Friday, September 24, 2010
Gleason Art: tombstones, miniature radios and landscapes
Three new exhibits have opened recently at the Gleason Public Library. Photographs by Carlislean Mollie McPhee, an unusual collection of radio miniatures assembled by Carlislean Jon Golden and landscape paintings by Chelmsford resident Ann Christensen will be on display until October 30.
Finding photographic inspiration in graveyards
Most tourists take a photo or maybe two of each of the headstones of a deceased famous person in a cemetery. If you see someone take many more than that with an assistant and a variety of equipment in tow blocking your view, you realize the person is probably a commercial photographer. But if that person tries several different angles to capture the perfect light, and then suddenly departs to “pick up her daughter,” you may be looking at fine arts photographer Mollie McPhee.
Like many young mothers in town, McPhee, who lives on Concord Street, balances a college education, professional credentials, photographic assignments for the Carlisle Mosquito and artistic talent with raising a child. Intrigued by an online photo challenge to post “a photograph a day,” she seized the opportunity as “an artistic outlet” in 2008 and began taking new pictures every day with the goal of posting ten. By the time the photographer reached 30 consecutive days, she was running out of creative material. After dropping her daughter off at school, she decided to visit “Author’s Ridge” in Concord where she had never been before. She posted her photo of Louisa May Alcott’s grave surrounded by pinecones and other pieces of nature that admirers had left (the print appears in the first floor corridor of the Gleason Public Library). This photo received much online acclaim, and a contributor to the site noted that Jack Kerouac’s grave was also in the Boston area. Having majored in English at the University of California, McPhee was familiar with this author and decided to visit his grave.
“The next week, on a day that I had extra time, I dropped my daughter at school and headed up to Lowell,” says McPhee. As it turned out, there had been a Kerouac festival in Lowell the weekend before, and she was able to capture a shot with unusual memorabilia that visitors had left. The photo inspired McPhee to put together the “Written in Stone” series, a collection of the photos of authors’ headstones which features a relevant quote from each author about life and death. She recently has expanded the scope to include inventors. McPhee does not stage her photos, but takes the photos of the graves as they are. She occasionally will add colored filters to brighten or darken the lighting, but does not touch the site.
You can visit the McPhee series on the second-floor staircase that goes up to the third-floor with the exception of two prints. The Alcott headstone photo is located on the first floor in a group exhibit of the three individuals showing pieces at the show. You’ll have to search for the image of Emily Dickinson’s headstone on the second floor. McPhee decided to place her photo there, calling it “appropriate” as it is near the poetry section and because the author was “a recluse.”
A radio for every room: Jon Golden’s collection of miniatures
Better known for his expertise in stereoscopic photography, Carlisle resident Jon Golden also is an avid collector of radio miniatures. Cabinets at the Gleason on both floors of the library contain over a hundred of his small radio replicas and many related articles.
Golden has collected radios for 20 years. His mother was an antiques dealer, and his father was an amateur radio operator. He started collecting in the ‘80s, but very quickly found himself running out of space, and turned his attention to smaller radios. “One day I got this book by Phillip Collins [not the musician] and I was thumbing through it, and in the back of the book was the picture of a dollhouse and each room had a radio,” relates Golden. He explains further that “a radio for every room” was a campaign slogan used by radio manufacturers and coined by David Sarnoff, RCA president.
Golden calls the radio the most important central appliance of the 20th century. He notes that farmers used it to get critical weather reports on tornados and rain, and families listened together as their source to get news from around the world, riveting during times of crisis such as World War II.
The slogan juxtaposed with the dollhouse really launched Golden’s interest in and fascination with miniature radios. The collection at the library represents almost two decades of collecting radios, record players and microphones. “Some of them are toy radios, some of them are real radios,” he says. “Some of them don’t look like radios. Some of them look like radios but are a salt-and-pepper shaker or a music box. Some of them are actually novelty radios, like Snoopy here standing next to his radio. A lot of them are fine done-to-scale replicas by craftsmen.” Golden shows one of his personal favorites: a miniature scene of a radio station painstakingly built within an old radio case.
Although small computer devices such as the iPod have quickly taken over as the auditory device of preference, people still use radios daily in their cars. And there are people like Golden who still do have a working radio in every room of their homes. Golden says, “I don’t watch television, even though I have one, but I almost never turn it on.” Although he will view snippets of television on his computer and allows that there is good programming on the air, he finds himself with little time to sit still and just watch. He prefers to listen to the radio while multi-tasking around the house. Even better, he enjoys scouring the Internet for a new item to add to his miniature collection…while listening to the radio, of course.
Cranberry Bog inspires renowned landscape painter
Ann Christensen from Chelmsford demonstrates firsthand how you can change careers at any point in your life. The artist attended Colby in the 1960s as a math major, but took an art appreciation course there to fill a general requirement for her bachelor’s degree. The class changed the direction of her life. As a junior she realized that she wanted to change her major to art, but her father told her it was fiscally impossible for her to add more years to her undergraduate education – a decision she thought “mean” at the time but now understands as the parent of a college son. Nonetheless, Christensen realized that she was at heart an artist, and though it took her many years to realize her dream through additional study and supporting herself as a graphic artist, she has spent the last two decades earning her way as a professional landscape painter.
Interested in subjects such as marshes and the sky, she travelled up to Maine and painted “Mainly Marsh” shown in the first floor corridor of the Gleason Library. The oil painting, a 30” x 40” piece on canvas, won the “Best in Show” prize at the Cambridge Art Association in 2006. Christensen has had 25 solo shows in Maine, Massachusetts and California. She has participated in many group exhibitions and juried competitions, has earned three grants, and has received first prizes in two competitions. The painter sold most of her work at a Newbury Street gallery at first, but since has moved to local galleries and venues, including the Powers Gallery in Acton. Today, she offers her work to a list of clients she has built over the years from her private studio on Parker Road in Chelmsford.
“I’ve biked to the bog frequently and spend a lot of time there,” says Christensen, “but it took a visit from some friends from San Francisco to bring me to paint the bog.” She relates how one of her friends, Rob, a painter and guitarist, pointed out to her that she should be painting the marshes here. “Now I had been travelling the world and photographing locations to paint. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to paint the bog. I go there almost every day.” Over the past two years, she produced the works on display at the library. You can recognize these paintings, over a dozen of which depict the Cranberry Bog, by their titles which are titles of Beatles songs…pieces that Rob had played for her the evening before the excursion to the local conservation land that spans both Carlisle and Chelmsford.
Christensen, used to painting on canvas, created the series on the Cranberry Bog using board as her medium. She takes photographs outdoors and then works from the images in her studio located in the barn of her home in Chelmsford where she has lived for the past seven years.
“The paint reacts a little differently on board and causes the painting style to shift,” explains Christensen. “The paint builds up more quickly; it doesn’t absorb into the canvas. It’s easy to move around and makes a ‘mess’ of it. The color becomes richer because the paint sits on the canvas.”
“Most people are used to my work looking more like these pieces,” continues the artist pointing to two paintings on canvas of Maine and Plum Island. “As am I. But as a painter you welcome these changes and adaptations. I have really enjoyed painting on board.”
She concludes, “The most recent piece in the show is on canvas, but is of the bog.” The effect is softer, and she says works better to depict the hazy colors caused by fog the day she photographed the scene.
The return to oil on canvas leads her to suspect that she may be done with this phase of her artistic career, and ready for something new. She prefers working in oils in her studio as it is such a slow-drying medium. In a marshy area, she finds oil painting “messy” since “bugs can get into [her] work.” So if she chooses to paint outdoors, she primarily uses water-color paints which are less messy in the open air. She also dabbles in acrylics, but confesses to a strong preference for oil. She mentions perhaps setting up a camper-installation to paint in oil outdoors.
“It’s been two years that I’ve been painting the bog,” she says of her latest inspiration, however. “I may be almost done…or I may never be done!”
Gleason reception for diverse art exhibit Saturday, September 25
Join members of the community in welcoming the three artists whose works are on display at the Gleason Library through October 30. All the contributors to the current exhibit will be at the library on September 25 from 1 to 2:30p.m. Light refreshments will be served. ∆
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