Women Sharing Art, From the Heart, at the Islip Art Museum

Text by Mary Gregory,  Photos by Adel Gorgy

“Now and Then” a multi-media exhibition at the Islip Art Museum on Long Island brings together many works and many stories through the art of many women. Women Sharing Art is a non-profit organization celebrating its tenth anniversary in this extraordinary exhibition. The work of the group’s about two dozen members is as rich and varied as these women artists, themselves. Some have histories of exhibiting before.  Some are new to showing. Some are self-taught. Some are Harvard educated. All have a streak of passion, a dedication to art and philanthropy, and a spirit of sharing.

Gabriella Grama, “Afrika,” Mosaid

Ten years ago, Sue Miller, the founding member of the group, had a vision for a space – physical, intellectual, emotional and creative – where she and other women could get together and explore ideas, support one another and grow as artists. Before long, a handful of women had joined including Pat D’Aversa, Victoria Beckert and mother/daughter artists Sandy and Kathy Seff. Now, the group averages about 25, and they are looking to expand in both number and in artistic disciplines to include poets, musicians, film makers and writers.  “The possibilities are endless,” they say, “just like your creativity.”

Tove Abrams, “1920s Ladies’ Room Door,” Oil on canvas

In addition to funding a scholarship for young women artists in the community, the group has also exhibited together for many years at the Bay Area Friends of Fine Arts (BAFFA) gallery in Sayville, which has a long history of exhibiting notable local artists in its historic mansion. This is the first year Women Sharing Art is showing at the Islip Art Museum.

A wall with watercolors by Mireille Belajonas

Lynda Moran, the executive director of the Islip Arts Council, welcomed the women to the museum, a gem of history and a hub of creativity in Suffolk. The museum has been recently refurbished to its past elegance, thanks to help from local legislators like Steve Flotteron, who attended a packed reception to welcome and congratulate the artists. The now gleaming walls of Brookwood Hall, which houses the museum, proved the perfect setting for refined works of painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, glasswork, jewelry, and mosaics.

Sheri Berman, “Easy Money,” Collage

The exhibition title, “Then and Now,” said Eileen Palmer, an artist/curator member whose background includes organizing programs at the Brooklyn Museum, reflects not just the history of the women’s group, but the evolution of the individual artists, as well. “Many of the women included an earlier work and a more recent one,” she said. “To show how their work has evolved or changed over the years.”

Eileen Palmer, “Dirty Dishes,” Mixed media

Palmer’s own works are a perfect example. She’s showing a glass mosaic that was her first work, as well as her latest piece, a complex, rich mixed media work that includes mosaic, found objects, sculpture and painting. A three dimensional female torso formed of pieces of blue and white china emerges from rich cobalt canvas. It recalls influences as diverse as Delftware and Chinese porcelain and Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines. “Dirty Dishes,” she said, “is a feminist statement, made last year during the 2017 Women’s March. The shards of broken dish ware (symbolic of domesticity) were from plates from all over the world. The shards—united by grout and grit—pulled together to make a strong feminist statement.”

Holly Black, “Magic Hour,” Photograph on canvas

Sue Miller, the founder of the group also tells a story through her art. This time, it’s a bit of autobiography. She’s a gifted photographer represented by two evocative, complex photographs. Miller’s “The Now of the Then,” a photograph on metal appears at the top of the story. It shows how far she had to reach to grow in her work. Traditional, straight photography wasn’t bringing her vision to life. So she spent countless hours at her computer, learning new methods and mastering new tools. “I had to pull and push the work to get to what I wanted,” Miller said.  But, the story expands, as is demonstrated in a later work in a separate gallery in the museum. An abstracted sculpture of a woman stands about 4.5 feet tall. It’s formed of a variety of metal pieces. Miller decided to take up welding recently.

Hers is just one example of the indomitable artistic spirit of this group that meets to share ideas, techniques, friendship and laughter. They inspire each other as well as those around them and contribute not just to the artistic spirit of the community, but to its future, as well. The art and heart of this group of women will be on view through March 2, 2018, at the Islip Art Museum.

Top Photo: Sue Miller, “The Now of the Then,” Photograph on metal, on view at the Islip Art Museum