'Whimsy' rises at the Whit
PITTSFIELD -- No season reflects the qualities of whimsy more completely than Christmas, from St. Nick bringing presents down the chimney to snowmen springing magically to life.
At Gallery W at the Whitney Center for the Arts in downtown Pittsfield, "Whimsy" fuels a group exhibit on view through December that looks beyond obvious holiday images to portray the fanciful imaginings of 14 artists from across the United States and Spain, Israel and Eastern Europe.
The eclectic show ranges from rarefied to quirky. Even the gallery space adds a lighthearted touch, with ornaments along the walls and fireplace.
"We wanted to make this room a little bit whimsical," Whitney Center executive director Ghazi Kazmi explained.
Israeli doll artist Anna Brahms of Pioneer Valley offers a a tableau of fantastical dolls.
She creates elaborate faerie gatherings and scenes from "Sleeping Beauty" and "A Christmas Carol" in Tiffany and Saks Fifth Avenue window displays and at the Lincoln Center and the Louvre in Paris.
Originally a puppeteer, Brahms realized she would rather make puppets than perform, and she began creating wire-framed, cloth-bodied dolls with expressive heads and limbs sculpted from plastic clay.
"It's so much stronger [than natural clay]," she explained, "and I don't need to make molds."
She clothes her dolls in extravagant and humble fabrics, and she fashions often luxuriant, pre-Raphaelite hair using silk threads and mohair from local goats.
Her pieces, she said, share a stylistic heritage.
"As artists, we work from our interior," she said, "there's a familiarity in what I do. Ever since I was a child I could see and hear faeries in nature. I'm very much aware of their presence and intelligence and their desire to communicate with humans."
"A few years ago I started trying to give them form and capture their mood and expressions."
Her characters are multigenerational, from infants to elders.
"I love these little wise old women the most," she said. "There's so much wisdom, and they're wonderfully communicative -- and they're funny, too."
Some faeries can be fierce, like the imposing black-clad Dragon Woman standing alongside the gossamer princesses at Gallery W. The dragon is a symbol of her magical power, Brahms said.
While she creates the dolls for adults, children are equally fascinated by her fabulous worlds.
"I'm doing it for my own and everybody else's inner child," she explained; "the magical child that has been neglected in so many ways."
The exhibit theme of "Whimsy" comes from Nayana Glazier, chief curator at Gallery W.
"For me, the holidays are about children, and that whimsical, magical feeling that so many of us forget about as we get older," Glazier explained. "I thought it would be really nice to have a show that reminded adults of what that felt like, of the whimsical excitement and memory of childhood."
Glazier met Anna Brahms through artist Lauren Mills who, with her husband, Dennis Nolan, has several illustrations and a bronze sculpture of an elfin-like older woman and boy in the exhibit.
"The show had evolved into mostly about illustration, and the dolls added a new element," Glazier said. "They're almost like individual live beings, they have so much to say."
Panels from "The Tick" series of renowned comic book artist Sean Wang fall at the other end of the creative spectrum. Recalling the impact comics had to draw her into another world as a child, Glazier decided "to throw a curve ball into the show and make it very different."
Fittingly, Wang's drawings include a seasonal double spread of many superheroes -- including Santas -- merrily singing holiday carols.
From Spain, Marta Bielsa sent silk prints of a boy carrying a Furby-filled nest, and a girl with a pink-haired Troll doll.
"That was a big thrill for me," Glazier admitted. "She was one of those artists where I felt like I was trying to throw a lasso up and catch a star."
Micha Archer's colorful Indian-inspired illustrations reveal the collage, painting and layering that creates the picture-book image, Glazier said; while Linda Baker Cimini's witty line and text drawings remind her of childhood poetry books: "snarky and funny and really striking a chord."
Jessica Burke's compelling drawing of a big, bold, braided woman wearing a princess outfit perhaps best epitomizes Glazier's aim of reminding adults what it feels like to be a child.
"It's seeing the possibility in everything," Glazier said.
If you go ...
What: ‘Whimsy' group exhibit of 14 artists
Where: Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Ave., Pittsfield
to Friday 4 to 7 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m. through Dec. 28
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