Many Princeton area private schools feature professional art galleries

In urban areas, we often visit galleries in renovated industrial lofts. Here in the Princeton area, many of our galleries can be found in private educational institutions. High schools, and even one pre-K through middle school in the region, operate fine art galleries to showcase some of the best regional artists, as well as students and faculty.

By bringing art into people’s lives, school galleries seek to inspire reflection and serve as a catalyst for community exchange. “We believe in the power of art to stimulate creative thinking, aesthetic appreciation and openness to new ideas,” states the web page of the Marguerite & James Hutchins Gallery at the Lawrenceville School.

Other schools providing such enrichment are Princeton Day School, Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Pennington School, the Peddie School and Chapin School. While many curators consider their exhibits their own artistic contributions, it just so happens that all the school gallery directors are artists as well.

Dallas Piotrowski, curator at the Gallery at Chapin School, has put together The Curators Exhibit, featuring artwork of five gallery directors from Princeton-area private schools: Dolores Evangelista Eaton, Silva Gallery of Art, Pennington School; Jody Erdman, the Anne Reid Art Gallery, Princeton Day School; Jamie Greenfield, Marguerite & James Hutchins Gallery, Lawrenceville School; Phyllis Wright, Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Hear; and Piotrowski herself at Chapin.

“I decided to give the curators an opportunity to shine a light on their own artwork and to give the community a chance to meet with them,” said Piotrowski.

Piotrowski earned a bit of fame a decade ago when her painting of Joyce Carol Oates as Alice in Wonderland was featured on the cover of the Ontario Review. It is a reworking of the 1946 John Tenniel sketch showing Alice “opening out like the largest telescope there ever was,” having just eaten the Eat Me cake. The altered Alice, with elongated neck, has a pencil in one hand and a book in the other and the face of Oates. Oates titled it “Curiouser and Curiouser.”

Piotrowski created the original for an Alice in Wonderland series exhibited at the Trenton City Museum in 2004 – the series included Jack Nicholson as the Mad Hatter, Hillary and Bill Clinton as the Queen and King of Hearts and Martha Stewart as the Duchess.

“I always wanted to paint Joyce because I knew of her love for Lewis Carroll,” said Piotrowski, a collector of signed first-edition and children’s books including popup books and works with illustrations by Maurice Sendak and Barry Moser.

For Oates’ birthday, Piotrowski sent her a print of her altered Alice, and Oates liked it so much she put it on her website and invited Piotrowski to her home. From then on, the two have been friends. Oates’ late husband, Raymond J. Smith, published the series in the Ontario Review.

It was after her 1998 exhibit at Chapin that Piotrowski was invited to curate the gallery. She still keeps pictures that Chapin students drew to thank her for that exhibit.

Chapin offers six exhibits a year, lasting about a month, with an artist reception and artist talks for students. During these talks, the artists explain their work and perform demonstrations, and students get a chance to ask questions.

Artists from New Jersey and Pennsylvania are exhibited, and “their work leaves a lasting impression on students,” said Piotrowski. “The students get so excited when artists come to talk and answer questions.” Take-away activities include collage, cutouts or mosaics.

“The galleries are a wonderful way to teach the children to appreciate art,” said Piotrowski. “I can already see how they are developing their opinions in what they like and don’t. These exhibits present a broad palette of choices to spark their imagination and the art teachers’ take off on the artists’ ideas. If children are exposed to art in grades K-8, it will help train their eye. There’s looking at a painting, and then there’s seeing, stopping to understand what makes it work.”

The Curator’s Exhibit at The Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, Princeton, April 1 through April 30. There will be a reception for the artist on Wednesday, April 2, from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit can also be viewed by appointment during school hours. 609-924-7206.

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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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