While the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s temporary location, Westmoreland @rt 30 in the former Stickley Audi & Co. furniture store in Unity, may be just that, temporary, it hasn’t stopped museum staff from coming up with some remarkable exhibitions.
Take for example, “Peddling Personalities: Portrait and Still Life Pairings,” which opened recently. The brainchild of Joan McGarry, the museum’s director of education, it pairs portraits from the museum’s permanent collection with still-life works of art created by 14 regional artists: William DeBernardi, Bud Gibbons, Diane White, Kristen Kovak, David Stanger, Joyce Werwie Perry, Robert Bowden, Mike McSorley, Karen Kaighin, Barry Shields, Patrick Lee, Kurt Pfaff, Al Gotlieb and Duncan MacDiarmid.
“I sent them images of all the portraits that were out in the gallery, and I asked them if they would be wiling to either send me an existing portrait or create a portrait, in response to one of the images, and explain why,” McGarry says.
As visitors will see, the responses were as varied as the portraits themselves.
Perhaps the best out-of-the-box thinking comes from Al Gotlieb who chose to submit a previously created portrait of his mother in response the “Portrait of Ceres” (1809) by Adolph Ulrich Wertmuller (1751-1811).
Gotlieb’s portraits are unique in that they are not physical representations or mirror images of his subjects, but rather implied representations through the careful arrangement of found objects and other bric-a-brac on bookshelves. In some cases, he will include a framed photograph of the subject among it all, as he did here.
“The photograph of my mother is from the 1940s and the objects are things in the piece that she would have liked,” Gotlieb says. “She enjoyed animals and trinkets of animals. The books are ones she would like to have read. The fruit represents her love for gardening and decoration.”
“When I read about Ceres, I decided to add fruit and other things that symbolized Mother Earth,” Gotlieb says.
Ceres was a Roman goddess of fertility, motherly love and relationships. Her most important role was that of the goddess of agriculture and grain crops, and she was viewed as a Mother Earth figure, Gotlieb says.
Three artists chose to respond to two photographic portraits by Mark Perrott (b. 1946) from the permanent collection — “Kim” (1997) and “Tony” (1997).
Joyce Werwie Perry’s still-life compilation “Shoes” (2014), painted with painter’s knives in thick oil paint with the impasto method, underscores the feminine qualities of the former, while Charles “Bud” Gibbons oil painting “Mummy” (1995) and Duncan MacDiarmid’s rock-pile sculpture “Temple Rocks” (2004) create a dialogue between the masculine and cultural qualities of the latter.
William DeBernardi and David Stanger each chose to submit previously created oil paintings.
A painting of a simple paper bag, “Bag” (1999) by DeBernardi stands in stark contrast to the portrait of a young accomplished naval officer, “Portrait of Philip Moen Childs (1918) by Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951), as a means to make a point.
“We all aspire to and celebrate honor and accomplishment, and we are all subject to time, circumstance and the physical nature of the human condition,” DeBernardi says. “By all accounts, Mr. Childs was a fine example of someone who adhered to the adage ‘Carpe diem.’ ”
Also straddling the dichotomy between the working class and the upper classes, Stanger’s oil painting “Robe” (2011) next to Robert Gwathmey’s (1903-88) painting “The Chauffeur” comments on Gwathmey’s satirical caricature as it alludes to the condemnation by the chauffeur to his employers.
“It is also a clever device to expose our assumptions about individuals caught in the theater of life,” Stanger says. “The chauffeur is a person caught between allegiances to two social classes.”
The remaining pairings are just as thought-provoking, making it necessary for even the most casual of visitor to allow enough time to take it all in.
Judith O’Toole, the museum’s director and CEO, says of this contemplative exhibit, “It’s a harbinger of what’s to come in the new building.”
Not the typical museum installation, O’Toole says, “We will be doing things like this, invite a contemporary artist to come in and make a comment on something in the permanent collection.”
Expansion and renovation of the museum’s original building in Greensburg are set to be completed in the spring of next year.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.