A Retrospective of Happy Accidents in Clay

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There are many ways to fall in love with Patricia Lange, beginning at the front lawn of her Hopewell home. Large, stainless steel modern sculpture and black Louise Nevelson-like formations keep company with circular enamel pieces that evoke the moon, and masks in mediums from aluminum to clay.

A grouping of clay masks leads you up a brick path to the front door, where you enter Lange’s gallery. The display tracks her evolution from enamels to metal work, found objects and clay.

From a window in Lange’s basement studio, you see her artistry extending into the outdoors. The garden attracts hummingbirds and goldfinches, and a fig tree rests after a season of bearing fruit. Bees, too, are attracted to the world of Patricia Lange.

Her fascination with plants and the natural world shapes her work in all media, but especially her ceramic work. Since retiring as an accounting consultant with General Electric, she has devoted herself full time to clay.

Lange knows art often comes from accident – from letting it happen, letting it open up a new line of vision. And, she adds, “everything is an accident.”

For example, a black shiny flower-like vessel that blends memories of Georgia O’Keeffe and Dale Chihuly, was originally supposed to stand upright, but when Lange looked away, the sides fell. Rather than stick to her original plan, she let the sides flop, forming petals like elephant ears. The result is a sensuous piece, and on this day it holds a single red carnation in a cavity of water.

Whether working in enamel, metal or clay, Lange sees her work as a process of experimentation. “I am not afraid to ruin a piece,” she says. “It’s OK because I’m learning, and next time I’ll know what to do.”

Born in Santiago, Chile, Lange studied art with sculptor Totila Albert. With him she worked in clay, making figures, but in her heart she wanted to be making the large metal pieces her mentor made. “I thought it was too big a dream to reach for,” she says, so after moving to New York she began working in enamel. With her son, then a baby, she attended classes at Riverside Cathedral.

Later, after moving to Hightstown, she was invited by the American Orchid Society to make enamel orchids that would be awarded to third-place winners. The society set her up with a kiln, tools and materials she uses to this day.

After her success with enamels, she began incorporating metal, until the work was more metal than enamel, and ultimately she was producing the large outdoor heavy steel pieces of her dreams. She exhibited at Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum; the Zimmerli Museum and Quietude Garden Gallery; Grounds For Sculpture; and many corporate galleries, among other places. Her work has been bought by corporate and private collectors.

“I came back to clay because it is so earthy,” she says. “Enamel is a very exact art, you have to be precise with how much enamel you put on, the temperature and time in the kiln. You need to think in a way I was doing as a financial analyst with math, and I wanted to have more spontaneity. Now, as I am putting my fingers into clay, I find I am imitating metal with clay.”

On Oct. 11, 4-7 p.m., Lambertville-based Artists’ Gallery will exhibit a lifetime of works by Patricia Lange along with pastel artist Doug Sardo. The exhibit runs Oct. 9 through Nov. 2.

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The Good Earth

New York City’s newest park, Freshkills – site of the former garbage dump – will soon be covered with native plants. The seeds for the wildflowers are being grown at St. Michaels Preserve in Hopewell.

When Olmsted and Vaux carved out a piece of Manhattan, and later Brooklyn, to create refuges of rolling hills, expansive meadows, wooded ravines, ponds and boathouses – the first landscaped parks in the U.S. – no one was thinking about non-native invasive plants like purple loosestrife and multiflora rose.

Today, a 30-year project is underway to convert New York City’s former Fresh Kills garbage dump – the world’s largest landfill, Continue reading

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Chronicling New Jersey with a Paint Brush

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After more than 40 years at Mercer County Community College, Professor of Fine Arts Mel Leipzig can claim a large swathe of the population as students. Many have gone on to successful art careers, citing him as a major influence.

When he runs into past students, the first question he often asks is, “Are you painting?”

At least one of those students turned the question on him shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, when the lights went out for a week in his Glen Afton neighborhood: “Are you painting?”

A week without electricity could not stop the zealous painter – he opened the window shades and worked by natural light. “The only thing was, Hurricane Sandy forced me to go Continue reading

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Happy Stories, Told with Pictures

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Whether he’s painting or writing, Tom Kelly is telling stories. Even when he gives directions to his home, there’s a story element. “Turn left when you get to the big tree…”

He hasn’t yet painted Hamilton Township’s big tree, but he has painted the Mercer Oak. Leafless, it sits in a field of snow, surrounded by its split-rail fence. But the big tree in the middle of Quakerbridge Road is on his list.

Kelly keeps a notebook of everything he wants to paint. This way, when he finishes a painting, there’s never any doubt  about where he wants to go next. “I keep a short list of Continue reading

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1913: The Year of Modernism

"Jean Cocteau" by Modigliani

“Jean Cocteau” by Modigliani

One hundred years ago, the U.S. Post Office sent its first parcel post, Kafka stopped working on “Amerika,” Jim Thorpe relinquished his 1912 Olympics medical, Grand Central Terminal opened, the National Institute for Arts and Letters was founded, the first Avant-Garde show in America opened and the New York Armory Show introduced Picasso, Duchamp and Matisse to the American public.

And that was just the first two months of 1913!

Meanwhile, across the pond, Modern art and literature were getting underway in Paris. Guillaume Apollinaire established his reputation as a poet with the publication of “Alcohols” and crystallized the Cubist movement with his essay “The Cubist Painters.” Marcel Duchamp created his first readymade, Diaghilev’s Les Ballets Russes performed Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Eugène Atget assembled his photographic album “The Zones.”

The exhibition 1913: The Year of Modernism at the Princeton University Art Museum March 23 through June 23 explores the Modernist moment in Europe through 50 prints, drawings, and photographs drawn primarily from its collections, as well as rare books and Continue reading

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Women Artists Making Their World

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Philadelphia artist Linda Lee Alter paints bright cheerful scenes of disturbing situations. With degrees in art education and art therapy, the septuagenarian created whimsical fabric wall hangings early in her career, influenced by folk art and her seamstress grandmother. When she switched to painting she created allegorical fables and tales from the Old Testament.

Ms. Alter’s most recent work focuses on the effects of trigeminal neuralgia — facial pain – a condition from which she has suffered since 2000. Close-up portraits, they express how Continue reading

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Kafka-esque Puppets Perform at Arts Council

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It’s a rainy winter day, and when Princeton Community TV Operations Manager Sharyn Alice Murray takes off her headphones she can hear the drip-drip-drip behind her. A black plastic waste bucket is catching water from a perpetual leak in the ceiling. The bucket will overflow at any moment.

The condemned Valley Road building, where PCTV is housed, is in sorry shape, but the station’s search for a new home is the least of Murray’s worries. In April she lost her husband to cancer, and a few weeks ago her home in Ewing burned to the ground. Murray had no time to contemplate what she might take when she awoke to the fire in the middle of the night. All she escaped was one of her two dogs.

A musician, artist, filmmaker and puppeteer, Murray lost instruments, computers, Continue reading

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Satisfy Palate and Soul at Asian Bistro

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Asia is the new Europe when it comes to cuisine, according to a recent NPR article. And Korean food is the star at Asian Bistro, which also offers Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

Asian Bistro has become my away-from-home kitchen, and yet there are “regulars” who come far more frequently than I.  Opened in 2011 in the old Good Friends location near the Princeton Junction train station, Asian Bistro is as young and exciting as Good Friends was old and tired. In fact, Charlie Choi, the former Good Friends landlord, decided to open his own restaurant after Good Friends closed. It’s a good thing because he’s a talented chef. A Korean-American, Charlie trained as a sushi chef and has owned several restaurants in the area, including Nassau Sushi and Bagel in Princeton.

At Asian Bistro, he’s hands on, creating such wonderful Korean specialties as soondubu Continue reading

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Sanctuary in the Pine Barrens

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New Jersey may be the most densely populated state, but it’s also home to the largest tract of undeveloped land between Florida and Maine. At 1.1 million acres and covering 1,875 miles, the New Jersey Pine Barrens occupies almost a quarter of the Garden State.

With 27 varieties of wild orchids, including Pink Lady’s Slipper, the Pines is habitat to 43 threatened or endangered animals.

Princeton native Richard Speedy, who has been photographing the region since the 1970s, Continue reading

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Around the World in Books and a Box

"Conversation #5" by Tom Bendtsen.

“Conversation #5″ by Tom Bendtsen.

In the 1950s, when Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, the idea of desecrating a book was sacrilege. No dog earing the pages, we were taught; no scribbling.

But books aren’t what they used to be.

Artists paint over pages and paste in collage to create altered books; poets have invented a form based on randomized words cut from bound volumes picked up at rummage sales; and marginalia has become its own literary form. Even architects create dwellings from the carcasses of former knowledge, and libraries and universities use offsite morgues to store their quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore.

As an undergraduate, sculptor Tom Bendtsen faced a mountain he could never climb — all those books he was expected to read as a western male artist.

“I was interested in how we remember and store information in our heads, little bits of

Frances Heinrich's version of a Whitman Sampler in the exhibit World Sampler at Artworks Trenton.

Frances Heinrich’s version of a Whitman Sampler in the exhibit World Sampler at Artworks Trenton.

neurons that lead to thoughts,” he says. “Books inform our brains, we put them together to form ideas. Exposure to politics, history and literature enables us to become who we are. So I configured the books I should have read and created this mass of knowledge.”

His rectangular structure of 6,000 books, 8 feet tall, with a staircase ascending its stacks, can be seen in World Sampler, a group sculpture show at Artworks Trenton through Feb. 23.

Bendtsen’s book sculpture took about 50 hours to install. “I don’t slave in the studio,” he says. “It’s where I draw and plan, but the work is done on site.”

Many of Bendtsen’s book sculptures are titled “Arguments” followed by a number. The one Continue reading

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