‘When you see a work of art, you’re looking at the end of the creative process," says Dolores Eaton, gallery director of the new Silva Gallery at the Pennington School. "We want to enlighten and expose the viewer to what happened prior (to the exhibit). We want the viewer to leave not just with a sense of their reaction to the work, but to be able to understand the work."
The Pennington School’s sleek, sophisticated 1,460-square-foot gallery – open to the public – features 113 feet of linear display, 10-foot ceilings, and bamboo flooring. The gallery is part of the new campus center, which encompasses a student center, classrooms for music, theater, and fine arts, and a black box theater. The facility was made possible by the gift of Carlos J. and Karen L. Silva of Flemington, parents of a Pennington School student.
Though everyone involved with the gallery initially envisioned it primarily for the student body, once built, all agreed that it should be open to the public. Everyone also agreed that whatever art was chosen had to be appropriate for the students. Each artist who exhibits at the gallery is required to provide text to accompany each piece, explaining the creative and technical process. In addition, each artist hosts a day of gallery talks to explain their work; some
even provide hands-on workshops.
As an educator first, Eaton, who grew up in Delaware County and earned a BA in arts education from Kutztown University in 1992, says her goal is to break down the creative process for the students but the general public benefits from these efforts as well. "At first the artists are intimidated about putting the process into words. Then I get so much I have to cut it down. Sometimes they share who influenced them. I watch people (in the gallery) look at the work as they read the creative notes, and I actually see them get the full impact.
"At the same time, I don’t want to give viewers the full definition because so much of viewing art is the intuitive response of each viewer. It’s a fine line, and that’s where my art education helps."Eaton began her career at the Pennington School in 1994 as an art and clay instructor. She and her husband, Kevin, employed at the school as the director of technology, live in Pennington with their two young daughters.
It took five years for Pennington’s headmaster, Lyle Rigg, and the board of trustees to realize their dream of building a campus center with an attached formal gallery. The vision was for a real gallery, not a converted classroom or a makeshift space. Rigg, an American, came to Pennington from the TASIS England, an American school in Surrey, England, which has a formal gallery. Rigg knew that a well-run gallery is an extension of the classroom, drawing in cultural events and exhibits.
"He’s very smart and very with it," Eaton says of Rigg. "He’s been here for about six years, and he has changed the school. Philosophically, he’s brought back a sense of tradition. When he first came here he knew the school needed new buildings and revitalization. He travels a lot to Asia and California, networking with other private schools and attending conferences and Pennington alumni receptions internationally. The faculty and staff have a tremendous amount of confidence in him. Before he came there was tremendous amount of
faculty turnover, and now people are staying. He is very clear about what he expects, and now we seem much more unified, where before things were more departmentalizied."
Eaton was appointed gallery director the year before the gallery opened. During that time she conducted several mini-shows in the campus library using student, alumni, and professional art, to learn the ropes about hanging works and labeling them. She visited many galleries, both large and small, including the Ruth Morpeth Gallery in Hopewell and several Philadelphia galleries. "Some I just visited to know what we didn’t want," says Eaton. "The Morpeth Gallery is a very elegant space, a solid art space, and whenever our architects had
questions, I would hold up the Morpeth as an example."
"It was a huge learning process for both me and the school," Eaton says. "For instance, how much money would we need? How much does a mailing cost? What happens when our mailing list, which is already growing, goes from 30 addresses to 3,000?"
The campus center opened just one month before the gallery’s inauguration last October. Says Eaton: "It took a year’s worth of work to figure out what to do with the space. Now, the job is just constant development. We’re about to have our first sculpture show, and I’m building the display pedestals myself. One of the things I like about this job is that I still get to be hands-on creative. The parents’ association gave me money to buy pedestals and extra walls if I wanted them. They were very generous with the money, but if I build them
myself, the money goes a lot further."
Eaton’s father, Anthony, who lives in Philadelphia, worked as a film developer for, and eventually became the owner of, a company his father started in 1945 called Sterling Craft in South Philadelphia. "He’s very artful about the technical end of photography," says Eaton. "He has very high standards. I got a lot of my work ethic from him." Eaton’s mother, Bernadette, a housewife who worked occasionally as the children got older, is deceased.
Eaton says it is an advantage having worked with kids, to know how to approach exhibits for a younger audience. "I visit each artist in their studio before the show. Sometimes I take pictures of their workspace and the particular tools they use, or maybe of the artist actually working on a piece in the exhibit. It’s educational to the students and helps the artist explain to others how they work by pointing at these photos. I picked that idea up from larger museum
The gallery’s schedule follows the academic year from September to May. The next show, Metamorphosis, an exhibition of sculpture, opens with a reception on Friday, April 1, from 6 to 8 p.m., and includes the work of three Mercer County artists: Hanneke de Neve of Hamilton, Rory Mahon of Pennington, and Connie Bracci-McIndoe of Hopewell. De Neve’s innovative fiber pieces will be displayed on the walls; Mahon, who previously worked at the Johnson atelier in Hamilton, will show works in cast metals, clay, and wood; and Bracci-McIndoe will show
earthy vessels created out of multi-layers of clay that have been pit-fired.
"We called the show ‘Metamorphosis’ because in tying it altogether, each artist agreed that their media goes through such a tremendous change from the raw to the finished product," Eaton says. "They will each speak to that in their presentation to the students."
The final show of the year is the annual Pennington School students’ exhibition in May, which will be open to the public during regular school hours. "The seniors typically make up most of the show, with the juniors and sophomores presenting one or two of their strongest works," says Eaton. "We have anywhere from three to ten kids heading off to attend visual arts school upon graduation. Some create photography, interior design, pottery, or architecture. The arts program here is a college-prepatory program strong enough that the
kids are well-prepared for art school. The intermediate and advanced courses are hard core, and because of that, the classes are small."
The 2005-’06 schedule for the gallery starts in September with an exhibit by Ibrahima Ndoye, commonly know as "Ibou," from Dakar, Senegal, who practices the century-old art of glass painting. The first alumni show is scheduled for October, and November’s exhibit will feature works from artists from diverse cultural backgrounds, including Native Americans, African Americans, and Spaniards. January, 2006, will bring an exhibit of paintings by Kenneth McIndoe, followed by a collaboration of two art teachers, a photographer and a modern printmaker in February. Ron Tarver, a photographer awarded a generous
Pew fellowship grant in 2001, will show pieces from his "Trees" series in pril, and May is set aside for the annual students art exhibit. Eaton stresses that the gallery is open to more outside interaction and walk-in traffic. "We have a relationship with Stony Brook Assisted Living, where my predecessor, Margaret Kersey, lives." Stony Brook residents came for the quilt show last November and have been visiting regularly since. "We’re talking to the Cambridge School to come for a tour, and we’re open to other groups. We want to make the Silva Gallery an interactive place for the entire community."
Eaton says the gallery is open to new submissions, either in slide or digital form, so people are welcome to send their work for review. "While this is a school campus and a teaching gallery, we seek out professional shows by artists with integrity. It is our goal to enrich the life of the community by hosting shows that have depth and can add to and challenge one’s esthetic sensibility."
Metamorphosis, Silva Gallery, Pennington School, reception Friday, April 1, 6 to 8 p.m. Open Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment when a show is in progress. For more information call 609-737-8069, ext. 400.