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At McGowan Fine Arts, experience spring ‘Thaw’ with new show

Wendy Prellwitz, Charles River 3

Wendy Prellwitz, Charles River 3

Ah, spring. Will we ever see you again? It’s easy in the midst of this bitter winter to think the world will remain frozen forever.

But “Thaw,” the exhibit which runs through March 28 at McGowan Fine Art in Concord, has the antidote to late-winter despair. Step inside and forget, for a while, the cold outside.

Start with Wendy Prellwitz’s “Bay Reflections 1,” a stunning scene of brilliant sunlight reflected on water. At first glance it’s all blues and yellows, but a closer look reveals subtle wisps of other hues, which enrich the overall effect.

Prellwitz continues her water reflection theme with “Charles River 3” and “Charles River 4”; their blue and green and lavender ripples invite toe-dipping. Nancy Simonds’s “Blue Line Stack,” an abstract of ovals in many shades of blue, suggests beach pebbles under clear water.

Susan Wahlrab is a self-taught painter who uses watercolor on clay board, digs into the surface with a paint brush or a pencil, and then varnishes the finished piece. She has three paintings in the exhibit, “Reflect,” “Bliss Pond” and “Lily Pond.”

“I like the luminous quality that she gets,” gallery director Sarah Chaffee said. “It’s very unusual. Usually in water color you see broadwashes, but she’s just using little spots of color, and she layers them to build up a form, to create depth. I’ve never seen this before. It’s completely unique.”

What is spring without a rain shower? In “Rain Walker Study,” Jon Bonner captures the movement of umbrella-toting people, and their reflections on the wet pavement, as they cross a broad plaza. It’s not a gloomy scene, though. The soft tan of the plaza and the bright colors of the umbrellas lighten the mood.

That rain has to come from somewhere. Adelaide Murphy Tyrol’s “Clouds” is a swirl of grays and lavenders that could threaten a storm, but at the same time is oddly peaceful. Tyrol, who has a business doing backdrop paintings, uses the large-scale technique of broad strokes in this 2 by 3 foot piece with great success.

Tyrol’s “Breath” is a haunting depiction of three whale spouts. In a glorious sweep of greens and turquoise, sea and sky are almost one. The barest shadows of the whales float just below the surface of the water.

Going beyond

The exhibit goes beyond water, clouds and rain, though.

Bonner takes a scene that could be depressing and turns it into something beautiful. In “Early Morning Departure,” the lower half of the painting is dark gray – a man is packing his car in the early morning shadows – but the upper half glows.

“It’s not a beautiful landscape the way the other artists are doing,” Chaffee said. “It’s much grittier. He’s zeroing in on those things that are really how we take in the landscape.

“The parking lot is gray, but he’s finding the beauty in it. It’s looking beyond, to the beautiful homes of Marblehead, all lit up by the morning sun.”

In an interesting detail, Bonner uses two small dots of red paint to make the car’s tail lights look like they are glowing in the darkness.

Sally Ladd Cole’s “Misty Moist Morning” and Ellen Davis’s “Three Miles to the Atlantic” are lovely traditional landscapes, with much detail.

Clifford Smith, who was their teacher, paints what one would see from a moving car, with blurred images and general impressions of a scene. Forms gradually reveal themselves in “Study for Maine Summer” and “Study for Goffstown Pond Reflection.”

Some paintings aren’t of spring at all.

The season is later but still soft in Davis’s “Late September” and Smith’s “Study for Reflected Autumn.”

Susan Abbott’s “December Dry Dock” depicts a boat on a wooden frame, in a snowy field next to a barn. The sky is an unusual pale green, which softens the overall effect, and hints of spring to come.

Lucy Mink’s bold abstract, “Forces and Ingredients” can puzzle the casual viewer. Further study reveals that she has created a doorway, a way in, and there’s a hint of water through the opening.

Making connections

Not all of the works are paintings.

Bruce Campbell’s black wire sculpture “Raven” broods ominously over several of his other pieces.

Pat Gerkin’s “Strata 12,” “Strata 13” and “Monolith 9” are dramatic layered sculptures in encaustic (wax-based paint) on panels. Chaffee has placed them next to Simonds’s “Blue Line Stack.”

“The fun for me in a show like this is to make the connection between the artists’ work,” Chaffee said. “Simonds uses a lot of shades of blue, which reminds me of sea glass. Gerkin uses a lot of blue and is definitely referencing sediment, layers of things.

“Not only do we have the connection between the blues, but you also see the repetition of circles.”

Sometimes, Chaffee said, it’s hard to figure out where to place a certain piece, in this case a small bronze sculpture by Jon Brooks.

Brooks, a furniture master, has translated his well-known ladders and ladderback chairs into miniature bronze sculptures. His “Ladder (blue),” painted cobalt blue and incised with random lines, balances on one leg atop a carved wooden base.

“I was having a hard time placing this sculpture because the ladder is tilting,” Chaffee said, “and it looked precarious, almost like it was dancing. Everywhere I put it, it looked like it was about to fall over.

She finally placed it next to Blue Line Stack.

“Once again, I made that connection between the blues. Also, this piece (the ladder), while rigid, has the form, the grid, which helps ground this one.”

Chaffee said she enjoys assembling works that she finds exciting.

“What I was really trying to do with the title of the show was to evoke the spring, that opening up,” she said. “I just want people to open up to all these different things and take a chance – spring is happy, it’s color.”

The exhibit will be on display at McGowan Fine Art at 10 Hills Ave. in Concord through March 28. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and by appointment.

Call Jessica Pappathan at 603-225-2515 for information, go to or contact

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