By Jennifer L. Warren
Tilly Strauss couldn’t take her eyes off of some of the artwork that covered the Howland Cultural Center’s walls.
“I saw so many of these pieces start off as just little germs, beginnings, and to see them grow into what they have today is just amazing,” said the local painter Strauss, who is part of the women artist collective, “Art Women at Work.” “I look at someone like Johanne Renbeck’s pieces that are absolutely beautiful and think back to when they were just little pieces of paper that she was unsure of what to do with.”
According to Strauss and others, that marked growth can be traced to their involvement with the “Art Women at Work” group. A small, local contingent of female artists, who meet regularly to support one another’s artistic endeavors, the group’s pieces were on display at the Howland Cultural Center, during the 13th Annual Women’s History Month Exhibit.
This year marked the 24th year of Women’s History Month, officially selected for the month of March in 1987 and giving recognition to the long-neglected history of women in America.
Visitors were treated to a wide range of art, including collages, paintings, photography, mixed media and sculptures. One could find horse paintings, self-portraits, photographs of chairs filled with assorted objects, and even a “Death Angel” sculpture – a doll composed of found objects, such as snakes skin, bird wings and a coyote skull.
All of the twelve artists were on hand at the event, interacting with guests, while discussing their craft and sharing their passion. One of those women was Amy Manso, who lives in New Paltz and works on her art in Poughkeepsie. Appearing for the second time in the Howland Women’s History Month Show, Manso discussed her collection this year, “Leaf Collages.” Taking molded plastic packaging, she uses torn pieces of paper from magazines, turning garbage into “something fun and whimsical with a message about consumerism and waste.” Manso spoke further of her joy connected to “Art Women at Work.”
“We are a strong community of women artists who have been together for six years, and meet monthly,” said Manso. “We share ideas and critique one another while lending support.” She added about the current Howland Show in particular, “We don’t get a chance to show together like this, usually showing individually, so this is very unique and special.”
Another artist, Renbeck from Staatsburg, could be found standing alongside her “Rune Women” exhibit, six pieces which compose her larger installation piece, “Rune Messages.”
Each of Renbeck’s pieces represent a letter from the Alphabet of Rune (Northern, Pre-Christian Europe). While one woman can be seen riding a horse breaking through to something new, another can be detected working with her garden, experiencing joy amidst the flowers. Renbeck showings are further accompanied by “Dragon Books,” written, foldable books accompanying each picture. Visitors viewing the literary art could be heard referring to them as “magical,” “surprising” and “fun.”
Tilly, one of the founding members (along with Bibiana Huang Matheis) of “Art Women at Work,” as well as the artist responsible for a set of paintings of chickens crossing the road, is quick to cite the impact of the group on the artists’ lives.
“We support one another at all stages of our career, no matter where they are in the art process, whether it be showing in a museum or just starting out,” said Tilly. “As women, so many of us have so many other responsibilities beyond our art, so it is important for us to have a group like this to get together and share our work while supporting one another.” Smiling, while taking in some of the surrounding art in the room, Strauss added, “We have truly become like sisters.”
In addition to Strauss, Manso, Renbeck and Matheis, other women featured in the Howland’s Women’s History Month exhibit were; Mimi Czajka Graminski, Amy F. Farrel, Gearge-Ann Gowan, Victoria S. Hayes, Susan Hennelly, Tanya Kukucka, Joan Blazis-Levitt and Arlene Nadel.