An art exhibit opening! What a fun way to cheer up a rainy fall afternoon. The Nesto Gallery at Milton Academy lures its student audience with generous cheese and crackers and the kids are thrilled to meet artists like Pamela R. Tarbell. A retired gallery owner, she is dressed in an exuberant jacket that matches her equally exuberant paintings. An outdoor sculpture exhibit, “All Creatures Great and Small,” adds to the fun and the sculptors are willing to go out in the rain to have their photos taken with some students.
Tarbell’s brightly colored paintings fill the small gallery with floral imagery, and memories of pleasant times on beaches and in gardens. “Fernland #1” is a fine example. Closely observed ferns of different species are enlarged and dance across the canvas. Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Flowers” would be the ideal background music. On the left side of the large two-part canvas the stems of the ferns align vertically to form a stabilizing line. On the right, the ferns become pin-wheels and cavort across the canvas like ballerinas. Behind the green-blue-bronze ferns background oranges and pinks add a vivid touch.
Two students, Tapti Sen II and Sneha Jaiswal, stopped to admire Tarbell’s oil painting of “Beach Grass,” one of her strongest works. Expressionist colors set the beach grass glowing against a deep blue sea. The sandy dunes are a foil for the rhythmic tossing and weaving of the grass, amid sea creatures and driftwood. Primarily a romantic vision, the painting may have another symbolic life. The sea grasses could be lit by a brilliant sunset or a campfire, but they also recall the photos of horrific fires in the Amazon forests. Tarbell disavows this interpretation, but it adds to the depth of the painting.
Three sculptors present at the opening exhibit works with straightforward symbolism executed with exceptional skill, a tribute to the long dedication to their craft. Thomas Berger carved a huge fish out of gray granite; “Toothed Teeth.” It is a sea-monster whose quartz teeth in gaping mouth are fearsome indeed. The smooth polished granite gives way to waving lines of fins and tails. “Scouting Owl,” by Andeas von Huene is an equally fearsome and perfectly carved in gneisse. The owl’s two huge wings are carved in daringly thin stone. The bird’s head and eyes jut out, searching for the next meal.
Michael Alfano’s “Turning Heads” cleverly piles up segments of different weather-proof materials to make an over-sized head. The symbolism of a human head made of many parts loosely strung together is perfect for our racially diverse society, and for Milton Academy with its students from many countries and cultures. Beverly Benson Seamans’ bronze, “Osprey” is a gentler bird, closer to life-size alighting on a branch. Years of being outdoors has created a lovely green patina on the sculpture. Other sculptors are included in the Nesto exhibit all producing fine examples with a tendency toward realistic symbols and advanced techniques.
(“Pamela Tarbell: Paintings Now and Then” remain on view through November 1 at the Nesto Gallery, Milton Academy, 170 Centre St., Milton, Massachusetts. The “Creatures Great and Small” outdoor sculpture exhibition, located in front of the Art & Media Center, featuring work by Michael Alfano, Beverly Benson, Thomas Berger, Lindley Briggs, Wendy Klemperer, Morris Norvin, Bob Shanahan and Andreas von Huene, remains on view through June 2020. For more information, visit milton.edu/arts/nesto-gallery.)