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This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 21, 2000. All rights reserved.
Plein Air to Paper
Move over "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine."
Let’s talk about "Sunday in the Garden." We’ll talk about
a gorgeous June morning in profuse, professionally landscaped gardens
and outdoor spaces. About sunny spots and shady spots, and the scent
of ivory-pink roses in the cutting garden. About emerald grass, a
swimming pool, a rustic pond, and two winsome golden retrievers. About
flitting white butterflies and cheeping birds. And let’s look at six
artists who were there that Sunday, intent on capturing some of this
plein air richness on paper.
The occasion, in fact, was an art class, taught by Gail Bracegirdle,
who selected her own picturesque view of the property and then settled
down to produce a watercolor of it. The summer course she teaches
for Artworks, the visual arts school in Trenton, requires Bracegirdle
to select six different garden settings, where, for six Sundays, from
June 25 through July, the class will meet. Of course, the students
don’t just arrive and go to work — that would be unthinkable.
Instead, the learning and painting sessions are interspersed with
"ooh’s" and "ahh’s" at the setting, the weather, and
the sheer possibilities of it all.
A growing artistic presence in the area, Bracegirdle grew up in Philadelphia
and Bucks County. Her father was an engineer for Rohm and Haas, and
her mother did secretarial work and maintained a lively interest in
art. Most significantly, her grandfather was in the textile industry,
and this became Bracegirdle’s first career.
Following this family path, she earned her BFA from Moore College
of Art in textile design in 1965, and worked professionally in that
field for 25 years. She then moved full time into watercolor painting
favoring subjects that range from flowers and still life to a pair
of sneakers, and the nude.
"In textiles, I worked in home furnishings — drapery, upholstery
and wall coverings — all based mainly in floral images," says
Bracegirdle, noting that carrying floral subjects into her work in
watercolor "was a natural connection."
"Although I’m used to working in a studio setting, I much prefer
working on site — it’s more immediate," she adds. "The
biggest surprise people have if they haven’t worked outside before,
is that the light change is constant," she says. "Students
have to get used to this. If a certain composition of shadows has
drawn them to a view, they have to get that down as fast as they can."
This is Bracegirdle’s third year teaching outdoor classes for Artworks.
She also paints with her students in the Mill Hill Park neighborhood,
and at the Trenton Farmers Market. "For me, the most difficult
thing about teaching outdoors is making sure I get to all the students,"
she says, "keeping tabs on what they’re trying to accomplish,
helping them individually with what they’re trying to tackle."
This Sunday morning, five student painters have met their teacher
at an out-of-the-way private home in Lawrence Township. They will
have about three hours together in which to make a painting and share
a group critique. Each artist will approach the "task" in
her own way, and their differences — in gear, clothes, approach,
style, speed — are the makings of a sociological study. Their
one common trait: a comfortable acceptance, both of this observer,
and even before that, their teacher, whose artistic and pedagogical
skills they mention matter of factly. The atmosphere is collegial,
and as already stated, quite beautiful.
"If you’re not sure whether to include something, just put it
in your car," said the course directions. So, for her first experience
with this kind of painting, Sharon makes a few trips to bring in her
spiffy new adjustable metal easel, a comfortable-looking folding chair,
her tote bag with watercolor paint box, brushes, sponge, paper. She
chooses a sunny spot in a long garden area, partly ringed by blooming
flowers, with a pool in the center. Behind her, the land slopes down
into woods, and off to the right is a pond, reflecting tones of green
and brown from the surrounding trees, with its own island. Sharon
puts on a wide-brimmed straw hat and studies the white wall of a building
opposite her, partly hidden by a magnolia tree, mountain laurel, climbing
vines and tall flowers. She makes a light pencil sketch — enough
to remind her where the building is in relation to the roses, peonies
and foxgloves, and to a path leading up to a cutting garden.
Ruth places her chair in an au naturel gateway between two
high hedges. She faces the "pool garden," and beyond it, over
tiered flowers and shrubbery, the main house. Settled in her secluded
niche, she talks about her preference for plein air painting.
Despite the vagaries of weather and bugs in the paints, she says this
setting gives her a three-dimensional view, rather than the flatness
found in a photograph. And a garden can be hard to paint, she notes
and the others agreed; there’s so much to see that it’s hard to focus.
Her white plastic palette has compartments for watercolor paints around
the edge, and Ruth has marked the outside with codes to remind her
which colors are transparent, which opaque, and which are staining,
or more permanent. A purple sponge rests in the middle of her paint
tin, and she demonstrates its use: to wipe her brush on when it’s
too wet; to blot excess liquid from her picture or make dappled effects
in it; to clean the tray. While some people start light, because they
can always add and darken, Gail starts with shadows and dramatic things,
says Ruth. "But Gail’s a professional, and we’re students."
The artists were not the only ones enjoying the garden and its amenities.
Two model golden retrievers had their own rituals to perform this
special Sunday morning. First, they loped around the whole property,
seeming to salute the day and the company while performing a check
of their domain. Wherever they occurred in the gardens, white fence
gates were left open, and the dogs, a companionable male and female,
went where they wished.
On a shaded, open porch facing the pool, then tall trees in the woods
beyond, Molly has set up her painting station. She places her materials
near her on the couch, with a water vessel nearby on a table. Using
a pad of watercolor sheets, "then I can just strip off the page
when I’m finished," she begins with a pale wash of bluish color
over the whole page. Gradually, near the center, she starts painting
the tallest tree in sight. Occasionally, one of the dogs stops by,
a visit Molly attributed to the scent of her sandwich, tucked in a
Dressed in white up to her slouch hat, Pam stands to paint — the
only one who does. Taking a stance at one end of the pool, she chooses
a vista of harmoniously hued trees and shrubs, with bright flowers
in the foreground. She uses acrylic paints straight from the tube,
making bold strokes with a wide brush to cover the canvas in a short
time. She says she wants to get the general idea, and work in details
A frequent traveler, Pam’s trying to figure out how to paint and travel
— what medium and accessories would be easiest to take with her.
Acrylic paint dries very quickly, she notes, and it’s easy to paint
over. This conversation reminded her of something she learned from
a teacher in France: the Impressionists started painting en plein
air because paints had just been packaged in tubes for the first
time, making travel easier for both paints and painters.
Convalescing from an illness, Nancy arrives a little later than the
others, thinking she might just take some photographs to paint from
later at home. But she finds a spot, and a chair, on the back porch,
looking down a path through spikes of multi-colored foxgloves. Next,
she’s painting. In the process, she mentions a couple of Bracegirdle’s
teacher skills: she’s very good with new and uncertain painters, and
she can quickly identify problems in a picture that the artist might
not be able to figure out.
With occasional time out for walks around to chat with her students
and look over their shoulders, Bracegirdle practices what she has
no need to preach: she paints. Seated on the rim of the swimming pool,
she faces one end of the house and starts with its angled roof line.
She is using a limited palette, or fewer colors, for what she believes
is a more harmonious result. For instance, rather than use ready-made
greens, she prefers to mix yellow and blue. The green she makes is
more compatible with the hues around it because it was derived from
them. Aware that the sun will move across the side of the house and
the hedge still closer to her, Bracegirdle paints shadows and light
areas first, to remind herself of the sun’s earliest effects. Since
other elements of the picture will stay the same, they can wait till
she reaches them.
Bracegirdle shows her work in venues from Frenchtown, south, along
both sides of the Delaware including Bucks County where she lives,
to the Trenton area. Since 1993, she has also taught, currently serving
on both the faculty and board at Artworks, and teaching at Triangle
Art in Lawrenceville. Bracegirdle is a member of the Artists’ Gallery,
a cooperative in Lambertville, and a signature member of the Philadelphia
Watercolor Society. Through Artworks, she has led outdoor painting
workshops as far afield as South Carolina and New Mexico.
The sun moves, the time passes, and a casual critique on the back
porch winds up Sunday in the garden. Bracegirdle comments on each
work, lined up side by side, asking questions, making suggestions.
Group members chime in with observations, and share tips about materials,
such as "watercolor board," or 300-pound paper, and "masking
fluid," that lets a painter cover the roses to paint the greens
around them more freely, then peel off the masking like rubber cement.
Molly credits one special effect that is part of her picture to "an
assistant." One of the dogs has licked the painting. Well, that’s
no problem, another artist observes; it’s water-based. The dog must
have liked the taste, Molly reports, because he came back to her palette
— Pat Summers
Trenton, 609-394-9436. First meeting of a six-week sketching and painting
workshop, "en plein air," with Gail Bracegirdle, held in six
different private gardens. Preregister, $140. Sunday, June 25,
exhibit at Artworks, June 26 to July 28. Also, watercolors will be
on view, from June 30 to August 19, at the Hopewell Frame Shop, 24
West Broad Street, Hopewell, 609-466-0817.
New oil paintings by Andrei Zadorine. Gallery hours are Tuesday to
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. To July 3.
paintings by Gennady Spirin and Charles Santore. Tuesday to Sunday,
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Old Traditions, New Beginnings,"
a major exhibition celebrating 250 years of Princeton Jewish history,
jointly presented and exhibited at the Jewish Center of Princeton
609-497-4192. Watercolors by Gloria Wiernik. A member of the Garden
State Watercolor Society, Wiernik studied at the Art Students League
in New York, and with artists Jacob Landau and Morton Kaish. Part
of proceeds benefit the Medical Center. Open daily from 8 a.m. to
7 p.m. To September 7.
Library Place, 609-497-7994. "Who is My Neighbor?," an exhibit
by sculptor and theologian Charles McCollough, wood, bronze, and ceramic.
Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday
2 to 9:30 p.m.
Kusama: Early Drawings from the Collection of Richard Castellane,"
to July 30. "The Dawn of Maya Kings: An Exhibition of an Early
Mayan Stela," to July 30; and "Flora and Fauna in Chinese
Painting," to July 30. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the collection are every
Saturday at 2 p.m. To June 11.
"A Century for the Millennium: 100 Treasures from the Collections
of the Princeton University Library," on view in the main exhibition
gallery to November 5.
Line Road, 609-252-6275. "Fragile Dependencies," a group exhibit
that takes a close look at delicate relationships in nature. Featured
artists are Joan Roth and Madelaine Shellaby of Princeton, Susan MacQueen
of West Windsor, Simon Gaon, Lori Van Houten, Karon Moss, Michael
Zansky, and the late Rachel bas-Cohain. Gallery hours are Monday to
Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To September
"Space, Time, and Travel," an international show curated by
the Williams Gallery featuring painting by Tanya Kohn of Mexico, woodblock
prints by Yoshikatsu Tamekane of Japan, and etchings by Joerg Schmeisser
of Australia. Web site: www.wmgallery.com. Gallery is open Monday
to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To September 1.
609-895-7307. "Shapes, Scenes, and Such," a display of artwork
by staff and family members of Stark & Stark. Also, a show of watercolors
by Trenton painter Marguerite Doernbach. Show is curated by Gary Snyder
Fine Art. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To September 9.
Center, 609-799-6706. "Breakout!" a group show, curated by
DeLann Gallery, with drawings by Cynthia Goodman Brantley, figurative
sculpture by Bob Mataranglo, oils by Adel Al-Hillawi, and quilts by
Barbara Pivnick. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. To June 23.
609-737-2610. Ewing Art Group Members’ Show: works in oil, acrylics,
watercolor, and mixed media. To June 29.
Road, 609-921-3272. "Color and Light," an exhibition of watercolors
by Beth Kantor. Artist’s reception is Sunday, July 16, for the show
runs to July 28. "Insights," a shared exhibition by Jane Garvey
Adriance, Dorothy Wells Bissell, and Seow-Chu See; to June 30. Gallery
hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
Gallery owner Ruth Morpeth celebrates the opening of her new gallery
location with a group show, "Selected Works by Contemporary Artists."
Featured artists include Robert Beck, Micheal Madigan, Paul Mordelsky,
Betty Curtiss, Tomi Urayama, and Ann Ridings. Also Philadelphia area
artists David Shevlino and Christine Lafunente. Gallery hours are
Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
609-397-0275. "Nature’s Mysteries," an exhibition of oils
by Edith Skiba. A resident of Lamberville since 1997, Skiba teaches
at College of New Jersey and at Rutgers. Gallery hours are Monday
to Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.; Friday 1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m. To July 1.
609-397-4590. Photographs by New Jersey multi-media artist Victor
Macarol whose work has been shown at the New Jersey State Museum,
Galerie Fink in Paris, and Galerie Mesmer in Basel, Switzerland. Open
Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. To September 21.
609-397-7887. "Art for Living Spaces" by Vermont landscape
artist Jake Geer is featured at the gallery where handcrafted furniture
design is exhibited together with fine art. Geer, whose studio is
in Bridgeport, Vermont, takes as his subjects pastoral vistas, farms
and barns, sunrises, and salt marshes. Gallery is open Monday to Saturday,
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To June 30.
609-397-2300. Graciela Rodo Boulanger, known for her large-scale works
depicting children and animals, shows her "Millennium Suite,"
a 12-print limited edition lithograph series. Gallery hours are Wednesday
through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To July 5.
Born in Bolivia, Boulanger was selected as UNICEF’s official artist
for the Year of the Child. Her work is in the collections of the Bibliotheque
Nationale, Paris, the Modern Art Center, Zurich, and other major museums.
609-397-3349. "Family Matters," a solo exhibition by Greek
artist Dimitrios Georges Antonitsis featuring color photographs of
drag queens at home, and "Some Prefer Nettles," a video and
sound installation. Part of sales proceeds go to FACT, an AIDS assistance
organization. Gallery is open daily, except Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. to
5 p.m. To July 14.
In "Family Matters," Antonitsis’ psychologically charged color
photographs explore the dynamics between drag queens and their immediate
parental households. The artist approaches his subject on psychological
terms, creating a series of family portraits that he regards also
as "case studies." The reinvented identity of these men in
full drag regalia is affectingly juxtaposed (in the tradition of Diane
Arbus) with the mostly ordinary ambiance of the home they grew up
in as boys.
"I have always been struck by the fact that photographs that generally
show the life of the transvestite rarely show them in family situations,"
says the artist. "The images are disturbingly poetic, with the
emotions of the family clearly captured by the camera."
Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "Mihaly Munkacsy in America," featuring
works of the celebrated Hungarian painter who, at the time of his
death in 1900, had become the most famous Hungarian in the world.
His 1890 commission, "The Conquest of Hungary," can be seen
today in the Hungarian parliament building. His American patrons included
Cornelius and William Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, William Astor, Joseph
Pulitzer, and department store magnate John Wanamaker. Museum hours
are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
$5 donation. To June 18.
732-257-4340. The contemporary sculpture gallery’s "New Artists,
New Ideas, New Season" show, featuring work by more than 100 artists
in natural outdoor installations. Featured artists include Sarah D’Alessandro,
Charles Welles, and Liz Whitney Quisgard. Gallery hours are Friday
to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment.
908-735-8415. "Narratives in Thread," Robert Forman’s exhibition
of figurative and narrative paintings composed entirely of thread
with subjects ranging from self-portraits to documentation of the
artist’s hometown of Hoboken. Also, in the Merck Gallery, an exhibition
of Huichol yarn paintings from northern Mexico, selected by Forman.
Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To June 18.
215-340-9800. "The Art Gene," the annual Bucks County Invitational,
curated by Bruce Katsiff, focuses on four pairs of related artists:
George and Daniel Anthonisen; Robert and Jason Dodge; Emmet and Elijah
Gowin; and Barbara and Mark Osterman. The show includes videos of
the artists discussing their work. To July 2. Also, the new Children’s
Gallery, featuring artwork by children ages 3 to 12, through June
30. "Sublime Servers: A Celebration of Theatrical Possibilities
at the Table," a cornucopia of expressive ceramic sculpture and
vessels by 30 artists, organized by the Baltimore Clayworks and curated
by Gail M. Brown. To September 3.
Museum hours Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday,
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $5 adults; $1.50 students; children free. Website:
"Hidden Truths: Bloody Sunday 1972," an exhibition by 18 photographers
documenting Bloody Sunday 1972 when British forces fired upon a civil
rights protest in Derry, Northern Ireland, killing 13 marchers and
wounding many others. Curator is Trisha Ziff. Tuesday through Saturday,
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday 2 to 4 p.m. To July 23.
"Dream Fulfilled, To God be the Glory," an exhibition of sculpture
by Joseph W. Acquah of Ghana, west Africa. Monday to Thursday, 10
a.m. to 4 p.m. To June 29.
609-586-0616. Spring Exhibition. In the Museum: "Red Grooms: Sculptures,"
40 brightly-painted, humorous sculptures by the New York City artist.
In the Domestic Arts Building, "Bill Barrett: Sculpture and Painting,"
bronze sculptures, paintings, and drawings. Also, "Andrzej Pitynski:
Partisans-Freedom Fighters," drawings and models of the monumental
bronze sculpture of Polish partisans and freedom fighters currently
installed near the Hamilton Train Station. Public hours are Thursday
through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To July 2.
New work outdoors includes sculptures by Barry Hehemann, Petro Hul,
Sharon Loper, Helena Lukasova, Scott McMillin, and Paul Muick. The
22-acre landscaped sculpture park and water gardens are on the former
state fairgrounds site, with indoor exhibitions in the 10,000 square
foot museum, and renovated Domestic Arts Building.
609-292-6310. "Forgotten Gateway: The Abandoned Buildings of Ellis
Island," Larry Racioppo’s exhibition of the little-known world
of Ellis Island’s abandoned buildings, poignant reminders of their
historical significance and current disrepair, to June 30. Museum
hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday noon
to 5 p.m.
Also: "Building a Collection: Fine Art at the New Jersey State
Museum," to August 20; "The Art of Jack Delano," July
29 to September 4. On extended view: "Of Rock and Fire;" "Washington
Crossing the Delaware;" "New Jersey and the Great Ice Age;"
"Dinosuar Turnpike;" "A Convocation of Eagles;" and
"Amber: the Legendary Resin."
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