Exhbit of works by local women artists opens Sunday

February 14, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

An exhibit by nine contemporary artists opens Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Washington County Arts Council Gallery.

They work in a variety of media - fiber, photography, sculpture, painting, printmaking and mixed media.

Each works in the Tri-State region, and all are women.

Highlighting talented female artists is something gallery Director Eli Pollard thinks is important.

"The artists were chosen based first and foremost on the quality of their work," he says.

Joan Bontempo, a ceramic artist since the early 1970s, says she never chooses exhibitions based on themes. She views her participation in this exhibit as an opportunity to be in a show with some fine artists.

Bontempo, 48, has lived in Sharpsburg for less than a year. A native of Beaver, Pa., she came to Washington County with her husband, Jeff Lynn, who was renovating historic homes in the Washington, D.C., area.


The couple, both photographers, wanted a place that would provide opportunities for them to make and display their art.

"We really like the western part of the state," she says. "It's perfect."

Bontempo says her sculpture is not completely abstract. "It's about the relationships between people and their spirituality." Her art is reflective of her growing up in Western Pennsylvania - its rivers, bridges, steel construction.

"My love affair with the material comes first. I seem to think first in clay," Bontempo says. But sometimes, when the plan becomes too large for clay, she does mixed-media sculptures.

Karen Birch uses a different variety of materials to create her art. She works in fiber with paint, embroidery and beads.

"I paint on linen with acrylic paint in a painterly way," she says. Then she goes in and does hand stitching, applying embroidery and beadwork to enhance the image, working abstractly. Her creations are landscapes and biomorphic forms - forms that resemble living organisms, she explains.

Birch, 42, who's been making art full time in her Brunswick, Md.-area studio for seven years, says she knew "pretty early" she wanted to be an artist.

Although she's had to juggle family, household and spouse along the way, her overriding goal has been art. "I've been real clear on that," Birch says.

Birch has had other work displayed at the downtown Hagerstown gallery, and her creations have been shown in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and recently in an exhibit of fiber art in Wilmington, Del.

Birch says it's reassuring and validating to see work by artists in similar media but feels there's plenty of room for her work.

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