July 7, 2016 02:21AM
By NANCY BURNS-FUSARO
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — The Westerly Land Trust office building will be transformed into an art gallery for the summer beginning Friday with the opening of “Endless Summer,” an art exhibit curated by Kimberly Charles, owner of Providence’s Cate Charles Gallery.
The show, which opens with a Friday reception from 6 to 8 p.m., features the contemporary works of artists Harriet Moore Ballard, Deborah Randall, Susan Stephenson and Annie Wildey, and will be on display at the former Industrial Trust Building on High Street through Aug. 17.
I caught up with Charles, who had a gallery in Stonington for a number of years, as she carefully arranged and hung the paintings on the walls inside the former bank building one day last week.
It is important to hang a show in just the right manner, explained the gallery owner and director who has been honing her skills and taste for the last 30-plus years.
“You want the eye to follow the lines from one painting to the other,” said Charles, as she straightened the large Stephenson painting that is the first work visitors to the gallery will see when they enter.
Stephenson, who lives in Charlestown, has been a member of the faculty of the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts since 1995 and is a full-time associate professor who serves as the chair of the painting department. Her luminous, slightly abstract seaside landscapes focus on unusual and surprising details — the wraparound porch of the old Ocean House; an empty beach parking lot in Misquamicut; an odd corner window of a beach shack.
“Color and a sense of fleeting light are important to me and my paintings are all developed onsite, or plein air,” said the artist this week. “Oil on birch panel, they are representational yet completely dependent upon abstraction. In working from direct observation, I get the chance to tap into the formal relationships — the visual relationships — of each site; in responding to the shapes and the vibrant colors of a place, I eventually place the viewer in my shoes — if only for a split second — and let them see what I see and perhaps feel what I feel.”
“I am a transcriber of visual experience, and so many of my favorite visual experiences have been in the Ocean State,” added the Louisiana native. “Rhode Island is a beautiful state — I love it.”
While painting Rhode Island’s coastal scenes, she added, she began to see the differences between the two states.
The light in Rhode Island is spectacular, she said, “unusually clear and bright, while the Louisiana humidity often creates more milky skies.”
Stephenson said she also relishes “how wild and unconstrained” the waves of the ocean can be, “being freed from their confinement by the Sound.”
“I’ve seen the quiet beauty of the marshland of the Connecticut coast, and as a result I’m especially attracted to the wildness of the Rhode Island coastline and feel fortunate to live here and call Rhode Island my home,” she added.
Wildey, a Mystic-based artist with a studio at the Velvet Mill in Stonington, is a British painter and printmaker known for her large paintings of waves. The majority of her work is created in the studio due to the large scale of most of her painting, but said she enjoys painting plein air too, and brings the experience of being on location back into the studio with her.
Randall, a Kennebunkport, Maine-based artist, is known for her large oil-on-canvas landscapes. In her artist’s statement she says “an effort is made at finding the truth by developing the places in a painting that are authentic.”
Randall grew up in Washington, D.C., and northern California, but when she came upon an 1800s farmhouse on the Maine coast, she fell in love with the area and enjoys painting the natural beauty that surrounds her.
Harriet Moore Ballard, a Stonington painter, said in her artist’s statement that “inspiration for my paintings comes from two places: the domestic home life where I eat, sleep and manage my life; and my connections with nature which shapes and patterns my life. The two are blended and cannot be separated. I start a painting with a fragment, a beginning statement, or a sketch. After that, there are no boundaries, and no expectations of what will happen.”
Bill McKendree, chair of the land trust’s Urban Committee, said the gallery partnership is part of the Westerly Land Trust’s urban initiative that was created “to enhance cultural and retail offerings in the downtown sector.”
In 2004, the land trust expanded its mission with the goal of fostering the re-development of commercial properties.
“The concept reflects the flip-side of land conservation, in that a strong urban core and vital downtown can reduce developmental stress on open space,” said Kelly Presley, land trust executive director.
In 2008, the land trust featured a four-person exhibit titled “Transmutations,” with artists Charles Clough, Marcia Felber, Read McKendree and Pamela Markham Heller.
The opening reception for “Endless Summer” will be held Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the gallery, 10 High St., Westerly. The event is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday 1 to 7 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. through Aug. 17.