Editor's note: The following essay from the catalogue for the exhibition A Decade of Paintings, 2000-2010: Selected Works by Michael M. Strueber, on view January 28 through June 11, 2011 at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto, was reprinted in Resource Library on March 10, 2011. The essay was reprinted with permission of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on March 9, 2011. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

A Decade of Paintings 2000-2010: Selected Works by Michael M. Strueber

by V. Scott Dimond

 

An ancient metaphor for creative energy and spiritual immanence, the garden is perhaps the dominant theme in the art of Michael M. Strueber. From his own garden in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, to nature's garden in the surrounding Allegheny Mountains, Strueber works actively both in black earth and on white paper. Spade and paintbrush are the same tool, for as the artist sees it, gardening and painting are a means of charting a personal path. Powerfully expressed in his watercolors, Strueber's path begins with the local and tangible, and moves toward the transcendent.

Of great importance to Strueber is the role of place in defining self and its relationship to the world and the greater cosmos. In his still-life paintings, the artist uses only flowers that he has grown on his own property. These reflect not only his personal choices as a gardener, but what the land and climate will support. The particular qualities of the soil, the time of year, and the individual character of the season (wet or dry, hot or cold) are all suggested in the flowers themselves, which, apart from their aesthetic value, serve as a telling index of where and when they were painted. Thus Strueber subtly testifies to his own rootedness in a particular place and time. As he himself will tell you, he is as much a product of the western Pennsylvania soil as the flowers he portrays.

The same observations may be made of Strueber's landscapes. Paralleling his work as a gardener, Strueber feels the necessity of getting close to the land when he depicts the Allegheny forests. Despite the large size of his landscape watercolors, each is painstakingly executed on location, even in the depths of winter. This practice enables the artist not only to absorb the visual character of his subject, but to immerse himself in its essence. Working slowly for as many as eight hours at a time, Strueber uses all of his senses to arrive at an understanding of nature and his own connection to it.

Nature neither dominates nor submits in Strueber's landscapes; it is not the thunderously alien spectacle of the Hudson River School, nor is it tempered and tamed through the presence of man's alterations. Anonymous, yet not insignificant, mysterious, yet unthreatening, Strueber's woodland scenes display the artist's deeply felt connection to the earth, trees, and sky of western Pennsylvania. His paintings reflect the boyhood sense of discovery upon entering a new clearing or crossing a new stream, yet there is a sense of quiet familiarity born of long experience with such scenes. As in his own garden, Strueber affirms his place in the larger garden of nature. He participates in the act of creation as both gardener and painter, and in so doing, he addresses spiritual issues touching on self-realization and the relationship between created and Creator.

Strueber's still lifes are in some ways portraits of metaphysical states. While the depicted flowers locate his physical being in western Pennsylvania, their fragile and evanescent appearance points to immaterial things. Strueber is explicit about the spiritual meaning of arrangements such as A Bouquet for C, in which white flowers represent the ineffable beauty of the human soul. Moving beyond earthly boundaries, A Bouquet for C is a tribute to the highest and most lovely qualities of a person who the artist greatly admired. Yet the painting is more than a simple symbolic gesture. Strueber's flowers are, as has been mentioned, a reflection of his own identity. In this light, A Bouquet for C asserts a complex spiritual reciprocity in which the attributes of C are acknowledged and celebrated within the artist's own higher self. They are yearned-for virtues which, ultimately, may be said to be divine.

The landscapes also encompass a distinct spiritual dimension. On one hand, Strueber recognizes their place within the broad tradition of transcendentalism in American landscape painting. Like the nineteenth-century nature poet, William Cullen Bryant, Strueber sees groves of trees as "God's first temples," holy places where man may commune with his Maker. On the other hand, there is a subtle narrative of spirituality woven into the paintings' very fabric. The underlying paper is perhaps the most significant element, and is regarded by the artist as sacred. Brilliant white and without form or image, the paper itself is suggestive of divine creative potential, and at the moment the first brushstroke appears on its surface (so the artist declares) "a new life begins for me." In the presence of nature, itself an avatar of the divine, Strueber co-creates, weaving a complex tapestry of color and texture through which the white paper, a reminder of spiritual immanence, shines in passages of shimmering light.

In the Biblical Garden of Eden, Man lived in perfect harmony with nature. The echo of Eden reverberates through Michael Strueber's work, expressing the fundamental connection of all created things, and their universal source in the Master Creator. Like Adam, Strueber diligently tends the Garden, and in his paintings, he suggests that we have not necessarily been cast out of paradise.

 

(above: Michael M. Strueber, A Bouquet for C., 2005, Watercolor on paper, 41 1/4 x 29 5/8 inches. Collection of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. Gift of the artist)

 

(above: Michael M. Strueber, Imperial Lotus, 2004. Watercolor on paper, 47 x 36 inches. Gift of Mr. Robert M. Marchi in memory of his wife, Sandy Marchi. Collection of the Juniata College Museum of Art)

 


About the exhibition

The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto is exhibiting A Decade of Paintings, 2000-2010: Selected Works by Michael M. Strueber, on view January 28 through June 11, 2011

A Decade of Paintings brings together 60 large watercolors by Michael M. Strueber, an artist noted for his elegant floral still lifes and views of the Allegheny forests. Gathered from private collections and the artist?s own holdings, the exhibition features some of Strueber's most accomplished and ambitious compositions, including a number of diptychs and triptychs. A native of Western Pennsylvania, Strueber identifies strongly with the region's wooded landscapes. As a plein-air artist, he spends as much as eight hours at a sitting, painting in all four seasons. His immersion in his subjects is clearly evident in his forest studies, which reflect an intimate knowledge of nature's subtler moods. The same may be said of his still lifes, which are composed entirely from flowers that Strueber has grown in his own garden.

Strueber was the founding director of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art and served in that capacity for 24 years. During that time, he oversaw the development of the permanent collection, the special events calendar, the capital expansions of the Museum?s four facilities, the development of its Arts-in-Education program and the national accreditation of the Museum by the American Association of Museums. A highly respected and collected artist, Strueber is represented in more than 400 private art collections in 38 states. He has had numerous solo exhibitions and recently was the first artist to be selected by Fallingwater?s staff for their inaugural art exhibition. Strueber owns and operates the Allegheny Art Gallery in Hollidaysburg and is a Managing Director of the Colcom Foundation, a trustee of Juniata College, and an advisory board member of Fallingwater.

A Decade of Paintings is one of many events scheduled in 2011 in honor of the Museum?s 35th anniversary. The anniversary will be celebrated in April with a Founders' Day Dinner. Scheduled for Saturday, April 16, the Founders' Day Dinner begins at 6 p.m. with a champagne and cocktail reception, and is followed by dinner. Later in the evening, there will be presentations by SAMA Executive Director, G. Gary Moyer; President, SAMA Board of Trustees, John K. Duggan, Jr.; and SAMA Curator for Visual Arts, Dr. Scott Dimond. The evening's keynote speaker is Dr. Philip Eliasoph, art history professor at Fairfield University and author of The Enchantment of Realism, the Museum's forthcoming monograph on artist Colleen Browning. Fee. For reservations or more information, call the Museum at (814) 472-3920.

 

(above: Michael M. Strueber, Doldrum Series XXI, 2008, Watercolor on paper, 47 x 36 inches. Collection of Marty and Barbara Kooman)

 

Biographical information for Michael M. Strueber

Michael M. Strueber was born in 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He grew up in western Pennsylvania and was formally educated at Clarion State University, where he received his B.S. in 1967. Afterwards he pursued graduate work in education and fine arts (painting), earning the degrees of M. Ed. at Duquesne University and M. A. at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In addition, the artist also undertook graduate study at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

Strueber has shown his work throughout Pennsylvania and has been featured in one-man shows at Pennsylvania State University, Saint Vincent College, and the University of Pittsburgh as well as Iowa State University in Iowa City, Iowa. He was also the first artist to be given an exhibition in the new gallery space at Fallingwater. At present, his paintings are held in over 400 private and public collections in 38 states. His most recent landscapes and still lifes may be seen at the Allegheny Art Gallery in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

In addition to his work as a painter, Strueber served for 24 years as Director of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. Under his leadership, the Museum expanded to include four facilities serving six counties in southwestern central Pennsylvania. Strueber has been active as a trustee of several charitable, cultural, and educational organizations, including the Colcom Foundation, Fallingwater, the Cordelia S. May Trust, Juniata College, and the Phipps Conservatory of Pittsburgh. He was also Founder and Past Chairman of the Pennsylvania Rural Arts Alliance and Chair of the Department of Fine Arts at St. Francis University.

Currently, Strueber divides his time between Hollidaysburg and Naples, Florida.

 

(above: Michael M. Strueber, Iris Diptych, 2004, Watercolor on paper, 38 x 56 inches. Gift of Mr. Robert M. Marchi in memory of his wife, Sandy Marchi. Collection of the Juniata College Museum of Art)

 

About the author

V. Scott Dimond is the Curator for Visual Arts at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.

 

Resource Library editor's note:

The above catalogue esssay by V. Scott Dimond was reprinted in Resource Library on March 10, 2011, with permission of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on March 9, 2011.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Travis Mearns of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art for his help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text

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