Artists come of age

Artwork by (clockwise from top left) Barbara Holtz, Sim Gellman, Linda Skrainka and Razine Wenneker are included in the ‘Maturity and Its Muse’ exhibit.

By Renee Stovsky, Special to the Light

Do artists defy age?

Think of some of the greatest artists of the 20th Century and you might be tempted to believe so:


-Pablo Picasso, who died at 91, produced a torrent of paintings and hundreds of copperplate etchings in his last years, defining neo-expressionism in the process.

-Georgia O’Keefe was still creating in pencil and watercolor as well as prolifically producing clay objects until two years before her death at 98.

-Henri Matisse, in poor health and confined to a chair or bed after age 71, turned from oil painting to paper cut-outs, transforming a simple technique into a medium of magnificent art. He died at 84.

-Louise Nevelson was 68 when her exhibit at the Whitney Museum became the turning point of her life. She created her celebrated sculptures well into her 80s, receiving a National Medal of Art from President Reagan in 1985 at age 85. She died at 88.

-Folk artist Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses began painting scenes of rural life in her 70s, after abandoning a career in embroidery because of arthritis. She lived to be 101.

A new invitational exhibit opening Friday (Oct. 1) at the Sheldon Art Galleries attempts to explore the link between creativity and positive, productive aging. Called “Maturity and Its Muse,” it celebrates the work of 40 St. Louis artists over the age of 70. Though they work in a variety of mediums, from photography and collage to printmaking, sculpture, painting, jewelry, quilting and drawing, they all have one thing in common-they continue to create new work and have an active professional life.

Created and curated by Lynn Friedman Hamilton, she says the show joins together three of her passions-art, aging and St. Louis.

“As a former gallery owner [Lynn Plotkin’s Brentwood Gallery] I have always been fascinated by what’s inside someone’s head and how he or she can express that. I’ve also been very involved with the Washington University Center for Aging,” says Hamilton. “Several years ago I became entranced with the idea of what happens to artists when they reach a certain age. I know they do not retire; creative juices do not stop flowing at 65 or 75. Yet many redefine their art, whether they are forced to by physical limitations or whether they find new inspiration and direction.”

As for the St. Louis connection, Hamilton sees the exhibit as a way to showcase hometown artists who “have dedicated their lives to their art, chosen to live here because of the quality of life our city offers, and by doing so, have subsequently enriched the quality of life for us all.”

The 40 artists serve a secondary function in “Maturity and Its Muse” as well. They are subjects for study by Brian Carpenter, associate professor of psychology at Washington University, who hopes to see how growing older has influenced their creativity and how staying creative has influenced their aging.

“Creativity unfolds over time,” Carpenter writes in the exhibition catalog. “Yet formal scientific exploration has only just started to reveal how creativity evolves over the lifespan and how it might help people navigate the challenges of growing older.”

To that end, Carpenter and some Wash U graduate students, including a videographer, have interviewed the artists and produced a documentary that will be included in the exhibit.

That said, the artists are as different from one another as the mediums they employ. Some, like Leslie Laskey, Peter Marcus and Lucian Krukowski, have been not only artists but longtime professors at Washington University. Others, like Stan Gellman and Martin Schweig, ran successful commercial studios before retirement. Still others, like Razine Wenneker and Barbara Simon, came to their art later in life, after separate careers or when children were grown.

Because of their varied backgrounds, their art has different meanings for them.

Gellman, who ran his own graphic design business for almost 30 years, sold it in 1997, two weeks after returning from a four-month stint in Paris, where he studied etching and printmaking. “I brought my drawing board home and put a letterpress in the garage,” he says. “It doesn’t get any better than this. After so many years of trying to please clients and taking on assignments, now I only need to please myself.”

Wenneker quit a longtime job with the Ladue School District at age 50 to study metalsmithing at the hands of several masters, including Heikki Seppa at Wash U. Eventually, she combined her interests in education and art by founding the Society for Midwest Metalsmiths, which offers workshops and scholarships in the art form. Now she has incorporated metalsmithing techniques into Kumihimo jewelry, which uses woven thread.

“People age too fast because they lose the desire to learn,” she says. “If you have stimulation and joy in your life, you forget your aches and pains. Art can open up whole new worlds for you.”

Exploring the world is exactly what Elaine Blatt does as a photographer. She’s lived in London and Paris, traveled extensively to remote areas in Antarctica and Africa and recorded images of everything from Venice Carnival participants to the deserts of Dubai. “I want to see-and photograph-everything with an unfiltered eye,” she says.

Barbara Simon also travels for inspiration; her textile and paper collages draw heavily from the natural world she observes in places like the Costa Rican rain forest. Yet she says some of the greatest pleasure her craft brings her is an association with colleagues in the art community.

“I have such an eclectic, interesting group of friends that are a whole, separate extension to my life,” she says. “We don’t just play bridge or talk about our grandchildren. We go to workshops, plan trips to out-of-town exhibits, curate shows and serve on not-for-profit art committees. I am definitely never bored!”

Like the artists she is showcasing in “Maturity and Its Muse,” Hamilton has no plans to curtail her passions when the exhibit, which is dedicated to the late Patricia (Patsy) Degener, a founding board member, exhibitor and former Post-Dispatch art critic, closes in February. Hamilton hopes to expand the concept to a regional and statewide level, and then broaden the exploration between aging and different art forms.

“I started this mission with visual arts, because I know it best. Eventually I’d like to enlarge the idea to incorporate theater, poetry, music, architecture…all of which involve equally extraordinary people,” she says.


‘Maturity and Its Muse’

“Maturity and Its Muse” opens with an artists’ reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 1 and runs through Feb. 5, 2011 at the Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Gallery of the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Avenue.

The show, which is free and open to the public, can be seen from 12 noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, 12 noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays (plus one hour before Sheldon concerts and during intermission).

Two free, special events are planned in conjunction with the show, which is sponsored by The Delmar Gardens Family and The Hallmark Creve Coeur, Brookdale Senior Living and the Missouri Arts Council:

-From 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 9, Ken Anderson, professor of art at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, will lead a panel discussion with exhibitors on “Maturity and Its Muse: Artists Informed by Time.”

-From 6 to 7 p.m. Oct. 12, Brian Carpenter, associate professor of psychology at Washington University, will speak on “The Science (and Art) of Studying Later Life Creativity.”

OASIS at the Clayton Center also will be coordinating a series of events in October in conjunction with the exhibit. For more information, call 314-862-4859.