Alumni Art makes a Round Trip back to Northampton

Masks of a bird dog, a deer and a ram. A silver forest painted on the board of a shelf. Birthday candles scattered beneath a solitary celebration. A house sliced with a saw. The current exhibition in the A.P.E. Ltd. Gallery on 126 Main Street in Northampton contains great variety. But what the art has in common is that it is all created by former students of Northampton High School art teacher, Lisa Leary.

These 19 NHS alumni studied under Leary from 2001 to 2011. Some have since moved to different locations, while others have chosen to return to the valley. What connects them is their pursuit of art and their ties to Northampton and Leary. The name of the show is ROUND TRIP, which focuses on the return home of artwork. The show is curated and presented to the Northampton community by A.P.E. in collaboration with Lisa Leary and two former students, Carolyn Clayton ‘05 and Robert Eastman ‘07.

In the past five years NHS art students have won five silver medals and one gold medal from The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers’ annual National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. These awards are chosen from a pool of over 185,000 submissions from around the country. Last year, Leary was honored with a Portfolio Teacher Award. Lisa Thompson, associate director of A.P.E., said that part of her motive for having the show, in addition to her interest in exhibiting the works of emerging artists, is to honor Leary for receiving this prestigious award.

Leary said that Thompson has always been supportive of student art and that she could not have organized the show without her help or the help of Clayton and Eastman. She said that in the two previous A.P.E. NHS alumni shows in A.P.E.’s former gallery space at Thornes Market, she let students choose what work they would show rather than putting restrictions on the exhibition. She wanted to continue this freedom in this year’s show. However, she noted, freedom does not always facilitate a perfectly cohesive show, so the curation process can require some work.

Although the show includes a great variety of work including two videos, an array of three-dimensional work, paintings and prints, the pieces are spread out in a way that allows each to stand on its own while complementing the next. Clayton said she appreciates that although students share a background with Leary, they have taken their work in so many different directions.

Eliza Mason ‘09, who has two untitled pieces on display, both watercolor and gouache on Arches, said that her art has indeed changed a great deal since high school. However, she noted that her experiences with Leary were valuable. “Ms. Leary pushed me to work harder and think harder about subject matter and to think about what I really wanted to be doing rather than what’s easiest to paint.” She said she was encouraged to be creative her mediums, which made her start to think about what materials suited her best.
After taking a watercolor class with professor Richard Yard at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mason said she found that watercolor produces a sheer quality that is not possible with acrylics. Whereas she rarely used watercolors in high school, she now uses them in nearly all her work. In high school, her art tended to contain focal points that emphasized one iconic figure, but during the past few years she has grown more interested in pattern, texture, repetition and competing shapes. She is currently focusing on the theme of underwater sea life and the shapes it produces, “which aren’t seen in everyday life,” she said. Her paintings in the exhibition, one of which contains a repetitive pattern using lobsters, explore this aquatic theme.

Emma Wilder Sadowski ‘10 also found that she has delved deeper into her work since high school. “I made art work that demonstrated my love of color, textures, and working in metaphor in high school; and I guess that has continued tenfold in college,” she said. She mentioned that the piece she submitted to the show was created during an intense transition period filled with doubts about her art. “I concentrated on making the painting something new, something I could spend multiple days exploring,” she said. “Upon completion, I slapped on a title that summed up its relationship to me: ‘Beginnings.’” This mixed media, acrylic and oil on canvas work is layered with texture and moodiness induced by muted colors and photographs of buildings peeking through washes of paint.

In addition to Mason and Sadowski, the artists include Carolyn Clayton, Robert Eastman, Lea Chiara, Stella Cilman, Lauren Donovan, Rina Goldfield, William Hannum, Christopher Millette, Mac Milsark, Rachel Prouty, Claire Rayton, Kendra Rowan, Zoe Sasson, Matthew Samolewicz, Rebecca Spangenthal, Mariah Swanson, Travis Weitzman and Elena Zachary.

The exhibition lasts until August 19, with a reception on Friday, August 10 from 5 to 8pm, in conjunction with Arts Night Out. Gallery Hours: Tues-Sun 12-5, Friday 12-8, Closed Mondays.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Northampton Arts Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.


Art featured in the video is by the following artists in order of art shown: Matthew Samolewicz , Chris Millette, and Rachel Prouty.