Retrospective exhibition builds Critical Mass for the future

“One Red Pod” by Mel Watkin

By Sarah Weinman

The exhibition Stimulated is a small but important show at the Kranzberg Arts Center.  It serves as a retrospective of artwork by previous Critical Mass Creative Stimulus Award-winners, and it helps raise money for future awards to more local artists.

David Johnson’s black and white photograph from his ongoing project It Can Be This Way, Always documents the Kerrville Folk Festival in central Texas. “My project observes the American traveling troubadour and the unique camaraderie and society that develop when such individuals come together,” Johnson explains. This photograph depicts guitars and guitar cases set on card tables, camping chairs, and a trailer under a tent with open sides. Cars are parked in the background. No people are present here. All of the angles formed by the guitars and cases, tent poles, and chair and table legs lead the eye deeper into the scene. 

Like Johnson, Mel Watkin worked in a rural environment in order to create One Red Pod, an acrylic, pen, and pencil work on graph paper. “I created tree drawings based on the wide variety of trees that surround my old farmhouse in Southern Illinois,” Watkin says. This rich red drawing simultaneously resembles an anatomical heart and a folded-up flower. Two long red drips extend down from the heart-shaped form to the bottom edge of the paper. The drawing evokes love, passion, and pain. Watkin speaks to the emotive aspect of the piece: “I try to give the drawings slightly menacing qualities, because nature can be beautiful, but it can also be very dangerous.” 

Christine Ilewski-Huelsmann also kept nature in mind when she painted Just a Thought, an acrylic on canvas.  The psychedelic swirls of color in the piece can be seen as a fantasy landscape.  A mix of greens become land; a long swath of deep blue flowing from the left to the bottom right corner may be a river; and eddies of pink, blue, and peach form the sky.  The green land ends in purple cliffs at the left. Rich colors and careful layering result in a fascinating work.

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The exhibition Stimulated runs through April 26 and is on view at the Kranzberg Arts Center at 501 N. Grand Blvd. in Grand Center. The exhibition is held in conjunction with Homegrown for the Visual Arts: A Sustainability-Minded Fundraiser which takes place on March 28 at the Kranzberg Arts Center. The artwork will be sold during the silent auction at the fundraiser. Proceeds from this auction and event support Critical Mass’ programming, which includes the Creative Stimulus Award program. For more information and to buy tickets for the fundraiser, please visit  

St. Louisan Sarah Weinman earned a master’s degree in art history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She loves to plan trips and travel. In her spare time she enjoys photography and writing, and she belongs to a weekly writers’ group. Her blog looks at visual arts in St. Louis, featuring whenever possible Jewish artists or themes.  She is a volunteer with the Critical Mass fundraiser mentioned above.