Two historical exhibitions coming to the Crary in October

Submitted Photos A painting of sailboats by artist Paul Mommer (1899-1963) that has long been part of the Crary Art Gallery’s collection was the genesis for an exhibit, “Paul Mommer: A Life in Art,” that opens Saturday at the gallery.

The Crary Art Gallery will feature two artists in exhibitions opening Saturday and running through Nov. 6.

A reception will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the gallery. There is no charge to attend the opening reception. The Tabouli middle eastern food truck will also be on-site.

The exhibition of works featured in the main galleries spans the career of Modernist painter Paul Mommer (1899-1963). Mommer was in a tight circle of New York artists that included the pioneering Abstract Expressionists. The story behind the show starts with a small painting of sailboats from the Crary family’s collection which caught the eye of Thomas Paquette, gallery exhibitions coordinator. He liked it so well that he featured it in a brochure for a special celebration at the gallery in 2017. A Warren, Pa., friend of a Mommer family descendant recognized the Paul Mommer signature on the piece in the publication as the same name as the great-grandfather of a friend back in California. His friend’s great-grandfather had been a painter and had lived in New York. Thus, a years-long series of events was set in motion that led to the Crary’s latest exhibition, “Paul Mommer: A Life in Art.” It is thought that the Crary family may have indeed met and perhaps even known Paul Mommer.

“The Mommer exhibition marks a new chapter for the Crary as a museum,” Paquette said. “It’s the first time we have borrowed works by an important historical artist for an exhibition. Exhibitions here are normally works from living artists. This one is a significant show that gives a glimpse into the crucial period of art history in New York, during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. We’re so fortunate to have this opportunity. Because the show is so important, we have taken the unusual effort of printing catalogues for it, available during the show.”

In the catalogue, Adrienne Grimes, curator of the Crary Gallery’s exhibit on Mommer, notes Mommer was born in 1899 in Luxembourg, Germany. As a boy, he was encouraged to draw by an uncle who was a sculptor. After spending two years as a prisoner of war in an English prison camp during the first world war, he decided that he would be an artist. He later credited his frequent use of darker palettes to this emotional time. In 1921 Mommer arrived at Ellis Island and began his life in New York City. In a 1935 piece on the artist in the New Yorker magazine, Mommer by that year owned a salon in Astoria where he cut hair in the front and painted in the back.

Marion Sanford working on Scrub Woman

He had a wife and two children and used his talent as a hair stylist to support both his family and his painting. He had his first solo exhibition in 1932 at the New School for Social Research. His work has been held in the collections of many major museums – the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Arts Club, and the State Museum of Munich, among others. He exhibited in many prestigious venues including the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern art and the Gloria Vanderbilt Collection. After his unexpected death in 1963, a large number of Mommer’s works stayed with family. They have since been exhibited only twice, the most recent being a 2016 retrospective honoring the artist and his contribution to the art world.”

In the sculpture gallery, the gallery is presentin “Marion Sanford: A Woman at Work”, an exhibition of Marion Sanford’s sculptures from its own collection, along with the far greater number of her sculptures on long-term loan from the Warren County Historical Society. The culmination of a two-year project made possible, in part, by the Warren Gives campaign, the unveiling of the sculptures feature new handcrafted stands or “plinths,” which provide a more stable and safe installation for the pieces.

Born in 1904 in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and raised in Warren, Sanford studied painting at the Pratt Institute in New York, and worked as a stage and costume designer. She developed an interest in sculpture and studied the direct-carving method at the Art Students League, but was largely self-taught. In 1937 she had her first exhibition of sculptures depicting women performing household chores and everyday tasks. She later created a series called “Women at Work” and her imagery of women would be the subject for which she would become best known, although she also completed bronze portraits and bas-reliefs. In 1941 and 1943 she worked as a Guggenheim Fellow and became a member of the National Academy of Design, National Sculpture Society, and the National Association of Women Artists.

Sanford won many awards and medals for her works, and created sculptures on commission, including a carved altar panel for the First Methodist Church in Warren.

To commemorate the unveiling of the Sanford sculptures, the Crary Art Gallery has made a new catalogue showing off all the works photographed in multiple views, with an essay by art historian Dr. Ruth Barnes Shaw. The catalogue, funded in part by the Warren County Historical Society, will be used for years to come at the Crary.

Pictured is Scrub Woman, a sculpture by Marion Sanford, a longtime Warren resident.

“In 1979, the historical society owned and operated the C. W. Stone Museum, and the Sanford sculptures were beautifully displayed in the museum’s library until 1996 when the museum was closed and the building was sold back into private residence,” said Michelle Gray, Warren County Historical Society managing director. “In 1997, Ann Lesser, one of the Sanford sculptures’ many safe-keepers, petitioned the historical society to place the collection on loan at the Crary Art Gallery. And the rest is history.”

The Sanford sculptures are from the same mid-century Modernist period as Mommer’s work. In fact, Mommer and Sanford were both working in New York at the same time.

The Crary will offer a series of workshops and holiday activities. To register, visit craryartgallery.org.

A traditional Japanese embroidery craft workshop will be offered by Deb Eck, during the month of October. On Saturday, Nov. 5, at 10 a.m., registrants will have an opportunity to participate in a Holiday Pysanky egg decorating workshop with Shandra Wilson. And, the weekend of Nov. 18, the Crary Art Gallery presents its Holiday Marketplace.

Exhibition hours, after the opening, are Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit craryartgallery.com.


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