Worcester’s Art Girl Summer Has Begun

Irena Kaci

The Worcester Art Museum, though formidable, is not the only art game in town. In fact, when it comes to artistic expression, around these parts we have a treasure trove of opportunities. The list of local offerings is large and growing by the year. Valleycast, Fitchburg Art Museum, Mary Cosgrove Gallery, and Arts Worcester are only a few of the contenders for your time and artistic engagement. I took the grand tour of Central Mass art museums to get up to speed.

First things first,  you know that our very own Worcester State University houses a wonderful independent Art Gallery known as the Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Art Gallery? The Cosgrove Dolphin Gallery’s curator Brad Chapman Bleau whose own showing just closed in April, took the time to fill me in on which exhibits will round out the summer. 

“We have sort of a double show that opens up May 2nd. One half of the gallery will have our Senior Thesis Exhibition, featuring the work of three graduating seniors majoring in Art, Fiona Wilson, Libia Goncalves and Thomas Delaporta The students will be installing this portion of the show themselves, learning what it’s like to set up, hang, arrange and curate a space.”

“Wilson’s work focuses on the anthropomorphisation and personification of anxieties and internal struggles. The collection of high-contrast black and white ink drawings feature cycloptic figures with elongated appendages, twisting, distorting and intertwining with one another. These striking images depict feelings we all experience and know too well, but don’t always have the words to describe. . She communicates complex human emotions, experiences, and associations through her love of painting; specifically of flowers.

Delaporta’s work is a reflection on the finitude of life and the eternal darkness that comes when the light of the universe ceases to burn.  Delaporta has been spending the last few semesters developing a video game that captures this concept. As the “viewer” or “player” your goal is to spend your short existence helping others in an attempt to find meaning in such a short time.”

Showing a commitment to art in all of its forms, the Cosgrove Gallery will, in the summer, host an exhibition known as ‘Off the Beaten Path: A Counterculture Exhibition’.  What makes this particular exhibit unique is the fact that it will host a variety of media that are not traditionally exhibited in ‘Fine Art Galleries.’ For instance, it will include Tattoo Iconography, Graffitti/Street Art, Comic Books, Manga/Anime, Cryptids and Character Design, Pop Art/Anti-Art, low brow art. In short it will be a catch-all for everything that is generally sidelined as only art-adjacent.”

Tucked between the Hanover Theater and the Worcester Public Library, ArtsWorcester has been churning out respectable exhibits for over a decade. I checked in with Allie Heimos, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications to get the scoop. 

“We have two new exhibitions opening on May 9 (big public reception the following night, 6-9pm). One is a solo exhibition by Sophie Pearson, whose deeply personal series, Beneath the Memory, tells a powerful story of childhood trauma and ongoing recovery. The second show is a highly competitive juried exhibition of Worcester County landscapes where you will discover both recognizable views and more ephemeral interpretations that push the boundaries of traditional landscape. Additionally, in the summer we put together a big ‘members’ exhibition. It’ll be our 12th annual one and it’s super fun.”

Sophie Pearson: Beneath the Memory

The Fitchburg Art Museum is a little further out than I would normally venture, but it is well worth the trip. I spoke with Terry & Ava Herndon Assistant Curator Eli Yung. Currently there are three exhibits that run until June or July, and one additional exhibit that will run until February 2025. Portrayed by Eakins: Ella Crowell as Model and Student, and On Her Terms: Feminine Power Embodied will wrap up by June 2.

Maria Yolanda Liebana, The World according to April 26th, 2023, acrylic, molding paste, and mixed media collage on wood panel. Courtesy of the artist. 

“Family photographs, archival materials, and art reproductions trace the contours of Ella’s life from her early childhood to her studies in Philadelphia. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a rarely seen, recently conserved double-sided oil sketch of Ella by Thomas Eakins, painted in the 1890s.These objects help us to understand a life lived in the shadow of one of America’s most acclaimed portraitists. This exhibition was organized by Guest Curator Elizabeth Athens, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Connecticut.”

Meanwhile, On Her Own Terms has a wider scope. “On Her Terms features seven contemporary artists who identify the body as a site of empowerment. Working in diverse media, artists Azita Moradkhani, Catherine McCarthy, Claudia Olds Goldie, Lindsey Beal, Maria Yolanda Liebana, Minoo Emami, and Nafis White experiment with representations of feminine embodiment to explore the personal and collective histories of women existing within oppressive social and political environments. Taking inspiration from the movement for women’s rights in Iran, modern hip hop, historical gynecological tools, and Victorian hair weaving, these artists engage the feminine form as a site for personal reckoning with historical traumas and their impacts upon daily life in the present. Rather than simply bearing the weight of such heavy histories, these artists focus on radical joy and beauty to reassert agency over themselves and their surroundings. Even when hidden from view, the body feels present, calling attention to the void where a form should be.”

Ria Brodell, Esther Eng aka Brother Ha 1914-1970 United States, 2022, gouache on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Yet another gendered exhibition wraps up on July 14th. “Ria Brodell’s Butch Heroes series recovers and celebrates previously lost moments in LGBTQIA history. Over the past thirteen years, Brodell has searched Boston’s archives for newspaper articles, journal entries, and court records that document people whose lives show evidence of genderqueer experience before the twentieth century. Their names and narratives serve as the basis for portraits inspired

by Catholic iconography. These paintings (and the biographical notes that accompanythem) memorialize the heroism of people who pursued life and love on their own terms. Though many of the people Brodell discovered received public attention for their perceived “oddity” or violation of laws concerning gender performance, Brodell shifts the narrative away from unmitigated rejection or punishment. Instead, they balance their interpretation to share the creative, joyful ways Queer individuals throughout history have carved out lives for themselves within social structures designed to discourage or criminalize their identities. Drawing upon descriptive accounts and primary sources, Brodell creates real or imagined portraits of their subjects in the style of Catholic holy cards: handheld, devotional images of saints offering guidance that are commonly shared among friends and family. This aesthetic not only references the artist’s own upbringing in the Church, but it serves as a subversive act that venerates people who

were abused by religious institutions during their lifetimes.”

Aïda Muluneh (Ethiopian, b. 1974), Distant Echoes of Dreams, 2018, Edition of 7, archival digital print, Sinon Collection Fund, 2020.18

Lastly, at FAM there is the Africa Rising: 21st Century African Photography.

“A phrase coined in reference to the continent’s rapid economic growth after the turn of the century, “Africa Rising” applies equally to contemporary African fine art photography, which has exploded across the continent over the last few decades. The exhibition Africa Rising at the Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM) is not a comprehensive survey of 21st-century African photography, but it includes work by prominent photographers from seventeen of Africa’s fifty-four countries, and all have compelling stories to tell. Certain themes recur: reclaiming or reasserting identity in the aftermath of colonialism, environmental exploitation and degradation, female empowerment, otherness, and Afro-futurism. Underlying

these themes is a steadfast commitment to changing the pessimistic narrative about Africa presented in the Western media with its focus on war, famine, disease and corruption. Theirs is a continuing African narrative of affirmation delivered with compassion, social concern, and even anger, but also with wit.”

ValleyCAST is the arts and culture initiative of Open Sky Community service and its mission is to “foster a creative and engaged community in the Historic Blackstone Valley that is inclusive and supportive of all people with and without disabilities.” To that end, ValleyCAST sponsors community events and has established the Alternatives Whitin Mill as an ‘inclusive community treasure and cultural center.” The Mill actually houses a technically advanced theater, an art gallery, and a public plaza, perfect for a wide variety of events. This month is Mental Health Awareness Month and ValleyCAST will kick off the month by hosting a “Hope Day Celebration” on May 1st from 1-3pm. The event will feature live music, poetry, wellness offerings, art making and even a walking guided meditation. The rest of the month, on top of their rotating offering of card making classes, ValleyCAST will feature an exhibit by the K-12 students of the Whitinsville Christian School. A small but plucky organization, ValleyCAST’s programming is truly putting in the work to serve all the corners of our community.

John Vo, Mother Tongue, 2021, mixed media on silk and chiffon applique, 22 ½ x 22 ½ inches.
Courtesy of the artist. © John Vo, 2024

Last but not least, the Worcester Art Museum, a staple of art and culture in our city, will be closing out Claudio Eshun’s Photo exhibit in early May (if you’ve not seen it, you have until the 5th, and it is well worth the trip!) and transitioning into John Vo’s Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative exhibit, exploring textiles and the origins inherent within them. A Fulbright Scholar as well as a College of the Holy Cross Alum, Vo sews their materials into wonderful imagery binding cultures and stories to one another in visual treasurers.

If the April showers bleed into May, and you must be bound indoors some of the time, I encourage you to expand your metaphorical horizons. Go into any one of these wonderful known (and unknown) museums and support the local artists, whose creativity both defines and elevates Worcester.