Holiday art show to benefit the American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund

This is part of a series from Ilene Dube of The Artful Blogger.

Vermont gets all the credit for pastoral scenery, but one of central New Jersey’s best-kept secrets – and shhh, let’s keep it secret – is its wealth of rural beauty. Along the Delaware Canal in Stockton, The Prallsville Mill, with its tall red grain elevator reflecting off the water, is a favorite subject for artists, who often surround it with a snowy ground or a moonlit sky.

The Princeton Artists Alliance has selected Prallsville Mill as the venue for its holiday show, a benefit for the American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.

No fewer than 16 artists are on exhibit here, and PAA founding member Charles McVicker will lead a gallery tour Saturday, Dec. 15, at 1 p.m. The College of New Jersey professor of art emeritus will share the floor with some of the other artists who will speak about their work.

Also a founder of the Garden State Watercolor Society, McVicker, 82, always longed to be part of a group like the Impressionists who gathered in Parisian cafes or the Abstract Expressionists who held forth at New York’s Cedar Tavern – a scene depicted by sculptor Red Grooms, and in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Back in the 1980s, inspired by the great number of artists working in Princeton, McVicker recruited Margaret “Maggi” Johnson and Marie Sturken to help form the Princeton Artists Alliance. Soon Lucy McVickers, Charles’ wife, became a member. Since its founding in 1989, the group continues to hold monthly meetings, pay dues, discuss member’s work, and exhibit together.

“In the beginning, we found an empty store in Forrestal Village and covered the mirrors with Homasote to have an exhibit,” says McVicker. “Then we got the idea to do themed shows and moved up to bigger and better galleries.”

Princeton Artists Alliance has developed major exhibitions on Homer’s The Odyssey, Marsh Meditations, the Pine Barrens, and Poetry, in such venues as the New Jersey State Museum, the Gallery at Bristol Myers-Squibb, The College of New Jersey, the Noyes Museum, and the Brodsky Center Gallery in New Brunswick. Some members have left, and some new members have joined.

“We try to keep it at 20,” says McVicker, not to be elitist, he says, but because that just seems to be a healthy number for working together to hang shows, with members participating in the roles of treasure, membership and publicity. As the average member age is now 70, an effort is being made to recruit new younger members, such as Jennifer Cadoff.

A former journalist for Conde Nast Publications who has lived in Princeton for 20 years, Cadoff has always been enamored of PAA. “It’s a wonderful organization with highly respected artists,” she says. “I’ve followed their careers, seeing Maggi Johnson win awards, and meeting them at art openings. I thought I could learn a lot and continue to evolve as an artist if I were in the group.”

Cadoff had attended McVickers’ monthly critique group, held in his home, with anywhere from four to 10 artists. “Charles is the main critiquer – he has a fabulous eye and way of communicating – and we bring problem pieces to discuss,” says Cadoff. Other artists contribute to the critique as well.

She had been working abstractly in indelible black marker on watercolor paper, making flower shapes on a background of circles, but couldn’t get the composition she was satisfied with. “Charles said, ‘you need a piece that’s not attached.’ I had connected the elements too closely to the background, and immediately realized his suggestion gave energy and balance to the piece.”

With a concurrent exhibit at Princeton Brain and Spine Institute, Cadoff is working on simple abstract pieces comprised of parallel lines. “It began as a foray from inside of me. I asked, ‘is it art?,’ and Charles gave me the confidence to push myself and try new things. These pieces have taken off in my imagination, and even when I go to sleep I’m still seeing them. Now I’m sewing them into collages.”

McVicker invited Cadoff to join PAA in October. She is delighted to be part of a diverse and accomplished group of artists, most especially for the way they talk about art. “It is so inspirational to hear every member say how their art grew richer from their interaction with the group.”

Cadoff reflects back on a drawing she did of cows, “Just Hanging Out,” donated to the Arts Council of Princeton’s annual fundraising art Tombola several years ago and purchased by a member of PAA. Now Cadoff is “Just Hanging Out” with PAA.

Princeton Artists Alliance Holiday Show and Sale is at the Prallsville Mill, Route 29, Stockton, through Dec. 22. Gallery hours Wed.-Sun. 11-3 p.m. Gallery tour with Charles McVicker Sat., Dec. 15, 1 p.m.

The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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