On Exhibit: Ephemera front and center at Arts Center in Troy

Art piece: Light mat with two large blue rectangles, with papers and hand-written letters placed atop

“Talking Out in Class” by Fern Apfel. On view at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy.

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Walking into the gallery at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, it’s hard not to be hit with a wave of nostalgia.

It’s an odd sensation; being nostalgic about paintings you haven’t seen before. However, the work on view, created by Fern T. Apfel as part of the solo exhibit “Abide With Me,” has a way of making memories surface.

Apfel, a Columbia-County-based artist, considers herself a still-life painter, though her work eschews the fruit bowls and flower vases that are perhaps most common. Instead, she captures letters, children’s clothing, cards and other ephemera, assembling them in compositions with crisp lines and striking pastel colors.

Her depictions of various fonts and handwriting styles are so convincing that it’s worth stating: her medium is not collage but paint.

Take the first pieces in the show, 17 small paintings clustered together that feature what look like collaged poems and recipes, words and phrases strung together from a variety of sources.

One reads “The cloud rolled out still it was calm the leaves motion – less upon the water and not even a quiver to tell of the coming hurricane.” The poem is juxtaposed with a rich blue square of paint above it and is framed in a burnt orange color.

Further along, what looks like tattered sheet music is fanned out amongst worn letters and an envelope, with a stray stamp placed just next to the stack of papers. These painted papers seem as though they’ve just been pulled out of a keepsake box that has long sat unopened.

The letters are legible in some of the works and some tell amusing anecdotes. The latter is the case for “Talking Out in Class,” an apology letter presumably written by a student to a teacher.
It starts: “Ever since I can remember, whenever I have something to say or an idea to express I usually come right out and speak my piece.”

Grammar school is a continuing theme throughout the exhibit. Against a backdrop of bright yellow, one painting features a flurry of lined papers, with lines like “Judge others mildly” written all down the pages. Whether it was a punishment or a long-lost homework assignment is unclear.

Another stand out from the exhibit is a series called “Worn,” which features depictions of children’s garments. The most heartrending is “Letters Home To Mother,” with a baby kimono covered with lines from letters sent from two brothers fighting in World War II to their mother.

Viewers get a glimpse into some of the clothing, books, letters and other ephemera that inspired the works on the walls. Much like in the paintings, the pieces are pleasingly scattered about in two display cases.

“Abide With Me” is a meditation on how we track our days. It also pays homage to the things we hold dear and tuck away, knowing someday we’ll want to see them again.

It’ll be up through February 25. There will be an artist talk on Thursday, Feb. 9 from 7-8 p.m. For more information visit artscenteronline.org.

Categories: Art, Life and Arts

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