with friends from Bard College, where the group founded

the Orleans Arena Theater in Provincetown. This initiated her many

years of involvement with the American theater, and her enduring

affection

for Cape Cod, where her brother settled in a house that he bought

from Mark Rothko, and where she continues to take her holidays.

As a young adult, Sherin lived in New York for 11 years, supporting

herself and eventually her young family with a succession of jobs

that included working in the in-house advertising department of Helena

Rubenstein, and running a weekly television cooking show and a cooking

school in the Dakota for chef Dioni Lucas. She later earned the family

rent money by stitching pillows at home for weaver Jack Larsen, a

leader in the American craft movement who later help found the

American

Craft Museum in New York. "I made pillows and other things for

his showroom. I used to make the rent, actually, on the Upper West

side — $150 a month — just on my little cottage industry."

Her key job as a young adult was working as a stylist for photographer

Ben Someroff.

"I probably learned as much about visual experience from Ben

Someroff

as I did from anybody," she says. "He had a kind of

fineness

of visual requirements that I had to meet that made me really become

visual. He used to do incredible still-lifes — a crystal glass,

a vase, and a box — it would be an ad for whiskey or something.

He did sketches and I used to get all his props." The work

included

editorial photography, and ongoing series for Esquire magazine and

Harper Bazaar. "I booked the models and pinned them in. Always

having to do very exact work for him, I’ve always considered him a

very important part of my training."

During her New York years, Pamela married the

then-starving

actor Ed Sherin, who later became prominent in theater and television

(and the husband of actress Jane Alexander, former head of the

National

Endowment for the Arts).

Divorced after 20 years of marriage, Sherin’s three sons have been

at the center of her life, even as she pursued her own professional

path in the arts. Eldest son Tony Sherin is a film editor, married

to Amelia Jones, a Princeton High School graduate like himself and

a professor of art history at the University of California at

Riverside.

They are the parents of grandson Evan, with another baby due in

November.

Her second son Jonathan Sherin is an MD-Ph.D in neurology, currently

in residence at UCLA, and father of granddaughter, Hazel. And Sherin

still mourns her youngest son, Geoffrey Sherin, the owner-chef of

a Boulder, Colorado, restaurant, who died unexpectedly of a heart

attack in 1997.

In the early 1970s, Sherin worked as exhibition director at the

Hunterdon

Art Center. Toshiko Takaezu and George Segal were among the artists

she met there, both of whom became mentors and lifelong friends.

This was also when she began modeling for Segal. During their 25-year

friendship (rivaled only by her friendship with his wife, Helen),

she has served as a model for at least nine of his sculptures, as

well as for Segal’s more recent monumental portrait drawings, part

of the artist’s prolonged exploration of the Old Masters and

contemporary

reality, accessed by way of his Leica camera.

"My models are generally my good, old friends," Segal

explained

this week by phone from his home and studio in North Brunswick. "I

tend to choose people to whom I strongly respond, and especially those

who have a very active mental life of their own. And Pam is absolutely

one of them."

Among the prominent places where you will find Sherin, is seated,

cross-legged in Segal’s "Asian Picnic" of 1996. This

contemplative

work is comprised of three figures surrounded by dramatic Japanese

rock forms. An older (Sherin) and young woman face each other, seated,

while the observer, a self-portrait of Segal, stands watching them.

Sherin can also be found as the model on the cover of Segal’s lifetime

retrospective catalog by Marco Livingstone, "Woman Sitting on

a Bed," 1993, one of his more bleak but compassionate studies

of an older woman reminiscent of Edward Hopper. The bulk of that

woman,

Sherin is quick to note, was accomplished by Segal spreading his

bodycast

molds.

"With George, I feel that he looks into your eyes and he sees

something that he wants to do. Your eyes are one of the things that

don’t come out in the sculpture, but he truly knows. He doesn’t have

to say very much and you are able to find the pose and work with

him."

From Hunterdon, Sherin moved to Princeton as director of Barry

Snyder’s

second Princeton Gallery of Fine Art, a gallery on Spring Street that

specialized in works on paper. Six months after she moved here, the

single mother of three sons, the gallery burned to the ground, and

a period of "scrounging for jobs" ensued. That period ended

in 1988 when she joined what was then the Squibb Corporation.

"I always used to say that I serve two masters, the employees

and the outside community. The original Squibb gallery was founded

in 1972 and always had great support. After the merger with

Bristol-Myers,

the emphasis also fell on acquisitions for art in the workplace,"

she says. "It’s a great space. We didn’t always have all great

shows. But the space just makes things look good."

Ever modest, Sherin insists on attributing part of the success of

her exhibition program to the brilliant gallery design. Opened in

1972, under the aegis of the department of public affairs, the gallery

was part of the original architectural design by H.O.K. of St. Louis.

"It’s incredibly well designed with movable panels, all set out

on a grid," Sherin explains. The panels provide the flexibility

of numerous small areas, or the kind of open panorama she designed

for one of her favorite shows, "Toshiko Takaezu: 1989-1990."

Sherin met Toshiko at the Hunterdon Art Center in 1972 where she was

a member of the board of trustees.

"Toshiko has been a mentor to me," says Sherin today. "Her

whole sense of esthetics has had a deep influence on me. Not in any

specific art piece, but in seeing things in a larger way." For

the 1990 show, Sherin selected Moon Pots and some of Toshiko’s

earliest

"Ka-Hua," enormous upright forms that have become her

signature.

"We opened up the gallery space completely without panels,"

Sherin recalls. The ceramic vessels were set in low enclosures of

sand or stones on the gallery’s brick floors. "You looked at her

work and then there was this panorama outside the windows of the trees

and sky. It was quite beautiful."

Another personal highlight of Sherin’s 10-year curatorship was an

exhibition of treasures from the tiny town of Canajoharie, New York,

home to a baby food company whose founder was an art collector who

willed his collection to the town. When the Canajoharie Library and

Art Gallery applied to Squibb for renovation funds, Sherin was invited

into its store rooms to select any works she wanted for exhibition.

"I went there and found Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase,

Edward Hopper — it was breathtaking. I was so taken away, I picked

30 pieces, and I didn’t even think about the insurance. We called

the show `From Homer to Hopper’ — we had eight Homer watercolors.

It was just amazing. I could hardly sleep when it was up, I was so

nervous about it."

Another memorable show was initiated by Edward Steichen’s

granddaughter.

An avid fan of "Family of Man" — the photography show

developed and curated by Edward Steichen in the 1950s — Sherin

was thrilled to host the show, comprised of a collection of

photographs

and paintings by and of Steichen. Also included were pictures of

several

generations of the Steichen family. "To me it was very

touching,"

says Sherin. "When I took the job, I didn’t know that I was going

to run into these marvelous situations."

Prior to retirement, Sherin also wanted to honor her friend and mentor

George Segal with an exhibition, and the result was the unique

two-artist

show, "Father and Daughter: George and Rena Segal," of March,

1998, a show that attracted more than 500 guests to the opening

reception.

This was a show in which Segal, in his own words, "ruefully"

welcomed his artist-daughter "into the fold."

Other highlights would include the crowd of over 150 that gathered

on a weekday afternoon last March to hear Robert Fagles read from

Homer’s "Odyssey," in conjunction with the theme show by 26

members of the Princeton Artists Alliance.

Sherin also points to show of work by employees and their children,

and a series of shows on aspects of the pharmaceutical industry that

are part of her mission. The latter category has included a show on

the art of AIDS awareness and an exhibition of art by Alzheimer’s

patients.

As curator of art in public areas of the sprawling Bristol-Myers

Squibb

facility, Sherin says there were times when she felt as if she was

working in human resources rather than public affairs. "The

interaction

with the people was so very personal," she says. "I was

touched

by it." Most appreciative were the employees working in the

cubicles

who tended to love the work she hung — unless they hated it. In

the latter case, Sherin says she invariably replaced the offending

work.

Sherin says that intense employee interest kept her job interesting,

a fact that was reinforced when she was stopped in the supermarket

just days ago by a former fellow employee unhappy about the fact that

the gallery has been bare all summer long. Members of the art public

have also expressed concern that activity at the gallery seems to

have stopped. The program is in transition, however, and a new exhibit

is set to open November 7. "Theater of the Night: Film and Dreams,

1900 to 2000," marks the centennial of the publication of Freud’s

"Interpretation of Dreams," with a show illustrating how

dreams

appear in American film.

Says Becky Taylor, director of community affairs, "Pam’s guidance

of the gallery has been invaluable, and we remain committed to the

gallery program. But there are going to be some changes. We are taking

a step back and looking at the program. How it will be configured

in the future remains to be seen. However Bristol-Myers Squibb’s

commitment

to the arts remains strong."

Admitting that she’s happy to be relieved of the pressures of planning

year-round shows, Sherin says this feeling of relief can be fleeting,

nonetheless. "Of course I still think of shows that need to be

done. But where will I do them?"

Theater of the Night: Films and Dreams, 1900 to 2000,

Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Route 206, 609-252-6275.

Opening

reception is Sunday, November 7, from 3 to 5 p.m., for the show that

continues to December 12.

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My father was very left wing and was very involved. Paul Robeson Jr.

went to King Alfred School when my brother and I were there.

In the years that followed, Lise Motherwell became, in Sherin’s words,

"a surrogate daughter." With her bother in Provincetown she

also met the late Richard Bellamy, one of New York’s most highly

regarded

and mercurial dealers, who died last year.

I met him when I was working at the Hunterdon Art Center. But my

brother

is a painter and he knew my brother. So as soon as he met me. we had

his work in a show called "Curator’s Choice." We have a joint

group of friends, some from NJ and some from NY. The first time I

sat for him I still lived in Hunterdon county. That was over 20 years

ago. And after I moved to Princeton I saw them more and more; and

Helen and I are really good friends.

Posed for about nine pieces. Now he’s drawing. He takes photographs.

I’ve been in drawings. It was in the Janis Gallery and it sold to

some unknown person.

Retirement gift: Huge facsimile of the cover of Art in America —

June 1999. Pamela Vevers Sherin as the Mona Lisa "Special

Collectors’

Edition."

Married Ed Sherin, "a starving actor" at the time. 20 year

marriage.

Niece Tabitha Vevers, also an artist.

I’m very influenced by George Segal and his relationship with Sydney

Janis is so interesting, and hearing George talk about Sydney is

really

interesting. There’s a purity to Sydney Janis that there just isn’t

in dealers any more.

Castelli didn’t want to deal with the Rothkos or the Motherwells

because

they were already there. he wanted to bring along people who were

absolutely new.

Segal in his studio. he now has drawings on every wall. he’s put up

plasterboard and it goes all the way around. he’s been very ill again.

as he recovered, he couldn’t’ do his sculpture, so he’s been drawing

an awful lot. but he’s done about four since he’s been better. (since

March) combination of diabetes and multiple melanoma. hospitalized.

Helen had been ill, too.

He has a lot to overcome and he never stops working. Rena is doing

really good work again. The day that I realized that I was going to

tell them that i was going to resign was on the weekend. I woke up

on Monday morning and thought — I’ll never have to do another

show!

(Yes, we did a count for everything; had a gallery sitter with a

clicker.

BMS required reports every Friday by every person who has a program.

I felt it always presented a good case.)

"I love crafts — I know I’m supposed to love fine arts, but

I love crafts. One of George Segal’s criticisms of me — he doesn’t

criticize me often — he says I’m very taken with the method and

the technique of art, and sometimes maybe don’t notice the other

visual

things."

Knitting on the couch. a sweater for one of her sons, a child’s cotton

dress, and a baby blanket for the grandchild-to-come.

"Breakout: New Works by the Artists of the Metheny School and

Hospital Arts Access Program," a revolutionary art training

program

for handicapped adults developed and directed by Tim Lefens.

Acquisitions but not for appreciation.

We certainly made an emphasis to have New Jersey artists. Because

of the employee questions, I was very aware of diversity. It was

important

to have Asian artists, African-American artists, and Native American

artists.

They spend a lot of money of art but there are a lot of offices.

Most significant shows?

Greenway show and Princeton Artists Alliance Odyssey show.

I was very gratified and very please that those shows were successful.

They were two organizations that I wanted to support.

D&R Greenway brought awareness of these resources to the community.

We did Peter’s Valley. at the same time of being very aware of the

quality of the work.

Lefens all the artists were there in wheelchairs. CBS News Eye on

America came in conjunction with the show.


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