For two local artists, the year is ending in fine fashion, and the next will begin full of promise.
Sculptor Serena Bates of Westerly and painter Diane Brown of Stonington, two well-established and well-known area artists, have had a year filled with accomplishments and awards. Next month, both of them will head to New York together to display their work at a show organized by the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club, the oldest women’s art club in the country.
Their work will be part of the club’s 121st Annual Open Juried Exhibition at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park from Jan. 9 through Jan. 26.
“Things have really been happening for me this year,” said Bates, cheerfully, from her studio — in a “wonderful barn” owned by her partner, Richard Mann — one afternoon last week.
Bates, a Westerly High School graduate and Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts alum who has work exhibited in collections around the world, has received a number of prestigious awards for her work over the years (most recently she was awarded the “Hello Dolly” Alpheous P. Cole Award at the 109th annual Salamagundi Thumb Box exhibit) and belongs to dozens of associations and clubs. But just this year, she was selected to become a member of the oldest nonprofit art association in the United States, which has a reputation for being difficult to get into.
“I was accepted into the Copley Society in Boston,” said Bates, whose works will be on display in the holiday “Small Works” show at the society’s Newbury Street building through Dec. 24. “I am so proud ... even though I am an official newbie.”
Bates, whose mother, Serena Massaro Bates, is a Westerly native whose family includes members of the Lupica clan, moved to town when she in ninth grade.
“I’m a bit of a braniac,” she said with a laugh. “I loved science and Latin and art in high school … so, I’ve always known I’d be in science or the arts.”
Bates said her sculptures “incorporate a symbiotic mixture of ideas and visions from people around me, the environment and materials where I’m working,” and works in mediums from bronze and stone to copper, resin and ceramic. Using the centuries-old Japanese process called Kintsugi, she explained, she creates her pieces by breaking them and putting them back together with powdered gold.
Bates said she has a special affinity for animals — marine life, especially — and portraits. Her “Beached Whale Fountain” is the centerpiece of the main entrance courtyard at the Mystic Marriot Hotel, and one of her sea lions is prominently placed at the entrance of the Westerly Animal Hospital. Bates calls herself a storyteller and a hard worker.
She is also a business owner. She and her ex-husband, Mike Barca, own Pete’s Grocery in Bradford, a popular local grocery and grinder shop.
“I work really hard,” Bates said. “But the only person who works harder than I do is Diane Brown … she is making such great strides.”
“Serena is one of those incredible hard-working artists whose work also happens to be exquisite,” Brown said Thursday afternoon from her studio on River Road in Pawcatuck.
It was Bates, Brown said, who sponsored her for membership in another prestigious art club, New York’s Salmagundi Club, and the Catherine Lorillard show.
Brown, who has painted primarily with oils over the years, has recently begun working with oil and cold wax, a process she called “very exciting.”
“It’s like frothy whipped cream,” said Brown with delight. “It’s like frosting for a wedding cake and it’s fun … I love it .. everything I do now is oil and cold wax.”
“I couldn’t be happier,” said the 70-year-old “basically self-taught” painter who has been a member of the Artists Cooperative Gallery of Westerly for years. “It’s exciting to have so much happening late in life.”
In March, Brown was awarded the Overall Excellence Award at the Mystic Museum of Art’s juried show.
Brown said her work is “inspired by the natural, organic formations, surface patterns and texture.”
“The process of painting is my focus,” she writes in her artistic statement, “not trying to make a specific statement. I often begin in one place and end up in another with no idea of how I got there or how to do it again.”
“My love of bold colors is evident in all of my work,” said the Long Island native. “Outcomes can be surprising, but never dull.”
Brown, who “loves commission work” and teaches classes regularly in her Pawcatuck studio, said when you discover something that works for you, that “strikes an inner chord,” then it’s best to “go with it.”
When she finished her first classes in the oil-and-cold-wax technique with a teacher in North Carolina, she said, she got up early in the morning the day after school ended and drove straight home to Connecticut.
“I was so enthused and so excited,” said Brown, “I drove all the way home to my studio and have been painting from that day on.”
“It changed me in a very powerful way,” said Brown, who is married to former Stonington First Selectman Bill Brown.
“I was never really recognized for my oil paintings,” she said, “certainly not in the same way as for my oil and wax.”
“I couldn’t be happier,” she added. “Life is good.”
For more information about Bates, visit serenabates.com. For more information about Brown, visit dianebrownct.com.