Finding an outlet: Easthampton exhibit lets artists share pandemic experiences

  • Easthampton artist and educator Maggie Nowinski conceived and curated the online exhibit “Post Pause” in part with a grant from Easthampton City Arts, which is hosting the show of more than 70 artists. Nowinski is shown in her Paragon Arts & Industry Building studio with a work in progress, “wHoles.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • “Day 35,” an acrylic painting by Martha Brouwer, captures the artist’s feeling of cabin fever that the pandemic induced in spring.  Image courtesy Maggie Nowinski

  • In “Quarantine Reflection,” photographer Anne Taylor captured her young son staring out the window during the pandemic’s early days.  Image courtesy Maggie Nowinski/Post Pause

  • “The Sparrow King,” an oil painting by Imo Imeh. It’s part of a series that imagines angels sent to earth to experience what it’s like to be a Black man during the pandemic.  Image courtesy Maggie Nowinski/Post Pause

  • Quilt by Esther White and her son, Solomon Kahn, who’s five years old. Inspiration and design by Solomon. Image courtesy Maggie Nowinski/Post Pause

  • “Stormy Day on the Maine Shore with Boats,” oil painting by Catherine Gibbs, who says the pandemic has prompted her to use her art “as a form of escapism. I've been focusing on places I’ve visited and found respite and peace.” Image courtesyMaggie Nowinski/Post Pause

  • Everyone put on their face mask! This is “Kernels of Wisdom,” a digital painting by Dave Rothstein. Image courtesy Maggie Nowinski/Post Pause

  • “Feet Bird Chain Link,” mixed media by Simone Alter Muri. The piece addresses the refugee crisis in southern Europe and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Image courtesy Maggie Nowinski. Background photo Charlotte Hodges

  • “Canary in the Coal Mine (COVID-19 Diary),” watercolor and ink on paper by Lyn Horan. The painting references the first reported case of covid in Massachusetts. Image courtesy Maggie Nowinski/Post Pause

  • Easthampton artist and educator Maggie Nowinski conceived and curated the online exhibit "Post Pause" in part with a grant from Easthampton City Arts, which is hosting the show of more than 70 artists. Nowinski is shown in her Paragon Arts & Industry Building studio on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, with a work in progress, "wHoles". —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Climbing the walls — literally. Dreaming of escape. Trying to find new ways to entertain and engage children cut off from friends and school. Reflecting on national problems in a country deeply divided along political and cultural lines.

In “Post Pause,” a new online exhibit hosted by Easthampton City Arts, more than 70 artists from across the Valley have used their work to reflect on how their lives have changed during the pandemic, as well as how the virus has influenced their art. And the exhibit, which can be seen at the ECA’s website (easthamptoncityarts.com), has also been designed to connect artists and other community members at a time of continued isolation.

Maggie Nowinski, a multi-disciplinary artist from Easthampton, conceived and curated the show, using a $300 grant she received from ECA; the organization created the grant program this past summer to help artists financially and to encourage them to create work or programs that would benefit the larger community.

“I was thinking [the pandemic] was here to stay awhile, and I’d seen this really lively arts scene in Easthampton just totally shut down,” Nowinski said in a recent phone call. “I knew a lot of my artist friends were feeling really isolated. So I was thinking, ‘How can I fill a need and create an opportunity for artists and let them feel a part of something?’”

Nowinski, who teaches art at Westfield State University and Manchester Community College in Connecticut, put out a call to artists throughout western Massachusetts, including Berkshire County, and was pleased at the response, with many artists submitting more than one piece of work — paintings, photos, prints, sculpture, mixed-media pieces, fabric art and more. She says she also wanted to find as wide a range of voices and visions as possible for the show.

“I think this was helpful to a lot of people, maybe as a motivator if they were feeling they were in a rut, or just as an opportunity to say ‘This is what I’m making now,’” she said.

Nowinksi says artists had to submit work created after mid-March, when the pandemic arrived, and they were also asked to contribute a statement about what their work represented, as well as consider questions such as how the pandemic has affected the volume of their work and its thematic content, and how COVID-19 has affected their day-to-day life.

“I think this all serves as a good snapshot of where a lot of artists in this region are today — what they’re thinking about, what’s happening in their homes, how they’re dealing creatively with this weird time,” she said. “I’m really excited about what people are doing.”

A broad palette

“Post Pause” offers a wide range of work from a thematic standpoint, and from an emotional one as well. There’s humor, sadness, a sense of isolation, and also anger at some public events, like the incidents of police violence against Black people that gained national attention this summer. But some of the artwork also radiates a sense of resoluteness, a determination to make the best of the situation.

South Hadley painter Martha Brouwer’s “Day 35” is a laugh-out-loud piece, an acrylic painting that depicts a woman clawing herself up the wall of a room, like a rock climber finding tiny handholds for purchase. A stack of books topped with a cup of coffee are the only other items in the room, evoking a feeling of close confinement and isolation; the floor appears to be a giant jigsaw puzzle.

“When we were initially isolated with the COVID scare, I made the climbing the walls painting which expressed the cooped-up feeling I was having at the time,” Brouwer writes. “As time progressed and I got into a new rhythm I wanted to paint an image of hope and calm.”

Also speaking to that sense of confinement, but in a more pensive way, is “Quarantine Reflection” by Anne Taylor, a black and white photograph of the artist’s 3-year-old son peering out a window on a rainy day, the reflection of his face a ghostly mirror image in the window.

Taylor, of Southampton, writes that her son struggled early on with the lockdown imposed by the pandemic, as did her whole family, since being outside “is one of the few outlets for us during this time… but for the most part he has been amazingly resilient during this entire ordeal. He has certainly taught me how to be more present and at peace in the here and now.”

“I am so grateful for my family and the extra bonding time we were ‘gifted’ by this strange new world,” Taylor says.

The oil painting “The Sparrow King,” showing part of the torso of a black man, gossamer wings trailing behind him, is from a series created by Holyoke artist and art history professor Imo Imeh. He says that series tells a story of angels that have been sent to earth and are “bound to the skins of black boys and men. Their task is to serve as witnesses to the traumas and triumphs that they experience while in this guise.”

As a black man himself, Imeh adds, the series to him represents “the many horrific realities of black existence that the darkness of this [pandemic] has elucidated for the world.”

Another fraught national topic this year: Amherst artist Lynn Peterfreund offers a drawing of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On a lighter note, Dave Rothstein of Florence, a multidisciplinary artist, contributes “Kernels of Wisdom,” a digital painting of an ear of corn with two small eyes and a tiny face mask right below them. He first photographed the corn, then repainted it digitally, he writes.

“COVID-19 has challenged us all in a variety of ways and to different degrees,” Rothstein notes. “It hasn’t been easy. But humor, compassion and community make the days more bearable.”

In Northampton, printmaker Esther White, at home this spring with her son, Solomon Kahn, made a quilt with the five year old for which he came up with the design concept, while she taught him how to use an iron and sewing machine. “Esther told me about this and said ‘Does this count, is this part of the [exhibition] theme?’” said Nowinski. “And I said ‘That’s perfect. This is where so many people are today.’”

Nowinski says that artists, in lieu of being charged a submission fee for the exhibit, were asked to make a contribution, on a sliding scale, to either of two area organizations: 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active, an activist group in Springfield, or the Solidarity Fund of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, the Northampton group that helps low-wage and immigrant workers.

As well, neither Nowinksi or ECA will get any commission from the sale of artwork from “Post Pause.” She says the exhibit website instead provides links to each artist’s website and Instagram page “and it’s our hope people will visit those and hopefully consider buying some artwork or supporting [artists] in other ways.”

At some point, she’d like to be able to stage a live version of the show, or at least part of it. “It would be wonderful to have people be able to come together physically. But I think that’s still a ways down the road.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.