'Magical' shed welcomes visitors to Straube Center's Multicultural Art Show

Friday, September 30, 2011

When Alisandra Wederich curated the Multicultural Art Show that is running now at the Straube Center in Pennington, her intention was to bring together the ways in which humanity connects through art. She has done so successfully.

However, a good starting place AND an especially good place to come back to when visiting this exhibit is a building on the Straube campus that looks like it might be there to just house garden equipment. It’s a 10- by 10- by 12-foot gray “shedlike” building. But don’t pass it by. Take heed of its name: “It’s What’s Inside That Counts.”

Created by self-taught Skillman artist Geneva Anastasio over a three-year period, it is a magical place of tiny hand-cut mirrors and mosaics, baubles, jewels, beads, rhinestones, Swarovski crystals, glass pebbles, silvered river stones, copper piping, glass, ribbons and beads. The interior walls are covered with 1-inch mirrors, and the floor is hand-cut blue spectrum glass with blue water-glass trails extending to the ceiling. 

It is a place of pure magic where, when you enter and close the door to the outside behind you, it is as if you’ve stepped into a kaleidoscope. The entire interior is mirrored, but you can never see yourself reflected. A central interior lighted cylinder rotates at the flick of a switch as your perspective changes and, if you let your eyes relax from intense focus, you can become one with the environment, seemingly floating through a kaleidoscopic universe so different from reality.

According to Wederich, Anastasio created each panel individually in her basement, and the entire installation was inspired by people in her life. Antique keys suspended from the vaulted ceiling were from her husband’s best friend, who helped them find their first home. One becomes aware while spending time in this magical environment of the life experiences that have gone into the creation of such a —-dare I use the word again? —-“magical” place.

When asked how this space connects to the Multicultural Show, Wederich responds, “her piece reflects on the interior of all human beings — something that surpasses culture to look deep within us, for what it is inside that counts.”

Wederich says when she began putting the show together she started with Dana Weekley, owner of Nine Tomatoes’ mandalas, and came across the Chinese watercolors by Wen Shui that are rooted in that strong tradition.

“When I met Cliff Ward at Trenton All Night, it all started to come together,” Wederich says. Then came the significantly different watercolors of Teri McCans, who Wederich says addresses things most Americans do not think about. Although many of McCans’ paintings are about the military, they are not pro-war or anti-war, but are about what the artist experiences in her life in America.

India Blake was invited to submit her photographs for this collection because she has traveled extensively throughout the world, witnessing many different cultures. “But there’s a singularity of feeling in her work, like you’re the only person in the world looking at this,” Wederich says.

The exhibition is balanced nicely with detailed needlepoint works by Barbara Pinkham which, Wederich believes, are saying, in effect, “This is my experience through the ages of American culture.”

Pinkham, who was initially guided in her art by neighborhood ladies, then the lure of a Girl Scout badge, eventually became a member of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America. Her needleworks in this show vary from the traditional to those that embrace new techniques and reflect our culture’s changes.

McCans’ watercolors represent a far different aspect of our American culture. In addition to having served in two overseas combat tours with the Army National Guard, she is an avid world traveler interested in exploring the ways environments shape people. Presented on canvas specially designed for watercolor pigments, she uses the unique qualities of the medium to convey her intentions. Her paintings speak of peace and conflict, strength and delicacy.

Shui’s paintings are influenced by the Chinese watercolor traditions that allow only a limited palette and limited subject matter and speak quietly of that culture. Also on display are two calligraphic versions of “DuFu poem: Two Golden Orioles Sing.” Wederich points out that one is done in the expressive Running Style that is similar to the American method of script. The other is in Seal Script Style, which is stronger, suggesting when we write in all capital letters.

Blake says in her artist’s statement she feels her photographs are a window through which she can connect to things she cares about and through which the viewer may connect to both her desire to conserve these things and to her.

Weekley calls her mandalas “energy beings.” They begin as drawings and, with the aid of computer software, emerge as symbolic geometric designs printed on canvas. According to the Nine Tomatoes blog, they can now be found all over the world. “They live, they speak…they change energy and perspective. They change lives,” she writes.

Ward brings an African influence to the exhibit with his masks and wall-mounted sculptures created from woven plaster of Paris bandages that sometimes include rice paper, woven newspaper, and “improvisational painting.” Ward calls his body of work a potpourri of many indigenous people’s cultures. His sculptures are bold and dramatic, they evoke mythology and spirituality and evolve from Ward’s delving into the truths of his own ancestry.

Which brings us back to the mystical building where we started — “It’s What’s Inside That Counts.”

The Multicultural Art Show
When: During business hours, through Nov. 25
Where: Straube Center, Route 31 and West Franklin Avenue, Pennington
Contact: (609) 737-3322 or straubecenter.com

One Straube Center Blvd • Pennington, NJ 08534 • Phone: 609-737-3322 • E-mail:
Straube Center Boulevard surrounded by Route 31, West Franklin Ave., Knowles Ave.-Bixby’s Way, and Broemel Place