Art in Town

Campus Arts

Art In Trenton

Art by the River

Area Museums

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This article by F.R. Rivera was prepared for the April 2, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In the Galleries: Leonard Nelson

Leonard Nelson — whose work is being shown in


exhibits at both the Marsha Child Contemporary in Princeton and the

Montgomery Cultural Center — was an artist very much of his time.

He studied the great art of the museums in Europe and the U.S., but

by temperament he was a modernist. Born in Camden and a long-time

resident of Philadelphia, he lived in New York City from 1944 to 1947.

There he was immersed in the developments of the New York School,

where abstract expressionism was coming of age.

Hans Hofmann, then in his 60s, was beginning to show regularly. Along

with John Graham, who was roughly the same age, these two elder


— German and Russian — exerted a persuasive influence over

a group of younger American artists like Nelson, who were known


as Abstract Expressionists.

One of them, was Jackson Pollock, whose work Peggy Guggenheim showed

in her Art-of-This-Century Gallery. Others had their first exposure

through the Betty Parsons Gallery.

After his discharge from the Army in 1944, Nelson decided to live

in Manhattan, where he found an apartment on 14th Street and began

to put together a painter’s life, including making the rounds of the

few modernist galleries. He met Guggenheim, who had recently opened

her gallery, and who would follow his work with interest for the next

several years.

Guggenheim took a shine to the affable Nelson and employed him at

odd jobs. According to Bill Hamel, a collector and friend of Nelson’s

late in the artist’s life, Nelson was on the grunt team that installed

Pollock’s first one-man show at the Guggenheim gallery. Hamel


Nelson’s recounting that one of Pollock’s paintings was so large,

it had to be cut in half to get it into the available space.


to some accounts, Nelson was known to embellish his stories. The


veracity may be suspect, but the fact that Nelson was in the gallery

is not.)

Guggenheim nursed Nelson along and promised him a one-man show, but

it never materialized. She did, however, introduce him to Betty


then director of the Mortimer Brandt Gallery, who included Nelson

in her Christmas show in 1945. Nelson did not neglect his contacts

in Philadelphia even though he lived continuously in New York for

three years. After honing his skills with the British master


William Stanley Hayter at Hayter’s legendary Atelier 17 in New York,

he showed prints at the Philadelphia Print Club in 1946, the same

year he showed paintings at the newly-opened Betty Parsons Gallery.

Early on, Nelson sensed that the New York art world was a controlling

one. The presence of two artist friends with New York connections

— Leon Kelly and Mel Price — are likely the reason he remained

in the city as long as he did.

Of this period his widow, Alma Neas Nelson Cassels, says Nelson felt

managed by Parsons and Guggenheim. As a painter, he was still finding

himself and, "he was neither about to paint the same picture for

five years nor to make himself indebted to a dealer."

Nelson was fiercely independent and acutely sensitive. His sister

Zola described his character best when she told Cassels that,


is all balls but he has the emotions of a woman." Feeling squeezed

and managed and finding New York "too social," he packed up

for Philadelphia. The move was not a definitive burning of bridges.

It may, however, have had an impact on his chances of future


in the art world. Nevertheless, as he told Hamel years later, he never

regretted his decision to leave.

In 1948, he began teaching at the Museum School in Philadelphia. While

he still held fast to his New York contacts, the choice to teach —

and to teach in Philadelphia — may have been another factor in

why he was overlooked as the New York School rose to international



Nelson was well adapted to teaching and was popular

with students and colleagues alike. The satisfactions of teaching

may have undercut his ambitions as an exhibitor in the New York arena.

In this respect he resembles Charles Pollock, the brother of Jackson.

The parallels between Charles and Nelson are striking. Both were


men of multiple interests, artists acutely aware of developments in

contemporary art, but far from its epicenter. They had close contacts

with the principals inside the movement, but their teaching


kept them from fully participating in it.

For Nelson, who finally settled at Philadelphia’s Moore College of

Art in 1951, the distance was more psychological than geographic,

as it was for Charles who taught at Michigan State in East Lansing.

As art historian Sam Hunter writes in a monograph on Nelson’s life,

published by Rizzoli International in 2001, Philadelphia was a


town. It was, however, Nelson’s kind of town. He loved its feel, its

slower pace. Philadelphia had always treated him well. It provided

him with tuition-free art education and his first exposure to an


brand of impressionism, through his teachers at the Pennsylvania


of Fine Art. The Academy also awarded him its coveted Cresson


Fellowship in 1939, which gave him his first look at European art

— in Europe.

In 1947, schools of all kinds were experiencing a heavy influx of

students on the GI Bill. Teachers were in great demand; and Nelson

landed his position at the Museum School with no effort. He was, in

fact, able to get his friend Price a teaching job, along with Price’s

friend, the leading abstract expressionist Franz Kline.

Cassels says that Kline did not like teaching in Philadelphia and

soon gave it up, although he would remain helpful to Nelson when


later sought New York exposure in the 1950s. For a few years Nelson

worked both cities — Philadelphia and New York — with an


exhibition schedule. He produced a series of pictographic paintings

containing abstract emblems that evoke Native American art of the

Southwest. They are every bit as beautiful as similar images produced

by Adolf Gottlieb during the same period.


The pictographic paintings, shown at the Peridot Gallery

in New York in 1949, opened to favorable reviews from Art Digest,

the New Yorker, and Art News. Cassels recalls that critics wrote


was an "artist to watch."

One of his paintings from the series "Hieroglyphic Figures"

is at the Montgomery Art Center. It is a mosaic of large, interlocking

colored windows on a black field. Each window contains a skeletal

figure or mask, which appears to undulate within. On the right and

left sides of the canvas, two larger figures stand guard in the most

menacing fashion.

This 1947 painting is similar in imagery to a 1948 black-and-white

woodcut called "Dance for Midzimue," owned by the Philadelphia

Art Museum. Cassels says that several years ago the Whitney Museum

sought the master block from which the image is printed.

For me, this pre-color field period — 1947 through about 1959

— is Nelson’s most interesting. He continued to show in New York

until 1954, when he had his last one-person show at the Hugo Gallery.

Around 1966, he made a valiant attempt to reintroduce himself to the

New York gallery world, which had grown fat and bitterly competitive,

and which exhibited even more of the negative characteristics that

Nelson had turned his back on 20 years earlier. He was not seen again

in a solo show until the mid-1990s when he had a posthumous show of

works on paper at the Susan Teller Gallery in SoHo.

By the mid-1960s, Nelson’s work had evolved into his own brand of

color field painting. He was influenced by artists as diverse as


Pousette Dart, Jack Tworkov, Milton Resnick, and Philip Guston.


Nelson’s paint application had not changed much since the 1940s. He

still used loaded brush strokes with massively built-up, layered


Color Field

In 1963, at the age of 52, Nelson married Alma Neas.

She was 25, a former student at the Moore College of Art, and an avid

gardener. Nelson began painting abstract landscapes that suggested

garden views and wind-swept grasses. Dappled light entered his


not so much as an observed phenomenon, but as an invented one, with

its own dynamics based on gestural brushwork.

In his "Colorfield Abstracts" painting series, examples of

which are at both the Montgomery Cultural Center and the Marsha Child

gallery, Nelson eliminates not only the horizon, but also all


to boundaries. Those artificial distinctions between figure and ground

that he explored so resolutely through the 1950s are now banished

so that the entire canvas seems to be a detail of a larger field.

Seeing it is like looking into a viewfinder as it moves lazily through

a blizzard of confetti.

Nelson’s work of the 1970s and 1980s differs from leading exponents

of this genre — Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Jules


— because he does not stain or flood the canvas with veils of

color as they did. Nelson builds instead a dense, luxuriant surface,

comprised of thousands of strokes. Generally, he does not combine

long and short strokes in the same canvas, although the stroke length

may vary from longish fingers of color to edited shorter ones between

canvases. The overall treatment of the surface is reminiscent of a

number of American painters, going back to Mark Tobey’s "White

Writings" paintings of the 1950s. It is most like the work of

the Italian painter Piero Dorazio, a Nelson contemporary whose


are, however, flatter and less illusionistic than Nelson’s.

Dorazio was in Philadelphia in the 1960s, setting up the graduate

program in painting at the University of Pennsylvania. Cassels is

fairly sure that the two artists did not meet, but says that Nelson

may have seen Dorazio’s work at the Marlborough Gallery in New York.

Because Nelson never relinquished the gestural stroke, he does not

easily classify as a color-field painter, a fact that would surely

please him, as all his life he abhorred labels. From all accounts,

also, he would likely deny that any of his style shifts derived from

anyone but himself.

Nelson believed that painters were meant to paint and not to


Throughout his life, he held fast to this view, showing little


for those who did not share it. In fact, in the late 1980s, during

a seminar, when students from Tyler Art School pressed Nelson for

a formula for quick success in New York’s competitive art world, he

walked off the stage in disgust, complaining to his wife that these

students were "just a bunch of whores."


Credit for the first revival of interest in Nelson must

go to Hamel, a young collector with an interest in painters using

pictographic imagery between 1925 and 1955. In 1990, Hamel bought

a 1947 Nelson pictograph painting at auction. He wrote to Nelson,

beginning a correspondence that eventually led him to visit the artist

at his home in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. The consistency of Nelson’s work

so impressed Hamel that he offered his help in Nelson’s search for

long-overdue recognition; and he eventually brought Teller, the New

York gallery owner, to Berwyn.

In the mid-1990s, Paul and Harriet Gratz of New Hope’s Gratz Gallery

and Conservation Studio were seeking work by surrealist painter Leon

Kelly. Nelson’s widow, who owned a Kelly, saw the Gratz’ advertisement

and called. Coincidentally, Paul Gratz, who did not know Nelson, had

recently clipped the artist’s obituary from the Philadelphia papers.

At length, Gratz visited Cassels in Berwyn and was simply "blown

away" by the quality and quantity of Nelson’s work. Like Hamel,

he bought several pieces for himself. Gratz notes that Cassels had

sold on average "one or two pieces a year." Gratz was shocked

that here was a gorgeous estate consisting of hundreds of important

paintings "just sitting in a mildewed cellar." His knee-jerk

conservator’s impulse was to "rescue and protect it." Cassels

engaged Gratz as her agent; and he began the awesome task of


and photographing the entire estate.

Toward the end of 1999, Gratz made two more contacts on behalf of

Cassels. One of them was with investor Brent Byrne, who recruited

five others. Calling their group Colorfield Partners, these investors

bought more than 80 percent of Nelson’s life’s work, according to

Cassels. What remains in her collection is mostly sculpture, prints

and memorabilia, including a gown Nelson designed for her to wear

to a masquerade party.

Gratz’s other contact was with Sam Hunter, art historian and professor

emeritus at Princeton University. Gratz had done conservation work

for the university and he introduced Byrne to Hunter. Colorfield


commissioned Hunter to do the Nelson monograph and to begin the quest

for a big retrospective, preferably at the museum level. In May 2001,

it looked as though the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA) might

be interested, but plans for an exhibition there fell through.

PAFA’s loss is central New Jersey’s gain. We have a museum quality

artist in our midst, whose life and work are exquisitely braided


What Nelson loved most was the chase for the next great painting.

He adored color, so often expressed in his titles, such as "Bluer

than Blue." He was a very good painter, if not a great one, a

principled individualist who, in the end, did it his way.

— F.R. Rivera

Leonard Nelson Retrospective, Marsha Child Contemporary,

220 Alexander Street, 609-497-7330.

Leonard Nelson Retrospective, Montgomery Center for

the Arts , 1860 House, 124 Montgomery Road, Skillman,


Two-venue retrospective curated by Sam Hunter, professor emeritus,

Princeton University. Shows on view through April 17.

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Art in Town

Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike, 609-924-7206. Exhibit

of paintings by Costa Rican artist Arlyn Heilbron Ortiz. Open by


during school hours. To April 25.

"What inspires me to be an artist," says Ortiz, "is the

ability to express my emotions and to convey different messages. I

get inspiration from the environment — organic shapes as


animals or human beings, towns, cities. I also get inspiration from

poverty, hope, and freedom, and from the textures and pigments of


Numina Gallery, Princeton High School, Moore Street,


"Memoir of an Assimilated Family," works by Judith Brodsky,

Princeton printmaker, Rutgers art professor emerita, and founder of

the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper. Brodsky’s


of 50 photo etchings were created from snapshots of various members

of her extended family, dating back to the 19th century. Each image

carries the artist’s personal anecdote about the people represented

and her thoughts on the process of assimilation. Gallery hours are

Monday to Friday, 3 to 5 p.m.; and by appointment. To May 9.

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Campus Arts

Princeton University Art Museum, 609-258-3788. "The

Art of Structural Design: A Swiss Legacy," celebrating the


of Swiss engineers to structural design in the 20th century. Robert

Maillart, Othmar Ammann, Heinz Isler, and Christian Menn are among

the designers featured. The show is also a tribute to David Billington

who pioneered the integration of liberal arts into engineering


during his 45 years teaching at Princeton. To June 15. Open Tuesday

through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights

tours every Saturday at 2 p.m.

Also "The Photographs of Ed Ranney: The John B. Elliott


an overview of the artist’s career from 1970 and 1999. First


for his photographic studies of Mayan stonework in the 1970s, Ranney

began an ongoing collaboration with the artist Charles Ross in 1979,

documenting the evolution of Ross’s earthwork sculpture "Star

Axis" being carved into a cliff face in eastern New Mexico. Ranney

will give a lecture on "Space and Place" Wednesday, April

9, at 4:30 p.m. in McCormick 106; show runs to June 7.

Also "Shuffling the Deck: The Collection Reconsidered," a

show featuring artists Sanford Biggers, Anne Chu, Ellen Harvey, and

Zhang Hongtu, curated by Eugenie Tsai, to June 29. "The New


New York Pop," to July 13.

The museum invited four contemporary artists to create new works


by paintings, sculptures, and other objects from the museum’s vast

holdings. These works are on view in the permanent collection


Organized by guest curator Eugenie Tsai, the exhibition is designed

to help visitors to gain new insights into the museum’s collection

of works from earlier periods. Also "The Arts of Asia: Works in

the Permanent Collection" to June 30.

Milberg Gallery, Firestone Library, Princeton University,

609-258-3184. "Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders, and Book

Designers," a Milberg Gallery exhibition curated by Rebecca Warren

Davidson. To April 13.

Lawrenceville School, Gruss Center of Visual Arts,


609-620-6026. In the Hutchins Gallery, "Ted Berglund: Paintings

& Drawings." Berglund is an alumnus of the class of 1996. Open

Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to noon; and 1 to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday and

Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. To April 17.

Peddie School, Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown,

609-490-7550. Solo show by Larry Miller. "Lines of Code"


on his `genetic’ pieces including "Lines to Grow," a palmistry

piece with hand castings, and "Score," with references to

the Ten Commandments. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To April


Over the last 30 years, Larry Miller has produced a body of work that

deals with the thorniest philosophical and cultural issues in ways

that rearrange assumptions about reality. His work in the past 10

years has focused on issues of genetic cloning. His work has been

shown at the Venice Biennale, the Whitney Museum, and the Museum of

Modern Art.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Hall Gallery, 20

Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Mythic Women: Helen and


an exhibition of paintings and sculpture inspired by contemporary

women and mythic stories by Ann Stewart Anderson. Open Monday to


8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. To May 3.

"In depicting women, I strive to explore visually the richness

of her roles and the variety of her stories," says Anderson.


these paintings are not only about subject. They are also about the

intricacies of pattern, juxtaposition of color, and contrasts of light

and shade, figure and gesture. They are essential statements about

the vicissitudes of human life."

Rider University Art Gallery, Student Center,


609-895-5589. "Rosemarie Beck: Paintings 1965-2001" featuring

21 paintings by the artists who teaches at the New York Studio School.

On Thursday, April 10, artist and teacher Catherine Drabkin speaks

on Beck’s contributions as both an artist and a teacher. Open Tuesday

through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. To

April 28.

"Rosemarie Beck is considered one of the most important figurative

painters of our time," says Harry Naar, director of the gallery.

"She has played a critical role in the development of American

art, especially from the New York art seen during the late ’50s and

early ’60s. Because her work is deeply rooted in both mythological

and musical concerns, students in particular will see how an artist

can look to historical references to create powerful, meaningful


Zimmerli Art Museum, George and Hamilton streets, New

Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "George Segal: Sculpture, Paintings,

and Drawings from the Artist’s Studio," a major traveling


to May 26. Also: "June Wayne: Selected Graphics, 1950 to


a show celebrating Wayne’s recent appointment as a research professor

at Rutgers and the establishment of the June Wayne Study Center and

Archive; to June 29. Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.;

Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Spotlight tours Sundays at 2 and

3 p.m. Admission $3 adults; under 18 free; and free on the first


of every month.

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Art In Trenton

Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park,


Sculpture by Gabriele Roos and an group show by the photographer


of Gallery 14 in Hopewell. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3

p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To April 13.

Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton,

609-586-0616. In the Museum, new work by glass artist Dale Chihuly,

extended to July 6. In the Domestic Arts Building "Focus on


2003," an annual juried exhibition of photographs by amateur


to April 6. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year


Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission is $4 Tuesday through Thursday;

$7 Friday and Saturday; and $10 Sunday. Individual memberships start

at $55.

Rhinehart-Fischer Gallery, 46 West Lafayette, Trenton,

609-695-0061. Ritch Gaiti, "Returning to the Spirits, A Painted

Journey of the West." A self-taught painter, Gaiti spent 26 ears

in the corporate world and retired from his first career as the first

vice president and senior director of advanced technology at Merrill

Lynch. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To April 26.

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Art by the River

Artists’ Gallery, 32 Coryell Street, Lambertville,


Solo show by Hopewell artist Sal Asaro with scenes of Sicily, Bucks

County, New Orleans, and Maine. Gallery hours are Friday, Saturday,

and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To April 6.

E.M. Adams Gallery, 44 Union Square Drive, New Hope,


Painter and sculptor Edward M. Adams’ new gallery space. A widely

exhibited artist, Adams is also a licensed psychologist with a private

practice in Somerville. Winter gallery hours Friday, Saturday, and

Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Area Galleries

Abud Family Foundation for the Arts, 3100 Princeton Pike,

Building 4, third floor, Lawrenceville, 609-896-0732. Solo show

of paintings and sculptures by Mexican artist Rony Chubich. The Abud

Family Foundation for the Arts was established in 2002 to promote

Ibero-American art in various forms. Show runs to April 11.

Created by area neurosurgeon Ariel Abud and his family, the foundation

promotes the contemporary arts of Spain, Latin America, and Central

America. It awards stipends to artists, with an invitation to travel

to the U.S. and exhibit their work in the small Lawrenceville gallery.

Gallery is open by appointment, Wednesday to Saturday, 1:30 to 6 p.m.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, 609-333-8511.

Shared show features "Women in White" by Edward J. Greenblat,

and "Plain and Simple Photography" by Heinz Gartlgruber.


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

To April 20.

Hopewell Frame Shop, 24 West Broad Street, Hopewell,


Abstract paintings by Florence Moonan. In 1990, the artist was awarded

Best of Show at the Ellarslie Open IX. "Moonan’s abstract acrylics

are deeply moving," says gallery owner Abby Frantz. "They

draw you into the personal and emotional feeling she’s projecting.

Her works reflect an incredible sensitivity, and viewing her work

is a richly rewarding experience." On view to April 26.

Morpeth Gallery, 43 West Broad Street, Hopewell,


James Jansma’s "Time Being," a show of recent clay sculpture.

Also Micheal Madigan’s "Memory Walking," an exhibition of

paintings that evoke scenes of ancient, pastoral Ireland. Gallery

is open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to

5 p.m. Both shows continue to April 27.

Peggy Lewis Gallery, Lambertville Public Library, 6 Lilly

Street, 609-397-0275. "Moods of Nature," an exhibition of

paintings by Addie Hocynec. Open Monday to Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.;

Friday 1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To April 25.

Top Of Page
Area Museums

American Hungarian Foundation Museum, 300 Somerset Street,

New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "From the Old World to the New


recent additions to the collection featuring works by nine Hungarian

Americans who emigrated to the U.S. between 1920 and 1957. Artists

are Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Bertha and Elena De Hellenbranth, Sandor


Emil Kelemen, Willy Pogany, Tibor Gergely, Zoltan Poharnok, and


Korda. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and

Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation. Through April.

Cornelius Low House Museum, 1225 River Road, Piscataway,

732-745-4177. "Uncommon Clay: New Jersey’s Architectural Terra

Cotta Industry," an exhibition of artifacts and written and oral

histories of New Jersey’s once booming architectural ceramics


Open Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.

To May 30.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton,

609-292-6464. "Cultures in Competition: Indians and Europeans

in Colonial New Jersey," a show that traces the impact of European

settlement on the native Indians’ way of life after 1600. On extended

view: "Art by African-Americans: A Selection from the


"New Jersey’s Native Americans: The Archaeological Record;"

"Delaware Indians of New Jersey;" "The Sisler Collection

of North American Mammals;" "Of Rock and Fire;"


Architects;" "The Modernists;" "New Jersey Ceramics,

Silver, Glass and Iron;" "Historical Archaeology of Colonial

New Jersey;" "Washington Crossing the Delaware."

Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown,

215-340-9800. "Randall Exon: A Quiet Light," a solo show by

the Philadelphia-area painter and Swarthmore College professor; to

April 27. "A Home of Our Own," a show that commemorates


50th anniversary featuring the contemporary photographs of Jean


and vintage objects from the State Museum; to April 13. Winter hours:

Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;

and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Admission $6 adults; $3 students and


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