When you think of pastel, your mind conjures up pale colors, lightness, softness—not always true from a medium that has been used since the Renaissance and does not rely on brushes for application. Pastels come in cylindrical sticks that have a chalky consistency and can produce intense colors with the ability to blend and layer with vivid results. They are created from pure powdered pigments and a binder, the color effect being closer to the natural dry pigments than that of any other process.
The Maryland Pastel Society’s juried show for artist members currently on view at the Kentlands Mansion provides an opportunity to experience the nuances and versatility of pastel. At the Aug. 1 reception, five merit and first-, second- and third-place awards were presented by juror David Lawton, a past president of the society with more than 30 years’ experience as a pastel artist and oil painter. Society President Kim Stone said that the group, founded in 1977, has more than 200 members in the Mid-Atlantic region. She was “blown away by the quality of the work” and said that the show was “an idea that Susan Gleason took off with.”
Exhibits Chair Susan Gleason noted that artist members are newer to the medium than signature members. “Our group helps artists grow in the medium. We offer workshops and have quarterly meetings with presentations by well-known pastel artists. It is a wonderful group of artists,” she said.
The five merit awards, in no particular order, went to “Boyhood Memories” by J. Barrie Leigh, “Peace” by Lisa Neil, “Night on Market Street” by Hsiang-ling Yao, “Snowy Path” by Frankie Lydon and “The Conversation” by Mary Moores. Frankie Lydon, who has been working in pastels for two years, said that she “took a class, tried it and bought some (pastels). … Now I have 1,000!” Her “Snowy Path” is radiant with its icy, silvery shadows letting you feel the frosty coldness and the light on the trees. Moores’ “The Conversation” was impressive with its sense of intimacy and bold complementary colors playing off of each other providing perspective and proportion. I also enjoyed Donna Finley’s “Breaking Through Storm Clouds,” Fran Phillips’ “Pathway,” the collection of small, vivid landscapes by Susan Hodge and Lisa Neil, and especially the abstracts “Urban Color” by Barb North and “Key’s Colors” by Laurie McKelvie.
First place went to Katie Cassidy’s “Snowy Cottage.” What really caused it to jump off the wall, Lawton said, was the mark makings, which spoke to him, and the use of subtle colors that gave a sense of who the artist is. Linda Brenegan’s “Katelyn” took second place—a portrait of her 7-year-old great-niece, which Lawton said was a portrait of emotion with beautiful soft edges. “Spring Blooms” by Anne Singer took third. It jumps out at you, Lawton said, with its power and strength in pastel.
A Baltimore artist, Brenegan considers her pastels a hobby that she has worked on for the past 20 years. “My sister is a pastel artist, and she taught me,” Brenegan commented. “I started doing portraits, mostly of children and pets and sometimes involving both.” She created the portrait partially from photographs of Katelyn, whom she sometimes babysits, and also from memory and the opportunity to observe her up close.
Another favorite is the dazzling “Glacier Lagoon” by Julia Bezgacheva. She lets you embrace every shade of blue, building up strokes of different colors like a tapestry … as well the movement of the water and the bitter chill of the glacier. Based in Arlington and originally from Siberia, Bezgacheva said, “We went to Iceland last year and took a boat trip to look at glaciers. I painted from pictures and memory. I did a small sketch on the boat, but it was too cold and humid to paint. It was an unforgettable trip!” She tried a few mediums and gravitated toward pastels about two years ago. “It is very immediate—no brushes, just you and the medium. It’s almost pure pigment. I look for something with emotion. Finger painting for adults, but it’s fine art!”
Check the Kentlands Mansion schedule for opening times and stop in to visit the exhibit through Sept. 9.