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ON THE SCENE: Art for all: LPCA gallery reopens with new exhibit

Alison Haas poses with one of her pressed flower and plant creations. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

On Thursday, Oct. 1, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts had a gallery opening, a juried show, the first in nearly six months.

Missing was the table laden with a delightful array of finger foods and beverages, a mainstay of gallery openings the world over. Present was a terrific array of art on display by regional artists, a spattering of those who crafted the work and a steady stream of masked visitors kept socially distanced throughout the three-hour event. A feeling of relief, coupled with excitement, was in the air.

Visual artists have been hurting during the COVID epidemic. Yes, like poets and writers, their work is done in a solitary fashion. Their work production hasn’t been as hampered as those in the performing arts dependent on a collective, collaborative approach achieving their finished products. But visual artists also need an audience; people to see and hopefully purchase their work. Thus, the art center renewing exhibitions is welcomed.

About half the work submitted for consideration was selected. Clear is that the judges had a tough time picking the top three for awards as the quality on display is high and worthy for people to come not once but several times, and bring a checkbook when you do. Many pieces are reasonably priced, and the arts community needs our support.

According to research conducted by Americans for the Arts, the income of 95% of creative workers, artists, musicians, dancers, actors, etc. has taken a hit. And 62% are unemployed, an unemployment rate six times higher than the national average. Yet, 76% of artists report being called upon to use their talents to raise morale, create community cohesion, or reduce the emotional impact of COVID-19. For example, YouTube is filled with videos of artists performing or teaching online that people download for free, rarely considering the needs of the artist featured.

Vera Doumanoff shows off artwork at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on Oct. 1. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

LPCA Executive Director James Lemons, the staff and board get the pain the arts community is feeling. They know the local arts community well and thus have worked hard to re-launch exhibitions in the gallery as soon as state guidelines allowed them to do so. Knowing that cold weather brings people inside can also lead to a spike in COVID cases; they can’t plan far ahead as has been their normal practice.

“We used to plan a full year in advance,” said Lemons. “Now we plan three to four months out because we don’t know what’s going to happen, what the restrictions will be if we’ll be back in lockdown or not. We know that people can’t wait for the theater to open, which’s true for us. We have things on the book for March and April, but we’re just waiting to see if that’s a possibility or not as we want to be able to pay our performing artists too. We’ve gotten very good at pivoting at the last minute.”

With that in mind, Lemons is very pleased that after six months, they’re able to let people come together, at least in a socially distanced way to see and celebrate regional artists’ work. The art center’s staff are as thrilled to open the doors as the artists are to exhibit, and visitors to get out of their house and see the work.

“I think a lot of people when they look at the work of our regional artists, don’t realize that this is how they make their living,” said Lemons. “Most of our artists have gone from six to nine months without an exhibit. Many museums and galleries are closed indefinitely. Thus, artists have lost many financial opportunities, so anything we can do to open up and give people a chance to see their work we’ll do. The great news is that people are coming, even without the extra draw of food and wine. We’ll go back to the old normal as so as well safely can when it comes to refreshments, but for now, come savor the art.”

For Vera Doumanoff, the exhibition provided her a chance to share some beloved treasures, in the case of the Red Barn at the bottom of Spruce Hill, that no longer exists. Doumanoff and her husband are longtime visitors to the region who recently moved here and now live in Elizabethtown. Both are avid hikers, he a 46er and she has climbed 17 of the high peaks.

Joan Kelleher shows off artwork at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on Oct. 1. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“The barn looked great in all kinds of lighting,” said Doumanoff. “It was set in one of those iconic sports that people love to photograph; it’s still gorgeous.”

For Doumanoff, exhibiting at the LPCA was a first, one she hopes to be able to do again in the future. For Joan Kelleher, a Lake Placid resident, the exhibition allowed her to share her work in pastels, a new medium.

“I’ve been working in pastels for less than a year,” said Kelleher, who recently started painting again after setting aside her art career while raising her kids. “I had been working in oil; then I realized pastels would be a lot easier for me because of the setup and clean up. With pastels, I can pop in and work for 30 minutes easily. I love the softness of pastels. I’ve been trying to work in a looser style, and it’s a great medium for that. Sometimes I miss the brush, the fine point that you don’t get in pastels.”

All the artists were thrilled the gallery is open, and people can come to see and consider their work. “Having the gallery open is amazing,” said Kelleher.” I miss the openings being packed with people, the wine, refreshments, and chatting with people, but I’m just thrilled that people can come into the gallery and at least view the art.”

“People being able to come see our work during COVID is amazing,” said second-place winner Melissa Grant, who lives in Fort Edward. “I’m also glad that they’ll be putting the works online in a few weeks.” She described one bright spot of the pandemic was it enabled her to do more drawings, which are starting to attract an audience.

“We’re trying to capture every angle we can as a way of supporting the artists,” said Anya Villeneuve, LPCA staff member in charge of coordinating the exhibits. “We wanted to get back at it; it’s nice that we’ve been able to do it in person and soon online for those who haven’t been able to come to the galley.”

Alison Hass “paints” not with brush or pastel but creates her collages out her childhood hobby of pressing flowers and plants. “Working with natural materials is a passion of mine,” said Haas. “I use items that I forage on our land in Wilmington or from different bouquets that have been given to me. I started out wondering what else I could do with pressed plants, ferns and flowers. I started by making pattens than that led to making figures out of the petals. And then I started making more and more elaborate designs.”

The exhibition is on until Nov. 14, with a new exhibit, the Big Little Show, opening later in the month. Hours are Wednesday to Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)