By: Max Lorber, Arts and Culture Editor
Work-study employees Liz Trumbley and Donna Blackwell huddled together with a box of matches on the walkway leading to the USM Art Gallery in Gorham. They were lighting tiny candles and placing them into the glowing white paper bags that lined the path. As the evening darkened, the light from the candles began to radiate.
The opening reception of Contemporary Responses to Modernism: A New England Perspective was held at the Art Gallery on October 10th. Trumbley, Blackwell, Olivia Dyer and several other USM students were integral to the installation of this art show. The exhibition presents a collection of paintings and sculptures created by established contemporary artists from New England who have been influenced by the modernist art movement.
“I couldn’t do it without them,” said Carolyn Eyler, USM Art Gallery’s Director of Exhibitions and Programs, when referring to the work-study students who assist her with art exhibitions such as these.
According to Eyler, her student employees assist with most tasks required to operate the Art Gallery, from artwork installation for exhibitions to embellishing the entrance of reception with gleaming white paper bags. For this show, the paintings and sculptures were chosen by guest curator Joanna Fink, director of Alpha Gallery in Boston, and delivered to Eyler and her team. Then work-study students assisted Eyler in deciding how the show was to be arranged.
“Usually we group the pieces and look at what artwork looks good together, to see what will go on the same wall,” Trumbley said while taking a break from making preparations for the opening reception.
Olivia Dyer, another work-study employee who attended the reception, said, “The major thing I did was help hang the artwork.”
Gyorgy Kepes’ non-figurative painting, with a vibrant yellow coloration passing over a series of shapes and fading into a metallic grey, hung next to an abstract piece by Gideon Bok of his own art studio. Two different styles and color palettes that were tactfully chosen to aesthetically complement each other.
After deciding the arrangement of the exhibition, the work-study students hung the artwork and oversaw the delivery and installment of the sculptures. One of the final jobs for Trumbley and Blackwell was pasting a statement written about the exhibition by the curator to a wall that guards the entrance to the main gallery room.
Trumbley and Blackwell said the bronze sculpture by Jim Ritchie, titled “Figure Turning Right”, was the most challenging piece of artwork to install. Upon delivery, it was set into a heavy concrete base. Eyler and her work-study team had to remove this sculpture from the concrete and set it up on a pedestal so that it was presentable for the exhibition. The coat of paint on the sculpture was changed from black to brown by the work-study students so that the coloring of the piece did not clash the white surroundings, according to Blackwell.
When asked if her work-study position was an important aspect to her education, Blackwell said, “It’s like an internship. You’re working and learning skills, while also making money.”
The Art Gallery on USM’s Gorham campus is displaying Contemporary Responses to Modernism: A New England Perspective until December 8.