Art at the Gleason: From experimentation comes great beauty

by Karina Coombs

Gleason Library’s latest art exhibit highlights the work of four artists: Carlisle’s Joan Allen, Susan Lehotsky and Valerie Maser-Flanagan, and area artist Penny Cox. While each of the women works in different mediums, all four have created pieces full of color, texture and beauty from the shared desire to experiment with their art.  

Joan Allen, watercolors

Joan Allen captures scenes of Carlisle Conservation lands in her delicate
watercolors. Allen made the paper herself, incorporating bits of debris from the very landscape painted upon it. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

When Joan Allen moved her art studio into her home 20 years ago, out went oil paints and in came watercolors. To look at her landscapes it is hard to imagine she ever worked in another medium. They are as delicate as they are strong—visually and technically. And a large part of this dichotomy is courtesy of the watercolor paper she uses, handmade by the artist, each sheet unique in size, shape and texture.

Allen discovered papermaking during a chance outing to a studio near Blue Hill, Maine. There she learned the basic process involved in its creation and purchased some sheets to take home. But it was when she began working with the paper that she learned of its relationship to her painting. “I just felt connected [to it],” she says. Allen decided to make her own.

She found a studio in Charlestown that provided the equipment she needed, and imported the pulp necessary to make the paper. She also incorporated a technique she learned in Maine and began adding local bits of pine needles, moss, flower petals and other “debris” to add texture and dimension to the paper and her paintings. Allen’s collection at Gleason is the result: Series I and II: The Carlisle Conservation Lands. Both series capture the romance and inherent beauty of Carlisle’s conservation land and are designed to bring the viewer in. 

Allen explains that because watercolors are not forgiving of mistakes, a lot of work goes in to each piece before painting. Allen sketches and takes photos on location before working on design and composition, with color studies the final step. Series II adds an additional element, with Allen incorporating “debris” that is local to each landscape. The painting of Foss Farm, for example, includes pine needles Allen collected there—with permission from the Carlisle Conservation Commission.

Penny Cox, Jewelry Design

A collection of handmade jewelry from artist Penny Cox. Cox uses a variety of metals and
techniques to create her one-of-a-kind designs. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

After years of various jobs and volunteer positions, life slowed down for Penny Cox, allowing her to explore the creative side she always knew she had. The attic in Cox’s home became her studio and inspired by the memory of her mother’s jewelry and guided by books and online resources, she began making jewelry of her own. “Let’s just try this and see how it goes,” Cox remembers thinking. Fifteen years later she is still at it.

Much of Cox’s jewelry designs feature metal (copper and silver are among her favorites) intertwined with beads and smaller intricately handcrafted pieces of various metals. Her work at Gleason showcases two collections. Avanzi, the Italian word for “leftovers” features jewelry made from whatever the artist had on hand in her studio at the time. “I wanted something new and different and colorful,” says Cox of the process. The mixture of materials creates vibrant, colorful and interesting pieces of varying texture and form. 

Her second collection is made up of small mixed media portraits created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Brush Gallery and Studios in Lowell where Cox has had a studio for the last 10 years. “Faces” represents the people who have visited the gallery over the years to watch the artists work, and features metal, wood, found objects, beads and other materials. Maps are mounted on the back of each portrait.

In addition to her show at the Gleason, Cox will be a part of the annual studio artists’ exhibition at the Brush Gallery, but is trying something new. With a focus on rust, Cox is using found metal objects and mounting them in clear epoxy. “Journeys: 13 Perspectives” will open June 14 and run until July 26. An opening reception will be held on June 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. She will also be teaching a class in copper jewelry etching this summer at the Ferry Beach Park Association in Saco, Maine. To learn more about Cox and classes she offers, visit her website at:

Susan Lehotsky, Acrylics


Susan Lehotsky’s “View from the Breakwater, Rockland, Maine”, acrylic on wood panel. (Photo by Karina Coombs

Susan Lehotsky has been painting since she was a child. After a year at Massachusetts College of Art she transferred to and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, with a focus on Art History and Music. In the years since, she has continued to study, taking classes at the DeCordova Museum and the New England School of Art and Design among others.

While Lehotsky has never stopped producing art, she shares it with others sparingly, deciding long ago not to let market forces dictate her interests for fear of ruining “the love of [her] life.” Lehotsky’s first collection at Gleason is made up of large and colorful abstracts with the perspective of looking down at nature from above—a bird’s eye view. She explains that the urge to paint often comes when she is flying and looking down at the shapes and colors of the landscape below.  

Her second collection represents a new pursuit for the artist and consists of small landscapes, each painted to capture the feeling of being in a specific place at a specific time. After Lehotsky’s husband received an art kit from his office, she began working with the small wood panels included; focusing on locations she found inspiring, such as the raw beauty of the rocky shores of the Maine Coast, the breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Coast and even locations close to home. She has completed 13 currently on display and hopes to ultimately paint 25. 

Valerie Maser-Flanagan, Fiber Artist

“Crevices 19” by fiber artist Valerie Maser- Flanagan.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

Valerie Maser-Flanagan had worked with traditional quilts on and off for years, While she loved them, she had grown tired of their similarity and, “wanted to do something different.” In 2009, Maser-Flanagan put tradition aside. Fabric became her canvas and dye became her paint.

Each of her abstract works begins with a color palette based on three primary colors. White fabric is then hand dyed. To keep her work free from the precision found in traditional quilts, Maser-Flanagan foregoes a ruler and instead cuts with a rotary cutter, placing each piece on a design wall. As she sews the piece together, the design will shrink, requiring her to redesign on the fly—cutting or adding as she goes. The process provides Maser-Flanagan with a lot of freedom and surprise since she is never sure what she is going to get at the end.

For her show at Gleason, Maser-Flanagan has included pieces from a number of her collections, including some large pieces that pop with bold color and titles such as “Summer in the City #1 and “Meandering Lines.” She has also included some smaller mounted pieces that showcase layering and texture.

Detail from a work by fiber artist Valerie Maser-Flanagan entitled “Meandering Lines.” 
(Photo by Karina Coombs

In addition to the Gleason, Maser-Flanagan is also currently part of an exhibit at the Bedford Library. “Explorations in Light and Line” which runs from May 14 to July 8. To see more of her work, publications and other exhibitions, visit her website at:

Shape and Color: 3 Artists’ Visions opened May 2 and will be on display at the Gleason Public Library until July 25.   ∆