Art Review: Review: 60th Anniversary Members Show at the Academy Art Museum by Mary McCoy

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There’s a double celebration going on at the Academy Art Museum. Formally marking the culmination of a year-long celebration of this flourishing community museum’s 60th anniversary, its Annual Members’ Exhibition, on view through January 13, is very much a celebration of the vitality of art on the Eastern Shore. With works by 184 artists, an impressive number for our rural area, it’s a lively, colorful show and if the cliché may be excused, has something for everybody.

As might be expected, there are many beautiful Eastern Shore landscapes with shimmering water, quiet marshes and farmlands. Some of these paintings and photographs are realistic, some are more abstract or even cartoonish, but together, they sketch a rich portrait of this region. Towering clouds dwarf a cluster of barns in Gail McConaughy’s lush “Storm Building,” while sunset’s afterglow casts a blush of pink on the calm water around a small boat in Diane DuBois Mullaly’s “By the Light of the Moon.” There are boaters, crabbers, clammers, docks and a lighthouse, as well as herons and ospreys and even a slightly cynical chicken in “Grandma Poses” by Irene Aspell.

Gail McConaughy, “Storm Building,” oil

But in addition to landscapes, there are portraits, ceramics, jewelry, fiber art, sculptures, still lifes, and an impressive array of floral art. Some of the most memorable are Katherine Allen’s elegant fabric collage with its sooty paint stains spritzed with hand-stitching and French knots, Pamela Into’s unusual pair of vases molded from bok choy leaves, and Abby Ober Radford’s understated “Roses, Roses, All the Way” with its luscious brushstrokes just barely fleshing out rose petals and glints of light on a stack of teacups.

Katherine Allen, “My Year of the Dragon,” fiber collage

Several of the works will tease at your thoughts even after you’ve left the exhibit. Matthew Moore’s photographs of three empty pedestals, each surrounded by grass and fallen leaves, is strangely haunting and conjures questions of what memorials they may have held and how they came to be missing. Startlingly alike with their shaggy white hair and irascible expressions, two self-portraits by twin brothers, David and James Plumb, will make you wonder about sibling relationships and the nature of individuality. And while Kevin Garber’s tiny rhinoceros sheathed in colorful postage stamps from around the world seems at first to be a cheery little sculpture, a closer look turns it worrisome. The stamps covering its body depict exotic animals and plants, while those on its pedestal show symbols of the countries that produced them. Given the rhino’s dangerously falling population, poaching and endangered species leap to mind, as do politics and nationalism.

Kevin Garber, “Endangered,” mixed media

To help commemorate its 60th anniversary, the Museum suggested artists might submit works with 60 as their theme, resulting in several depictions of its picturesque exterior (still topped by its 1820 school bell tower), as well as a number of works incorporating the number 60. These include Peter Hanks’s painting of a gigantic crab weighing in at 60 on a scale that spells “Happy Birthday” and Constance Del Nero’s inventive “Population” with its tiny blister packs sculptured into 60 cartoon faces. One particularly satisfying work is Scott Sullivan’s sketchbook containing 60 skillfully drawn charcoal portraits.

Matthew Moore, “Pedestals,” pigment print

This show is itself a portrait of the broad spectrum of artists here on the Eastern Shore. There are many levels of accomplishment included, from more amateur works to pieces by artists such as William Willis, Katherine Allen and David Douglas who have been featured in solo shows at the Museum, as well as Matthew Moore, whose thought-provoking series of photographs, “Post-Socialist Landscapes,” will be exhibited at the Museum in March and April.

The sheer bounty of artworks in this exhibit makes it a spirited celebration of the Museum and its community of artists. Formerly held in the summer months, it makes for great holiday viewing and reinforces the sense that, with its full schedule of exhibits, classes, events, concerts and outreach programs, we are fortunate to have such an active and engaging community museum in our midst.

Mary McCoy is an artist and writer who has the good fortune to live beside an old steamboat wharf on the Chester River. She is a former art critic for the Washington Post and several art publications. She enjoys the kayaking the river and walking her family farm where she collects ideas and materials for the environmental art she creates, often in collaboration with her husband Howard. They have exhibited their work in the U.S., Ireland, Wales and New Zealand.

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