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Varied mediums, styles of local artists spotlighted in show opening Jan.18 in Northbridge

Telegram and Gazette Entertainment & Life

January 2019

By Nancy Sheehan, Correspondent

Posted Jan 16, 2019 at 8:00 PM

NORTHBRIDGE — A new exhibition featuring four local artists in the gallery of a renovated old factory is anything but run of the mill.

“An Eclectic Mix,” with Sam Tomasiello, Al Weems, Jim Henderson and Philip Marshall, opens with a reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Spaulding R. Aldrich Heritage Gallery in the Whitin Mill, 50 Douglas Road, Whitinsville.

The exhibition features sculpture, photography and paintings inside the gallery, and continues outside with additional sculptures in a plaza overlooking the Mumford River.

The exhibition is really like four mini shows in one, although the varied mediums and styles come together nicely due to the curatorial efforts of Cristi Collari, director of community outreach for Open Sky Community Services, an agency housed in the Whitin Mill that offers vocational and residential services. Open Sky’s arts arm, ValleyCAST, is presenting the show.

“You want the work to be able to — I don’t want to say speak to each other, but you just want it to flow and coexist in a really dynamic way,” Collari said. That goal was achieved with sculpture outside echoed by 3D pieces of similar materials on the inside, while the blocks of vivid color in pastel drawings connect with abstract elements of photographs on nearby walls.

The photos are by Al Weems, whose award-winning black-and-white images are well-known throughout the Blackstone Valley and beyond. The Heritage Gallery exhibit features some of those photos, including black-and-white images printed on aluminum, but also includes a few of his newer color photographs.

Especially intriguing is a series of close-up photos of architectural details. They are not the usual snippets of elegantly carved molding details or photo homages to intricate wrought-iron scrolls. Weems, instead, forsakes the pursuit of perfection in favor of the faded beauty of the formerly grand. One image shows just a small part of a corner in a room, up near the ceiling, where moisture has taken its toll on stenciled wallpaper over the years.

Another image is a detail of an aging wood panel desperately in need of a new coat of paint, but such is Weems’ talent that he can even make peeling paint look interesting.

Sam Tomasiello is an oil pastel painter. He is a young adult with autism who nevertheless communicates eloquently through his art. His work often features flowers or fruit rendered in a vibrant, graphical style.

“We’re all about inclusive opportunities,” said Karen Goldenberg, senior director of advancement and marketing for Open Sky. “Our focus is on people coming together because of what they share, not what separates them. Sam’s work is here because of his talent, not because of his disability.”

Tomasiello’s work is instantly endearing, so those who come to the show later in its run (it ends March 1) and want to buy one might well find themselves out of luck.

“We had his work here a couple years ago,” Goldenberg said. “He was part of a three-person show back then and his work sold like hotcakes. It’s very colorful and whimsical, and everybody just loves it.” (I can vouch for that. I bought one when I was at the gallery doing interviews before the show.) As far as sales go, 70 percent of the price is given to the artist and 30 percent is retained by the gallery to help fund future exhibitions, Collari says.

There are two sculptors in the show. Collari said she first encountered Jim Henderson’s work a few years ago at Art in the Park, an outdoor sculpture exhibition at Elm Park in Worcester. She looked on his website and saw a photo of his tall, tree-like sculptures lightly dusted with snow and thought they would be perfect for a winter exhibition outside on the plaza by the Mumford, which is just outside the gallery’s plate glass windows. She contacted him and he became part of a successful show at the Heritage Gallery, so she invited him to return this year. Henderson has done work in wood, bronze and aluminum and is exhibiting sculpture inside the gallery and outside on the plaza this time around.

Henderson’s work on the plaza is joined by two new steel and pigment sculptures by Philip Marshall, “Pitcher” and “Distant.” The former evokes the coiled kinetic energy of a major-league ace in action on the mound.

“Distant,” a more contemplative looking piece, is an abstraction of the human form in repose. It’s situated on the edge of the plaza, close to the river, and is especially striking when the sun hits it and lights up its bright yellow color. Marshall said he found the inspiration for the work in a figure-drawing group he attends periodically.

“I called it ‘Distant’ for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One, he’s looking into the distance, and the other is he (the drawing-class model) is doing the same pose for three hours and maybe the best thing to do, if you’re a model, to sort of zone out. You know, sitting there for three hours with no clothes on everybody sort of dissociates themselves from the real time, I’m guessing.”

Regular gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and weekends and evenings by appointment. Call (508) 234-6232 or visit openskycs.org/news-events for more information.

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