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Mirror Mirror: Portraits, Profiles, and Portrayals

April 15 - July 24, 2005


The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Loretto opened on April 15, 2005 its latest exhibition, Mirror Mirror: Portraits, Profiles, and Portrayals. With approximately 100 works by an impressive list of artists, Mirror Mirror explores the evolution of American portraiture in the 19 th and 20 th centuries. The exhibition will remain on view through July 24, 2005, and covers a great diversity of techniques, with portraits realized in painting, sculpture, photography, lithography and drawing.

Featured in the exhibition are notable artists such as Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Andy Warhol, Leonard Baskin, Mary Jane Peale, Thomas Sully, Peter Max, Robert Rauschenberg, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Dow Jones and Ben Shahn. These artists represent the development and change in the concept of what makes a portrait, and each have brought their own unique approach to the genre.

Mirror Mirror focuses on the three primary aspects of portraiture: the veristic portrait, the portrayal, the profile. In the veristic portrait, the individual sitter is clearly identified, as exemplified in the 1860 portraits of Eliza Burd Patterson Peale and Rubens Peale by the painter, Mary Jane Peale. The artist worked within a philosophical requirement for visual accuracy in painting the likeness of her sitters, which in this particular case were her parents. "Verism in portraiture in the 19th century was viewed as the intellectual interpretation of America as a true expression of the glory of democracy," said Marchicelli.

The second type of portraiture, the portrayal, provides the artist freedom to give their representation of the sitter. Portrayals tend to be more psychological studies of a particular personage. Andy Warhol's portrayal of Grace Kelly , done in 1984, two years after her death represents the artist's fascination with popular culture icons. "Grace Kelly was one of the most admired women in the world during her lifetime. She was upheld as the standard of beauty, grace and style of the modern American woman," said Marchicelli. "Warhol, in his 1984 screenprint, had chosen to represent Grace Kelly, not as the 54-year-old European monarch that she had become, but as the young 22-year-old actress that made her debut in the 1951 movie, Fourteen Hours ."

The final type of portraiture -- the profile -- can literally be a side view of a sitter, but also a biographical essay presenting the subject's most noteworthy characteristics and achievements. One example is Thomas Eakins' 1891 photograph of Walt Whitman . The two men shared not only a friendship and mutual respect, but also an artistic vision of American democracy grounded in realism. Eakins, who would photograph the aging poet until his death in 1892, used the photographic profile as a means for capturing the character and fleeing realism of his subject. Whitman was to describe his portrait by Eakins as "a portrait of power and realism. a poor, old, blind, despised and dying king." He hailed Eakins as one of the few artists "who could resist the temptation to see what they thought ought to be, rather than what is."

An opening reception was held at the Museum on April 16, with a gallery tour with Dr. Graziella Marchicelli, SAMA Fine Arts Curator. The Museum held a lecture on the evolution of the portrait and its significance in modern society in the Museum Gallery on April 22.


Other exhibitions at SAMA-Loretto:

In the Loretto Balcony Gallery the exhibition The Four Seasons: Images of Nature in Art runs through May 15, 2005 The Loretto facility at Saint Francis University serves as headquarters to the complex of four Museum facilities and is a repository for the permanent collection of works of American art. Exhibitions are developed from national collections, as well as from the Museum's permanent collection.

Scenes from the Allegheny Mountains: The Landscape Paintings of S. Scott Steberger opens May 27 and continues through September 4, 2005 in the Museum?s Margery Wolf Kuhn balcony gallery. (right: S. Scott Steberger, Otoño Mio, 1996, tempera and watercolor on paper, 29 x 36 inches. Collection of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art)

Known for his highly textured landscape paintings done in and around the Cambria and Blair county regions, Steberger strives to create an indigenous style of realism that reflects the complexities and crosscurrents of American culture and history. The artist also maintains a commitment to projecting a personal view of the world around him: "I try to capture a moment in my art -- one split second of the forces and energy that the earth has been exuding since the beginning of time."

Steberger, who also works in sculpture, printmaking and collage, draws inspiration from a diverse range of genres. The influence of American regionalists like Grant Wood and Charles Burchfield, abstract expressionists such as Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, and impressionists Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh can be found throughout the artist?s work.

Steberger is primarily attracted to scenes where man-made objects interact with nature in a harmonious fashion, such as cultivated farmlands or a winding road snaking through the rolling hillside. In fact, many of his works come from roadside scenes within a 10 to 20 mile drive from his home and may be familiar to residents.

His painting process is unique among local artists, as he works in various values using tempera paint mixed to a thick consistency, and paints on a flat surface, so as to keep the paint from running. Color is added by using watercolor after the tempera has dried, which could last as long as a couple weeks. Once the painting is completely dry, a varnish is applied over the surface to seal and protect. Because of the works' thick textures, they are best viewed under a direct light source, such as in a museum setting, as it enhances the luminous color and texture and can cast interesting shadows.

"Scott Steberger's textured tempera and watercolor landscape paintings are unique, imaginative and visually powerful," said Dr. Graziella Marchicelli, SAMA Fine Arts Curator. "Scott has gone his own way toward establishing a personally unique visual point of view and style, thus creating a new way of rendering the American landscape. His particular use of color and light is distinctive in that it summons a pensive, ethereal feeling in the viewer. I have only seen one other artist who used color and light in the same manner as Scott and that was the French Impressionist Edouard Vuillard." (right: S. Scott Steberger, Munster Farm, 1998, tempera and watercolor on rag board, 40 x 60 inches. Private collection)

In celebration of the exhibition, the Museum is hosting a Bluegrass Jam at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 5. The program will feature acoustic bluegrass, folk, Americana and old blues music performed by Perry Sheesley & Friends, a six-piece group comprised of local musicians. Sheesley has been playing the local club circuit for more than 35 years, and is currently the lead guitarist and lead vocalist of Totem.


Exhibitions at other SAMA facitities:

The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Ligonier Valley's latest exhibition, The Art of Michael M. Strueber, celebrates the great tradition of American watercolor paintings with 38 landscapes and still lifes by the Hollidaysburg, Blair County, artist. The exhibition continues through July 24, 2005

As an artist, Strueber believes the act of painting nature is a spiritual search, one in which the artist "finds his God." He considers painting nature a privilege and a source of inner peace, which he feels he has earned through daily struggle, contemplation and self-discipline. He regards this approach to watercolor painting as being spiritually similar to the Japanese brush painting tradition of sumi-e .Sumi-e is the attempt to capture the "life spirit" of a subject.

"When painting nature, whether it be landscapes, still lifes or botanical scenes, for Strueber the process means searching for spirituality," said SAMA Fine Arts Curator Dr. Graziella Marchicelli. "Nature provides him with an infinite artistic stimulation and inner peace. In creating a picture, Strueber tries to grasp the spirit of his subject. In turn, his landscapes and still lifes have become a celebration of life."

Strueber has created an extensive body of work. He finds watercolor painting uniquely challenging, because of the inherent unpredictability of the medium, and believes a disciplined and accomplished watercolorist takes advantage of the uncontrollable. The artist also is strongly influenced by Henri Matisse, because of "the bright, vivid colors that seem to burst from their canvases, the way forms are built purely from color." Ultimately, though, Strueber considers his years of thoughtful study and his diligent mastery of the watercolor medium as a means to a greater end: "All of my paintings are a celebration of life and represent an attempt to share an increasingly endangered vision of the bountiful beauty and spirit I experience daily."

Strueber has established a distinguished career not just as an artist, but also an arts administrator. He is Director Emeritus of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art and former chairman of the Fine Arts department of Saint Francis University. He also has served as an institutional accreditation reviewer for the American Association of Museums, a site reviewer for the National Endowment for the Arts, a grant reviewer for the Institute of Museum Services, a member of the visual arts panel of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and chairman and founder of the Pennsylvania Rural Arts Alliance. He is currently the co-owner and director of the Allegheny Art Gallery of Hollidaysburg, the exclusive representative of his work. As an artist, he has had solo exhibitions at the University of Iowa, The Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Saint Francis University, St. Vincent College and SAMA-Altoona. His work is included in more than 250 private and institutional collections.

In the Johnstown gallery Rock On! The Art of the Music Poster: From the 60s and 70s runs from April 29 through September 18, 2005 SAMA has created an online catalog for this exhibition. Also see Resource Library's article Rock On! (5/10/05)

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rev 5/20/05

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