Barn Gallery at Stonover Farm: A lasting impression

LENOX — Each summer during the late 1960s and early 1970s, young artists from schools across the country traveled to an eight-week drawing and painting course at Tanglewood held by Boston University in conjunction with Berkshire Music Center.

"Work in both drawing and painting classes will deal with problems of figure, still life, landscape and composition," a program flyer preserved in Tanglewood Music Center's 1971 yearbook advertised.

Working in a barn near the Koussevitzky Music Shed, students simultaneously absorbed advice from esteemed faculty and ambient classical music from the Boston Symphony Orchestra's rehearsals, seeking inspiration from a rustic venue with a history of artistic exploration.

The program was discontinued shortly thereafter, but its impact persists in at least one artist's work. Peri Schwartz received scholarships to attend the courses in 1971 and 1973, following her sophomore and senior years at Boston University, respectively. While Schwartz had been enjoying her college experience in Boston, she didn't feel the school was allowing her to fully explore her creativity.

"It was a great school, but it was an academic school," Schwartz told The Eagle during a recent interview.

The Tanglewood program filled this gap in her art education. She was particularly influenced by faculty member Robert D'Arista, a longtime American University instructor renowned for his still life paintings.

"He was just fantastic," she said.

More than four decades later, D'Arista's impact is apparent on 11 of Schwartz's latest works, which are currently on display at Stonover Farm's Barn Gallery, about a mile from where she was once mentored by the late artist.

The paintings, drawings and prints primarily depict stationary objects — bottles, jars and books. Some of them are set against the backdrop of Schwartz's studio in New Rochelle, N.Y. The prints were particularly challenging for Schwartz.

"You have to plan. In a drawing or a painting, you just work. You find it by working," she said during an interview at the gallery. "But with a print, you have to really think it out. You can't just say, 'I want yellow.' You have to think, 'Where is that yellow going to be on the plate?'"

One print at the gallery, "Bottles & Jars III," is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection in New York City. Schwartz worked with master printer Gregory Burnet, using four different copper plates (black, orange, yellow and blue). The end product is a group of receptacles holding substances of diverse color. Collaboration was critical.

"No. 1, you have so much confidence in this person, so if they suggest something, you say, 'Well, I'll think about it. And there's a point where he will push me and say something, and I'll say, 'No, I don't want to do that. I don't think artistically that's what I want to do.' "

But sometimes, the artist is stumped. For a while, Schwartz couldn't figure out which color she wanted to use in one of the jars toward the array's center. One morning, Burnet said he had tried a blue that might work. Schwartz loved it.

"We were against a wall. I couldn't find the right color, and he just came up with this color that was there from the beginning," Schwartz said, referring to the monotype, or original print, from which they were once drawing their inspiration.

The print is an example of spit bite, an etching technique that involves applying acid to a brush and is one of Schwartz's many different tactics on view at the Barn Gallery. A grid structure that faculty emphasized during Schwartz's summers in Lenox is another discernible strategy she uses to ensure objects are positioned correctly.

"It's something very important [to me]," she said.

Music also remains vital to her work, especially chamber music, a taste she acquired after her time at Tanglewood. Students received free passes to BSO concerts while enrolled in the program.

"I very often think, when I'm setting up those bottles, that they're very much like the instruments," she said.

Eugene Drucker, a founding member of the Emerson String Quartet that plays regularly at Tanglewood, even has told Schwartz that the containers' lids remind him of musical notes, she said.

The exhibition ventures into more abstract territory at times — one oil painting portrays books without covers or bindings — but a constant among all of the compositions is an attention to their formal elements that she hopes appeals to toiling creative types, particularly those who roam the leafy grounds up the street.

"You want musicians to appreciate your work," she said. "Of course, you want anybody to appreciate it, but it sort of means a little something extra when you have that exchange."


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