Transcription of Jane Bianco for the show Beauty & the Brain #202

Speaker 1:     Long time listeners of [inaudible 00:00:02] Radio know that we love art, and we spend a lot of time talking with artists and with art lovers. Today we get to speak with someone who actually works at an art museum. This is Jane Bianco who is the associate curator at the Farnsworth Art Museum. Jane, thanks so much for coming down here. You have a great museum up there on the coast and it’s something that I’ve enjoyed many times myself so it’s nice to be able to spend time with you today.

Jane:               Oh, it’s lovely to be here and yes it’s a gem. The Farnswoth Museum is a true gem.

Speaker 1:     How did you end up in the curator arts?

Jane:               I first studied applied arts as a graphic designer at Boston University some years ago and then I went back to school and studied art history because I was always reading art history books for pleasure. I became employed by the Kohler Foundation. I did a fellowship when I was at the University of Wisconsin in graduate school. That led to a museum position in the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin where I focused on research for so called outsider artists and art environments throughout the Midwest and beyond.

It was quite an interesting job. I was in a grant funded position, did some work, research and writing for a catalog. It was a four year grant funded position for which I did research writing, editing, etc, for an exhibition which culminated in a symposium and a huge catalog. I was focused on outsider art, art environments, the core of the collection at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center but I wanted to move beyond that and came back to the east coast where my family lived. I took a position at the Farnsworth Art Museum, which has as it’s core, a fabulous American art collection. I’m particularly interested in late 19th century, early 20th century modernism.

Speaker 1:     Last year you put together a very interesting exhibit for people and I think it was a way, the way that you and I were speaking about it, it was a way to bring people in and almost allow them to just experience art rather than have to think too much about it or be intimidated by it. Tell me about that.

Jane:               I try to do that with all the exhibitions that I organize because there’s such a fabulous collection at the Farnsworth it lends itself to all sorts of narratives. This particular show was about color. I looked at the American impressionists paintings in the Farnsworth art collection. I thought what is it about them that really appeals to me? It seemed to be the color, the color combinations. I thought if it appeals to me, it must appeal to a lot of other people the same way. I put together about 25 paintings in the case, in a smaller of the various galleries at the Farnsworth just because of the way the color seemed to be an emphasis within all the paintings. I asked people to come into the gallery and to, if possible, or just for an instant to try to divorce the subject matter from the color, or try to see the color first before the subject matter. That was the sort of invitation into the show, yeah.

Speaker 1:     It was a broad array of paintings that you had on display. I know I wasn’t able to see it and I’m very sad about that actually, but having looked down through the paintings that you had, it was impressive. You had Rockwell Kent and William Burpee and Lilian Hale. You also had Will Barnet. He is a well known Maine artist who passed away not too long ago. Tell me about his piece.

Jane:               One of the premises of the show is that we all see color differently perhaps and that color is influenced by atmospheric conditions, by weather, by type of lighting and perhaps even if you happen to be colorblind. Also, by associations we bring to color as we look at paintings. The Will Barnet, done in the 20th century of course, is a wonderful composition with a very limited range of color and value. His forms are almost silhouetted, Cats at Night, up and down stairs and a porch of a house against the light of the, perhaps the night light which might be lit by the moon, who knows.

What was interesting to me is that when you do get up in the middle of the night, everything looks grey. There is a sort of a limited pallet. You don’t really see color unless you turn the lights on and then it takes your eyes a moment to adjust. Rather you see a variation on greys, warm greys or cool greys, depending on the light which might filter through some light source through a crack in the window. A light which might lend some sort of light or white edge to an edge of an form.

Speaker 1:     You have an interest in American impressionists and I know that the Farnsworth has a collection of American impressionists. What is it about the impressionists and color and this new form that was coming out that made art more, I guess accessible and different?

Jane:               The impressionists were looking at light. They were able to paint outside because of the invention of the tubes for carrying mixed paint, mixed pigment. Paint became portable. Painting became a portable thing. Of course artists did go back to the studio. In some cases they did color studies outside and then they finished paintings in the studio. What the impressionists were capturing were the effects of light. The effects of light had everything to do with color and touches of color and juxtapositions of color. In one of the paintings that we showed in the coloring vision show, a child [inaudible 00:07:09] painting, it’s very convincing.

Although that you wouldn’t suspect at first glance that baby blue and baby pink and high keyed colors can convince you of a scene, but they do just that in his painting of Union Square in New York. The artist actually causes you to readjust your brain and your thinking through your vision and to read into the painting that the blue for instance delineating trees or a figure and that the pink highlights and the white create a sense of dazzling light and that dazzling light is something that we all may know from, well especially in Maine.

There’s another painting which relates to that I think, and that is NC Wyeth’s painting of Eight Bells in Port Clyde, his home here in Maine. There are days in late in summer, early in fall, in September when the light is so dazzling it hurts to look at it. It’s so bright. He creates that feeling within that painting because of the purple shadows, the white roof. The water in the background. You almost feel when you look at the painting that you need to squint your eyes because you’ve experienced that Maine light, or sunlight that in intrinsic to Maine, which I believe he captured so beautifully in that painting.

Speaker 1:     There was also a painting by Rockwell Kent in the show.

Jane:               Yes, that’s unusual because Rockwell Kent was someone who traveled to far northern regions. He was somewhat of an adventurer. He was a wonderful writer. He was a fabulous wood engraver. He did very graphically strong drawings and paintings, and this painting that we have is done mostly in blues and greens. Those cool blues and greens give you the sense of icebergs in Greenland. There’s a mountain with a very blue shadow cast facing the viewer because the sun, and there is sun, even in northern climes, is behind the mountain. That yellow glow of the sun permeates, we imagine the backside of the mountain, but it also come through and infuses the translucence of the icebergs so that you get a sense that even in very, very stark extreme coldness, that warm yellow sun permeates and it does … Perhaps you can extrapolate from this with your imagination and think that the ice be starting to melt because of that warmth from the sun.

I think in all the paintings in that show, the color was a vehicle for first of all, enhancing the subject matter. Even if a viewer could go in and just appreciate the combinations color without even thinking about subject matter, it’s very difficult to do. I think we associate not just impressions of our experience of the real world, but expressions of our feelings towards the real world because of color.

Speaker 1:     It’s true. I’m thinking as you’re talking about these paintings, the times that I have stood in front of a painting and just kind of absorbed it and allowed it to make me feel the way it was going to make me feel. This description of the Cats at Night, the Will Barnet, and just those muted greys that you’re describing that we all see when we get up in the middle of the night. Maybe there’s just a little bit of moon and there’s, you could hear perhaps the peepers out in the distance and just that, just the quietude of it all, I suppose.

Jane:               What Will Barnet did usually in his painting … I mentioned that it’s greys but he used blues and violets but in very, very subdued ways, very toned down, grey down. At first glance at that painting you think it’s all grey, but it’s really a really, very good use of color.

Speaker 1:     What is it about the main landscape, the atmosphere, the water, the mountains, that draws artists here to make it their subject?

Jane:               For me, and I’m also someone who paints in choice. I think that this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived. There’s the sort of the range, the extremes of the water or the sky, the elements, the light. I’m sure that every artists who’s ever painted in Maine outdoors would say that the light is very different here. Just as you go to Wyoming, you might say the sky is bigger in Wyoming. Obviously it’s the same sky, but the light somehow off the water or off the forms of the mountains or the trees, the dense forests, it all plays together the sense of the furs, the mossy undergrowth as you walk through the woods. All of that is very inspiring to artists who paint in both realistic, naturalistic ways or perhaps abstract from this natural world that we find around us. It’s the variety of Maine and it’s also Maine is a place where you can do your own thing. It’s big enough and remote enough or crowded enough to find a place where you belong, I think.

Speaker 1:     When people went through this exhibit, the coloring vision exhibit at the Farnsworth, what did you hear them say? What were their responses?

Jane:               People were thrilled by the beauty of the some of the paintings. It’s very easy to look at impressionist paintings and to find ones that you like. They’re very easy on the eye. I think that people in general may have slowed down a little to think about, to stand before pictures a little bit longer, or perhaps they may have gravitated toward something that appealed to them immediately. I would argue that it was the color that may have drawn people rather than the forms. There were a number of landscapes, there were a number of a figurative compositions. There were things that might be slightly, early abstraction. There were no color feel drawings or paintings, there were no just colors on canvas. It was all very concerned with subject matter, although I asked viewers to try to subordinate the subject matter. It was always there and it was the color that enhanced the sense of atmosphere that the paintings were trying to accomplish I think.

Speaker 1:     Although this exhibit is no longer up at the Farnsworth, there are many beautiful pieces of art that still exist. For individuals who are listening that may not have an art history background or an art background, can you give some suggestions for how they might appreciate what they’re seeing?

Jane:               Oh, I would say come into any of the galleries in the Farnsworth and wander around. I guarantee that there’s something that will draw you. I can’t say what it will be but we have a fabulous, fabulous collection going back as far as the 18th century. We have folk art, we have paintings, drawings, sculpture, textile arts. Of course there are works by Wyeth’s family, NC Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth. Right now you’ll find a summer blockbuster in a variety, more of a variety than you would normally see at the Farnsworth because this extends beyond the collection to collectors of Maine. We have mounted a show, which opens at the end of June covering the treasures, I would say the treasures of Maine collectors, at least 50 of them ranging from Asian, European, American art in many forms. Textiles, paintings, works on paper, sculpture, furniture, pots, ceramics, metal work, you name it. I would suggest that people come to the Farnsworth and be surprised.

Speaker 1:     What is the Farnsworth’s website?


Speaker 1:     I appreciate your coming down. I know this is a very busy season for you up at the Farnsworth and there’s a lot going on. I also would thank you for the work that you’re doing up there. As a non artist, non art historian, I have myself wandered around just as you’ve said and had found great joy in being there, not only the interior space, but also in the back where there are sculptures to be seen and I think it is a gem to be found up in Rockland.

Jane:               Yes, and one thing I didn’t mention were the two historic sites also. There’s Lucy Farnsworth’s homestead which is attached to the museum so to speak, which is there on the museum campus. Lucy Farnsworth was the woman who had great foresight in creating a museum for the public, a museum that came into being after her death in 1935. The museum in 1948. She stipulated in her will that her home be open to the public forever. It is. The Farnsworth homestead is, what’s glorious about it is that all of the furnishings within were things owned by not just Lucy Farnsworth but her parents. It’s a grand example of mid 19th century architecture and interiors. The other property which is closed this summer, is the Olson House and of course the Olson House in Cushing is a national landmark and that is the place that inspired Andrew Wyeth for over 30 years, when he was visiting mainly during summers. It’s also the locale for his very well known painting, Christina’s World which is now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Speaker 1:     This gives people who are listening a lot to look forward to. Maybe not this summer, the Olson House, but maybe in future summers but certainly the Farnsworth Art Museum and Lucy Farnsworth’s house. I appreciate your coming down here and speaking with us today. This is Jane Bianco who is the associated curator at the Farnsworth Art Museum. Thank you so much.

Jane:               Thank you very much.