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Main Line Art Center Connects Creators with Collectors

Anybody can walk into a gallery and buy a piece of art, so long as it's for sale, or the price is right. But to have a chance to put their own stamp, or provide personal input, on an artistic project is another story altogether.

The Main Line Art Center (MLAC) is out to change that notion with its yearlong C3 Salon series. C3 stands for Create, Connect, Collect. It's a program borrowed from the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago and is the first of its kind in Greater Philadelphia. C3 consists of a series of salons at either MLAC's versatile space or a potential patron's home, introducing those interested in purchasing art with working artists.

While it's no secret that artists often have difficulty marketing and selling their work, it's sometimes difficult for the uninitiated to know where to begin when looking to purchase art. Many times, purchasing art is an impulse buy while on vacation or on business, with little chance to research the kind of artists, mediums and pieces available nearby.

Between 10 and 15 potential patrons, usually MLAC supporters, are invited to each salon, where two featured artists talk about their work, inspiration and process. Many times a visit to the artists' studio is arranged. About 20 salons, which began in September and were held throughout the fall, were held, and included sculptors, ceramic and glass artists, painters and jewelers. It is expected that up to a dozen works will be commissioned as a result of the salons.

One such salon was held on a Sunday in November at MLAC, which has worked to strengthen the community's relationship with visual arts and artists themselves for more than 70 years. In her opening remarks before she started the slide show, Judy Hermann, MLAC's Executive Director, explained that the artists were selected on the basis of their work being well known and respected in the area. Many of the artists have been residents of the area for years and in the opinion of the selection committee, contribute much of the distinguishing features of Greater Philadelphia's artistic reputation.

One of the artists present was photographer Judy Gelles. She had brought samples of her current work. She explained how she creates her Word Portraits, which are 49-inch high images printed on duraclear and mounted on Plexiglass and includes words and phrases that describe the pictured individual:

"The process of creating the word portraits took me about a year to figure out, the technical part, finding a printer to work with took a few months, trying to come up with the proper surface for printing and mounting, and how to create the shadow effect also took a while," says Gelles, based in Philadelphia.

"The end results are great, because each client gets a unique portrait made just for them, and I like the idea of working interactively with the client to make the final portrait."

She had several of her most recent works--some are available locally at Pentimenti Gallery--with her and demonstrated how one should be hung or displayed. The transformation was amazing. A work that was mildly interesting, once hung with proper lighting, became something evocative, thought provoking and just plain fascinating. She is currently working on a commission that was the result of the salon.

"It's for a family of five," she says. "I took the photograph at Thanksgiving as that's the only time all five were together." She adds that once she has the photograph, she takes the words the family have given her and uses them to enhance the photograph.

Val Rossman's commission came from a couple who were not present at the same salon she attended but visited her in her studio. Her work is available online as well as recent work on view at the Rosenfeld Gallery.

"They had not seen my work (except in the slide show) but once here they said they were very excited, told me 'we love this work and we're ready to commission a work,' " says Rossman.

They have commissioned one of her geometric abstracts: "they are acrylic on aluminum panels, I build up the layers until they are smooth and shiny. To me the layers represent how we live, multi-tasking, everything fighting for attention. These works reference quilts in their aesthetics and the balance of color."

Artists work independently over a three- to five-month period to bring commissioned pieces to life and the new works will be unveiled in the fall at a feature exhibition curated by Mary Anne Dutt Justice to kick off MLAC's 75th anniversary. Call MLAC at 610-525-0272 to see how you can get involved.

MARGARET GUTHRIE is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Send feedback here.


Val Rossman working in her North Philadelphia studio

If Tales Would Tell - Acrylic on Aluminum - by Val Rossman

Rossman in her studio

Tools of the trade

Rossman's studio

Judy Gelles with one of her word portraits

Detail of a word portrait

All photographs by MICHAEL PERSICO

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