October 24, 2021

Electrifying art at Center

‘Silent Music: Alison Weld and Stella Waitzkin’ runs through Dec. 16 in Homer

Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Alison Weld and her abstract expressionist painting, seen here Monday, Nov. 5, at the Center for the Arts of Homer. She will have 15 works on display there. The show opens with a reception Friday.

Alison Weld went to see a friend’s artwork at the New York Public Library’s Center for Book Arts Exhibit.

There, she saw Stella Waitzkin’s cast-resin sculpture “The Filmmaker” and was struck.

“I loved it,” Weld said. “I called her that day on the pay phone outside the library. We met two weeks later.”

The two women, Weld, an abstract expressionist, and Waitzkin, a sculptor with abstract roots who created resin sculptures from casts of leathery books, were friends for two decades until Waitzkin’s death 15 years ago.

“We inspired each other,” said Weld, who lives in Westport, in the Adirondacks, and maintains her New Jersey studio. Waitzkin lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan.

The two will be featured in a show, “Silent Music: Alison Weld and Stella Waitzkin,” at the Center for the Arts of Homer, 72 S. Main St., Homer. The show will run through Dec. 16. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and by appointment.

“I think it’s exciting,” said Bryna Silbert, independent curator at the center. “It’s just outside of what you are going to see locally — outside of a museum. … I met these folks at the Johnson Museum. I was looking at this exhibit. Somebody in their group recognized me. I met Alison and Charles,” she said of Weld’s husband, Charles Russell, an author and trustee for the Waitzkin Memorial Library Trust.

“You make a connection with somebody and something happens. It’s about taking a chance. It’s about bringing people in who you wouldn’t normally see,” Silbert said.

The art gallery has a new look, thanks to renovation work that started in August and was completed this week.

“The physical footprint is the same,” said Terri Fendya, manager of The Gallery at the center.

Insulation was installed in the ceiling to muffle noise from the dance studio upstairs. The gallery also has brighter lighting, new flooring and a new system to hang art.

Fendya said anonymous benefactors donated to the project, which cost less than $18,000.

“I am so happy. This is the first show with the renovation,” Fendya said. “This show, I love the juxtaposition, the feeling and energy between the two artists.”

Weld, an artist for 45 years, paints abstract works, using chop sticks to create bold and colorful strokes with plenty of drama. She uses acrylics, oils and sometimes works objects like plastic flowers into her canvases. She will show about 16 works in the gallery.

“I came up with the title, ‘Silent Music.’ I believe that’s what abstraction is,” Weld said.

“We live in a hayfield in Westport,” she said, pointing to one canvas. “I feel as if I have captured the light of the hayfield, as well as the light of the mind in the work.”

“Abstraction is visual philosophy,” she added. “I look at all work abstractly. I will look at an El Greco and will see lines of color.”

Her abstract paintings are like a film on consciousness.

“You have your whole 45 years you are working with, knowledge that is silent,” she said.

When she got the offer to show her work in Homer, she said, “Stella’s work would be perfect here.”

“Stella was introduced to me by Alison, 30 years ago,” Russell said as he set up works at the center gallery. Waitzkin lived alone and was unusual.

“She was a tough woman. Very rebellious. A Bohemian,” Russell said. “She lived her life on the edge and loved it. She didn’t cultivate friends. She had a door mat that said, ‘Go away.’”

“Everyone talks about what a lovely woman she is,” Russell said. “But everyone had a dark Stella story.”

When she died, Russell and Waitzkin’s son, Fred, formed a trust to distribute her work to museums, mostly through donation.

“When she was younger, she was consumed by book art,” he said.

A Stella Waitzkin cast-resin sculpture, one of several that can be seen at Friday’s opening reception at the newly renovated gallery at the Center for the Arts of Homer.

Waitzkin would find leather bound books at flea markets and make latex molds of them. She’d make cast resin sculptures of the books. Some are grouped in shelves, or in twos or threes, or are part of a greater sculpture. But each book is individual.

“After her (other) son died in ‘83, she withdrew from the world. Death became an image,” Russell said.

“This is one of her great works, ‘Who Dies,’ “ he said, pointing to a sculpture of a row of books with a frame on top and a mirror in the center. In the mirror is the face of a boy.

“It’s haunting,” Russell said. “It’s beautiful.”

Waitzkin made wedding or prenuptial agreement books, scrapbook-sized tomes, with images of a man and woman on top. She gave one to Russell and Weld for their wedding.

“She became a large part of our life,” Russell said. “I am happy to say, we have placed her in 70 museums around the country.”