GP Art Center members sparkle during diamond anniversary

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 11, 2013

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GROSSE POINTE CITY — What began with an exhibition of works by Grosse Pointe area artists at the Neighborhood Club has grown into one of the most notable regional arts nonprofits around.

The Grosse Pointe Art Center — which started as the Grosse Pointe Artists Association, getting its formal name in 1938 — is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and its 75th Member’s Show, which opened with a public reception Sept. 6, shows the range of its hundreds of members, who now hail from all over metro Detroit.

“Everyone gets a chance to exhibit (their work during this show),” said artist and GPAC Board member Leslie Rentschler of the GPAC’s only non-juried exhibition of the year. “We are a membership-driven organization. It’s important to recognize that and give everyone a chance.”

From newcomers and those who create art as a hobby, to artists whose works have won awards and acclaim, visitors can get a glimpse at the various styles and media employed by people they might know from their neighborhoods or offices.

“It’s essential that Grosse Pointe have culture,” said GPAC member and artist Alexander Fedirko, who recently opened his own gallery in Grosse Pointe Park.

The arts organization has deep roots in the community, which is evident in many of its members. New GPAC Gallery Coordinator Katy Wereley remembers going with her mother — a GPAA member — to the organization’s exhibitions at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms when she was a child, and now Wereley is taking part in her own first show with “Fish Down Woodward,” an atmospheric photograph of a fish balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade in downtown Detroit. Wereley, who usually paints in oil, said this piece is “very out of the box” for her, but she said submitting it for the members show “gives you that boost of confidence” to send works for consideration to other shows in the future. Despite studying painting for years, this was the encouragement she needed.

“When everyone else did soccer, I was in painting classes with Nancy Profitt,” Wereley said.

Erica Chappuis, of Grosse Isle, who lived in Grosse Pointe Park for 28 years prior to her recent move, said she’s belonged to the GPAC for more than 10 years. She said the organization creates “a comfortable atmosphere” for artists.

“There’s been so many galleries that are (only) interested in a certain type of art,” she said. “(At the GPAC), it’s a much more all-encompassing type of atmosphere. And it’s community-oriented.”

Chappuis’ mixed media painting in the show, the richly detailed “Blood Groove,” speaks to her research into her family’s history, which revealed her son’s Moorish ancestry, courtesy of Chappuis’ husband, Laurent. With all of the international conflict in the news, she said she began reflecting on the shared DNA of everyone on the planet.

“It got me thinking,” Chappuis said. “You’re never further apart (from another human being) than a 50th cousin.”

Charmaine Kaptur, of Grosse Pointe Park, a GPAC member since around the late 1980s, showcases another sort of unity in her mixed media work, “Urban Melange.” A member of the GPAC exhibition committee, she insisted that her painting be hung alongside works by Joan Bonnette and Nobuko Yamasaki, all of whom have attended painting workshops together in South Haven. Kaptur said the GPAC “exposes the community” to the many talented artists in their own backyards.

GPAC Board member Vikas Relan said the center has inspired artists like him to start painting again. It also gives them a place to share their creations.

“It gives artists a venue to exhibit their work that just doesn’t exist (anywhere else) on the east side,” Rentschler said.

Unlike traditional GPAC exhibitions — in which the juror selects best of show and other award winners — the Member’s Show doesn’t name “place” winners. However, there are some special honors given for some of the works.

Rentschler sponsored two awards in honor of her late mother, Rose Mullen Asmus, who died exactly a year before the opening of the Member’s Show.

“It’s a way to commemorate her memory,” said Rentschler, who also serves on the GPAC’s Exhibition Committee.

Asmus was better known by her nickname, “Kirky,” and the awards were named thusly. Gary Watts, of Birmingham, received one of these awards for his untitled oil painting of a young woman, and Rashaun Rucker, of Grosse Pointe Park, received the second for his pencil drawing of the late homeless man Dreadlock Mike, titled “Detroit Street Jesus, R.I.P. Mike.” Rentschler called the detailed graphite portrait “an amazing pencil drawing.”

Rucker said he created the image just a few months before Dreadlock Mike and fellow homeless man James “Eat ’Em Up Tigers” Van Horn were killed in a hit-and-run crash in Detroit.

“I felt his face deserved a drawing,” said Rucker, who’s better known for his photography but who considers drawing his “pride and joy.” This image is especially close to his heart.

“It’s one of my favorite drawings” done in recent years, Rucker said.

There were two other special honors, the Dombrowski Awards, which went to Estela Boudreau, of St. Clair Shores, for her fired clay bronze patina bust, “Father Solanus Casey,” and to Jackie Rybinski, of Grosse Pointe Farms, for her oil painting, “Fresh Fish.”

For the first time, GPAC visitors will be able to choose their own favorites. The People’s Choice Awards is seeking votes for the best work in mixed media, photography, acrylic/oil painting, 3-D (such as sculpture), watercolor/ pastel and new member works, the last of which are indicated by a blue dot on the tag. People can vote once in each category, either in person or online, through Sept. 25, with the winners to be announced at 7 p.m. Sept. 26.

“We’re excited about that,” Rentschler said. “We want to get the community involved. We need more of that.”

GPAC Board President Wendy Schmidt agreed.

“You don’t need to be an artist (to vote),” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see what the public chooses.”

The Member’s Show opening drew a packed house, so Schmidt recommended that prospective voters return to the gallery on another day during the run of the exhibition.

“Then you can really take your time with the work,” she said.

GPAC Director Amy DeBrunner — who was praised by Rentschler as “amazing” and “tireless” — said the 103 artists who took part in this year’s Member’s Show are a record, and nearly a third of those — 28 — were people who just joined the GPAC.

“That’s outstanding,” DeBrunner said.

Because of the smaller gallery space, DeBrunner said members were limited in terms of the size of works they could submit to this year’s show, and they could only include one piece.

The 75th Member’s Show is on display through Sept. 28. The GPAC is located at 17118 Kercheval in the Village. Hours are noon-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call (313) 881-3454 or visit www.grossepointeartcenter.org.

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