Past Local Masters:
They say losses come in threes, and in fact that old adage has proven to be true in more than one significant instance in my life. So, it gave me a bit of pause, back in May, when Gib Taylor died within a few days of Gennaro Prozzo. This seemed an alarming rate of attrition among our community of master artists. I had to wait just a little while for Number Three. . . .
When I learned in July about Ric Campman's passing on the very morning it happened, it was through a long-time student of his who was struggling to keep herself together. She was working in a gallery in Putney and setting up the designer's pattern on a glass vase for eventual sandblasting. As she worked, she had been reminiscing about all the ways that Ric had encouraged and mentored her in the process of becoming an accomplished artist. (Her artwork gracing the walls of the gallery was a lovely complement to the elegant glass pieces displayed in the space.) She spoke in a wavering but determined voice about realizing that Ric wouldn't just be gone, that instead he would be living on through the lives and work of his students and colleagues, and their students, and so forth. We hugged.
In fact, all three of these men were artist-educators: Prozzo at New York City parochial schools and later Windham College, Gib Taylor at Marlboro, and Ric Campman for the past three decades at the River Gallery School. As Suzanne Corsano, co-owner of Gallery in the Woods, observed, "They don't die the same way the rest of us do." They not only leave significant bodies of work as a permanent document of their lives as artists, they also have imprinted a sort of artistic DNA on the younger generations whose work they have helped to shape by example and through their valuable guidance and thoughtful criticism. Like the Past Great Masters, these more Local Past Masters simply live forever -- at least as long as you or I will be alive to appreciate their work. And for this gift of "imm-art-ality" we are very grateful. When I look at the original pieces I've collected from several Brattleboro area artists, I find it impossible not to think about them each as a kind of close and knowing friend whose work touched me so profoundly that I had to have it in my home as a permanent reminder of staying focused on my inner journey.
I have always had a particular attraction to Ric's GREAT JOY series of "banners." (See page 3 of this issue.) My maiden name was Joy Frelich, the equivalent of "Joy Happy," a name I learned to appreciate only in my mid-20s as something to aspire to -- that is when I began signing my name with an exclamation point as a reminder to myself and others that happiness could be a choice beyond our individual circumstances. Sometimes Ric's yard-long works on paper just read JOY or JOYFUL or some similar sentiment. His student and colleague Lydia Thomson told me they were created one or a few at a time and occasionally in a sort of production line, with a new paper for the background or a different gold splatter technique. Ric began making them in earnest after his first stem-cell transplant in the late '90s to help treat his multiple myeloma. (Finn Campman shared that they evolved from a much more modest format for holiday and birthday giving in previous years.) Ric felt that undergoing this medical procedure was a sort of second birthing process and that all life should be celebrated. The banners were sometimes sold to benefit the River Gallery School, sometimes given away, sometimes traded for services or supplies -- always an exchange for a good and joyful reason. They are posted on the wall at River Gallery School, in a number of downtown businesses, and in the studios or private homes of area artists and art lovers alike. They reminded Ric, as he created them -- and will continue to remind us, as we see them -- to keep the Joy of life in view and celebrate its positive influence. It's a sort of Zen thing that just might make life's journey a bit sweeter.
A certain sweetness and joy in life are also characteristics I recall when thinking about Gib Taylor. In February 2004, I got to know him a bit while helping to hang a show of his works at All Souls Church in West Brattleboro. We evolved a workable system of suspending each of these fourteen oversized paintings (the smallest two were 37x29, the largest two 61x57) from two track-held hooks using heavy-duty fishing line, which had a tendency to stretch from the weight of each painting and required a secondary adjustment. We got faster at it as the time passed (we could even predict the amount of stretch to allow for), but we accompanied our task with conversation about making art. As any good teacher would, he wanted to know about me and my relationship to artistic expression and encouraged me to dive in. Many of his large-format works, mostly views in his home or studio, were created in bright rainbow hues skillfully arranged and mottled to disguise that simple palette. These canvases filled me and the All Souls gallery spaces with amazing energy -- what a contrast to the somber winter tones outside the huge expanses of glass! He knew the colors of Joy.
While I appreciate the whimsy and depth of Gennaro Prozzo's intricate clothespin sculptures, we never shared a context for personal comment. The July issue's feature article covers his life and art well -- catch it in print or online.
Work by all three of these late master artist-teachers is exhibited in August. If you want to honor their legacy, enjoy their very different styles of expression, and perhaps even consider purchasing their inspired work, here's where to look for it:
Gennaro Prozzo: Gallery in the Woods, 145 Main St., all month
Gib Taylor: Studio Open House, 123 Taylor Rd., Westminster West, from 11 to 5 on Saturday, August 12; directions: (802) 387-4549
Ric Campman: River Gallery School, 127 Main St., all month
Copyright 2006, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont