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The following article was published by U.S. 1 Newspaper on
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
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
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
that she was moving into retirement "so soon."
"So soon," has proved the right time for Sherin, a
"workaholic" who has already launched her retirement
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
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
Holding pride of place is a relief portrait of Sherin created by
Segal, the American artist for whom she has modeled for 25 years.
"That’s me," she announces, in case there was any doubt.
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,
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
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
Dominating the room is a homey, well-worn,
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
"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
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"
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
Such whimsical activities came to an abrupt halt when war broke out
and Sherin’s mother died shortly thereafter. In 1940, at age 10,
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
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
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
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
"I probably learned as much about visual experience from Ben
as I did from anybody," she says. "He had a kind of
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
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
actor Ed Sherin, who later became prominent in theater and television
(and the husband of actress Jane Alexander, former head of the
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
They are the parents of grandson Evan, with another baby due in
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
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
reality, accessed by way of his Leica camera.
"My models are generally my good, old friends," Segal
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
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
Sherin is quick to note, was accomplished by Segal spreading his
"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
From Hunterdon, Sherin moved to Princeton as director of Barry
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
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
"Ka-Hua," enormous upright forms that have become her
"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
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
and paintings by and of Steichen. Also included were pictures of
generations of the Steichen family. "To me it was very
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
show, "Father and Daughter: George and Rena Segal," of March,
1998, a show that attracted more than 500 guests to the opening
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
As curator of art in public areas of the sprawling Bristol-Myers
facility, Sherin says there were times when she felt as if she was
working in human resources rather than public affairs. "The
with the people was so very personal," she says. "I was
by it." Most appreciative were the employees working in the
who tended to love the work she hung — unless they hated it. In
the latter case, Sherin says she invariably replaced the offending
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
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
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?"
Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb
reception is Sunday, November 7, from 3 to 5 p.m., for the show that
continues to December 12.
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
and mercurial dealers, who died last year.
I met him when I was working at the Hunterdon Art Center. But my
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
Married Ed Sherin, "a starving actor" at the time. 20 year
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
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
they were already there. he wanted to bring along people who were
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
(Yes, we did a count for everything; had a gallery sitter with a
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
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
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
to have Asian artists, African-American artists, and Native American
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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