Art educators' work on display at Berkshire Art Museum

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NORTH ADAMS — A new three-floor exhibition at the Berkshire Art Museum contains a diverse array of contemporary paintings, mixed-media displays and other artwork, but two qualities unite the show's pieces: teachers created them, and those educators hail from New England schools.

"Faculty-Artists from New England Colleges" features works by 29 artists representing 20 colleges and universities from across the region. The exhibit's opening reception is set for Thursday night, but the works are available to view during summer hours at the museum, which is now in its fifth season. While the exhibition provokes the typical questions about artistic intention and beauty, it also inspires a more practical query: How do they have time to make all this stuff?

"Faculty-artists who are also productive in their own studios often end up working 'double full-time jobs,'" notes Berkshire Art Museum Founding Director Eric Rudd in one of the show's information panels.

For some art educators in the show, their affection for teaching allows them to juggle both. Allana Clarke, who led courses in performance art this past year at Williams College, has long sought a career in education. Her instruction informs her artistic process.

"For me, the two are inseparable: My teaching is very much intertwined with my art practice," she said.

Clarke has one of the larger installations in the show. "Relentless" occupies a wall on the exhibit's lowest floor. Three works on paper contain the following words in capital letters: "I will no longer be for another; however, as I restore my humanity, I must not forget yours." Beside them, three-dimensional letters fashioned from cocoa butter spell "INSIST" repeatedly. The piece comments on racial and gender-based oppression, stressing the need to recognize others' struggles.

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"The choice of the material is one that recognizes femaleness and blackness," said Clarke, who identified herself as a person of color.

Up two flights of stairs, Maggie Nowinski and Melanie Mowinski have works installed in rooms next to one another. Last Friday, both were putting the finishing touches on their pieces and reflecting on their careers.

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"I decided to try teaching, and I love it," said Nowinski, who has worked as an adjunct at Manchester Community College, Westfield State University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She was surrounded by drawings taped to the walls in a work titled, "524 w(H)oles."

Mowinski, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, didn't like teaching initially.

"It wasn't a love-at-first-sight thing," she said last Friday, standing in a room of her tree frottage pieces and other works.

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That changed over time as she saw students begin to grasp different concepts.

"When you see the light bulb go off, and they get it, there are few things [like it]," she said.

Covering a healthy portion of the museum's 25,000 square feet, "Faculty-Artists" not only highlights regional educators' work but also underscores the possibilities afforded by such a spacious setting for art.

"It's a pretty major endeavor," Rudd said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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