Companion shows

Exhibitions trace artistry across the centuries

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
April 04. 2018 1:21PM
Susan Ricker Knox gained national attention in the early 1920s because she captured the likeness of immigrants at Ellis Island at a time when there was a backlash against those fleeing foreign countries. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — Two companion exhibits to “Gertrude Fiske: American Master” will be on display at Discover Portsmouth —“Sisters of the Brush and Palette” in the Special Events Gallery and “Seacoast Masters Today” in the Balcony Gallery.

One of four contemporary female artists showcased in the “Seacoast Masters Today” exhibition, Amy Brnger has lived and worked with her husband and fellow artist, Craig Hood, in Portsmouth since 1982. The University of New Hampshire graduate has received several grants and commissions, including two from the Elizabeth Greenshields Painting Award and several New Hampshire Arts Council Public Arts Commissions.

“My painting reflects the world around me, whether it is a tiny bit of nature, such as flowers, a view of my studio or home, or the landscape nearby. My favorite things are usually pretty ordinary, maybe even a bit ugly or obscure,” Brnger said. “I enjoy the process of making a picture that reflects my vision of the view, as well as reflects the way that I like to manipulate paint. I like to paint spontaneously, enjoy the surprises, and make something that doesn’t feel labored or dull.”

Brnger said her favorite medium is oil.

“The buttery consistency of the paint is fun to manipulate,” Brnger said.

Artist Donna Harkins, who also is a UNH graduate, has a studio at the Button Factory in Portsmouth. She has won over 50 awards for her work.

“I’m very interested in painting people, trying to capture something about them that goes deeper than their likeness, although getting a likeness is challenging enough in itself,” Harkins said.

She enjoys working with oil, she said.

“I’ve painted probably a couple hundred watercolors and hundreds of pastels, but I prefer oil and always come back to it. Probably because it was my first medium, like having a first speaking language,” Harkins said.

Sydney Bella Sparrow lives in York, Maine, and is a graduate of the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Sparrow’s drawings and paintings include still lifes, studies of nature, portraits and figures with a focus on the tradition of realism. She enjoys teaching both figure drawing and the fundamentals of still life painting.

Pamela DuLong Williams lives in South Berwick, Maine, and has been a professional artist for almost 50 years. She said that at the age of 69, she is slowing down her teaching schedule and focusing more on her own work.

Williams has a teaching studio in Kittery, Maine, and has exhibited in numerous galleries in New York City, New England, Florida and Italy.

‘Sisters of the Brush’

“Sisters of the Brush and Palette” will feature artwork by a group of women who earned that moniker in the 1890s. According to the Discover Portsmouth’s website, art journalist William Howe Downes made mention of the women in 1896, saying that every year more undaunted women were coming forward “as doughty competitors to men.”

Susan Ricker Knox was born in Portsmouth in 1874. She studied art in Philadelphia and had a thriving art studio in New York City. Though Knox painted some portraits of the children of America’s richest families, it was the images she produced after watching immigrants as they passed through Ellis Island that became fuel for a national debate about immigration in the early 1920s.

Area historian and the curator for the “Sister” exhibition Richard Candee explained that at the time, Americans were fearful of Italians and Southern Europeans who wanted to come to this country.

“It’s like the Muslims or Mexicans today. It’s absolutely the same idea,” Candee said of backlash to influx of groups of people from foreign countries.

Knox traveled to her Seacoast studio in York Harbor, Maine, every year, to work. Her winter studio was in Mexico.

Margaret Patterson and Anne Carleton were art teachers and members of the sisterhood. Patterson was born in 1867 off the coast of Java on a ship captained by her father and grew up in Boston. She became the head of the art department at Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Mass., and held that job until she retired in 1940.

Patterson also worked as a public school art teacher in Portsmouth and Southbridge, Mass.

Carleton was born in Atkinson in 1878. For 55 years, she taught at the Lynn, Marblehead and Needham, Mass., school districts.

Candee said Carleton was interested in capturing the images of middle-class people. One of the paintings on display at Discover Portsmouth shows people relaxing on the beach with large umbrellas in the 1930s.

The exhibition featuring “Sisters of the Brush and Palette” will run until Sept. 30.


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