Timeline Marches On

Bellows Center now open while retrospective hangs at Joslyn

Anne Meysenberg folds four sheets of paper at a time, and methodically stuffs them into envelopes. People at the midtown Omaha bar where she works periodically give her a curious look. One man asks her if she’s operating a satellite post office. But Meysenberg, director of the Kent Bellows Studio and Center for the Visual Arts, is, as she puts it, “multitasking.” She stuffs hundreds end-of-year donor appeal letters into envelopes, even though regular working hours are long gone. It’s something she does a lot of these days. 2010 was a big and busy year for Meysenberg and the Bellows Center. The foundation moved its operations this fall — a program that lets artistic high schools students create under the guidance of mentors drawn from Omaha’s creative class — from donated space in the Bemis Underground to the studio space once occupied by its namesake, the photorealist and Omaha native, Kent Bellows. The Joslyn Art Museum also opened the first major retrospective of Bellows’ work — a sweeping show that begins with his earliest works done around age 21 and closes with the final piece he made before his death in 2005. More than 70 works are in the show, including some this writer had never seen, though heard much about. The new location coupled with the major exhibition has pushed the center’s agenda to a new level, Meysenberg says. Many of its initial goals — creating a successful program for students, working with mentors, renovating the Leavenworth street studio — have been met. The future is wide open. *** Beyond Realism: The Works of Kent Bellows 1970-2005 is a sweeping look at a life’s work. More than 20 of Bellow’s riveting self portraits are exhibited together, along with commissioned portraits, a section of meticulously rendered nature drawings and his ever-present renderings of friends and family. The end of the show delves into the three completed pieces that were part of Bellows’ “Seven Deadly Sins” series that remained unfinished at the time of his death. The show is an excellent introduction to Bellows for those unfamiliar with him. For those who have seen his work, it’s a hit list of his most memorable pieces; some, like “Sarah Sleeping,” will long remain in this writer’s mind. Easily one of the best images in the show, “Sarah Sleeping” is a color portrait of Bellows’ stepdaughter, Sarah, reclining between white sheets. Her body is horizontal near the top of the piece, and the meticulously created sheets, done through the difficult media of pastel — are simply amazing. Also astounding are a series of landscape studies that focus on an open field, a stream and the trunk of an old tree. These drawings are so finely detailed it’s hard to imagine the time and steadiness of hand that must have been required. Texture is front and center here, but so is realism. The viewer can feel the air, sense the space and see each finely drawn blade of grass and patch of moss. It’s rather incredible. Small touches that still tie Bellows and his work to the center are visible in the Joslyn show; most notably, Bellows’ army green winter coat with a fur-trimmed hood. It’s visible in a number of the paintings, including one of the earliest pieces, a portrait of his studio. It can also be seen in one of the later pieces, a self-portrait where the artist has an angry visage. The coat hangs in the foyer of the newly renovated studio, on a hook near the door. *** Meysenberg says student artists now working in the space seem to realize where they’re working, and what it means. “Weston (Thompson, the studio’s education manager) said the students seem more serious in this space,” Meysenberg says. “I do notice they’re quieter than usual.” The Leavenworth street studio — which Bellows called the “Mahler Studio” after one of his favorite composers — is now home base to the education programs, but also to art openings for mentors and students, as well as community events, conversations and lectures. Meysenberg says the studio started with a clear plan, and now that many of those initial goals have been met, they’re in a particularly exciting moment. She says defining new goals and discovering what new communities the center can serve is in the future. “We’re excited to find our new role,” she says. One of the biggest assets the new space has, Meysenberg says, is people who want to be involved, whether through donating, mentoring or volunteering in other ways. Bellows was a mentor to many young artists. “A lot of the artists who looked to him as a mentor thought they were the only one,” Meysenberg says. “There were a lot, though. We want to continue that timeline. Continue that tradition.” Beyond Realism: The Works of Kent Bellows 1970-2005 continues at the Joslyn through Jan. 16, 2011. A closing event is Thursday, Jan. 13, at 6:30 p.m., with a gallery discussion, live music and a reception, free with regular museum admission. Learn more about the KBS volunteer programs, internships, workshops, tours and how to be a donor at kentbellows.org.

posted at 06:03 pm
on Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

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