For Gail Nadeau, making art is stop and go. Her mind will be racing with ideas, but her hand won’t move. When she paints, her hand tightens up. “The brush will fall over,” Nadeau says. “I can draw for a while, but then I have to put the pencil down.”
After taking a 15-minute rest, she can move her hand again. “My work is done in segments,” she says.
Nadeau has CMT — Charcot Marie Tooth disease — one of the most common inherited neurological disorders. Named for three neurologists, including the British Dr. Tooth, the condition causes loss of muscle tissue and sensation in the feet, legs, arms and hands.
In her Albany home, Nadeau can walk unassisted for short distances. Away from home, she uses a small motorized scooter or a wheelchair to get around.
When it comes to the Capital Region art scene, Nadeau has been just about everywhere. Her photographs and mixed-media artworks have regularly appeared in juried group shows, including the Mohawk Hudson Regional and Photography Regional, and in one- and two-person shows at scores of galleries, including Firlefanz, Albany Center Gallery, Photo Center of Troy, Arts Center of the Capital Region and Fulton Street Gallery.
Eighth International Acquisitions Exhibition for Artists With Disabilities
WHERE: Fenimore Gallery, second floor, Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Friday through Oct. 14. Gallery open 9 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment. Receptions: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday during Art Night Schenectady (www.artnightschenectady.com), with awards ceremony at 7 p.m.; and 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 14, during MoHuFest (mohufest.com).
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 386-3520
RELATED EVENT: “Art and All That Jazz: Art for the View Gala,” a fundraiser for programs and services at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital. Proctors, 6 p.m. Saturday. $125, at door.
In 2006, when the Opalka Gallery decided to make the Photo Regional an invitational, Nadeau was one of 18 artists selected to show their work.
Creatively passing some time
Nadeau's creations have been juried into two previous Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital exhibits, and this year, with the return of the hospital’s Acquisitions Exhibition for Artists With Disabilities, not only was her mixed-media “Angel Fountain” selected, but on Friday night she will be honored with the show's Inspiration Award.
“Angel Fountain” is from Nadeau’s “Notebook” series that began quite unexpectedly in the late 1990s as she cared for her mother, who was an Alzheimer’s patient.
“She would be up for hours and not wanting to go to bed,” Nadeau says of her mother. To pass the time, Nadeau started clipping images out of magazines and used them to make narrative collage scenes. “My mother would pass by and tuck cut pictures into her blouse or pants pocket,” she says.
Nadeau then embellished the collages with drawing and watercolor. “Whenever it was needed, I would draw in missing information,” she says. The collages, each 7-by-10 inches, were created on the pages of a notebook.
In 2000, after her mother died, and again in 2008, Nadeau revisited her notebook. She had the little collages enlarged into 23-by-33-inch prints, and then she drew and painted on them the prints in oil and pastel. Sometimes she glued fabric onto them.
When she decided to take care of her mom, Nadeau had planned to give up artwork for a while. “But it turned out I did more artwork than I would have if I wasn’t taking care of her. I was a photographer. I had never done anything in collage. . . . Reworking those notebook pages in a larger format gave me a chance to rethink the experience of living and caring for someone I loved through a difficult time. I gained a new appreciation for the gift of that opportunity.”
Another untitled image from “Notebook” hangs on the fourth floor of Sunnyview.
“This is my state of mind,” she says, pointing to the image of a large red chair with a nest of eggs on its seat. “This is home, where you go to be safe. The eggs in the nest are breaking apart. It’s not what it should be.”
Among her best-known photography work is “The Dollhouse” series, a psychological probe into her childhood. Nadeau built a real dollhouse, the size of a file box, with a furnished and decorated interior, that was inhabited by figures representing her and her sister. She then took photographs through the walls of the dollhouse.
“Our childhood was very difficult,” Nadeau says.
Their mother worked in a factory, Albany Felt Co., winding sewing bobbins, and she and her two siblings spent their days alone. In 1946, the family moved from Albany to a farm in Voorheesville, where Nadeau later graduated from Voorheesville Central.
Nadeau says when she was a child, she was told that she had “weak legs,” and later she wore leg braces, but she wasn’t diagnosed with CMT until 1984.
“As a child, I was always falling down, asking to be carried.”
Nadeau, who is married and has four grandchildren, didn’t take up art until she was in her 40s, after her two children were grown.
For 10 years, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she studied studio art at the University at Albany, working side by side with students 25 years younger.
Robert Cartmell, an internationally known artist and professor emeritus, was one of her most important mentors, and taught her glass transfer, a reverse painting process in which a painting on glass is pressed on to canvas or paper.
“You can see him in a lot of things that I do; I think he’s a genius,” Nadeau says.
In her photography or mixed-media works, almost all of Nadeau’s works are about people.
Nadeau also enjoys being with people, especially at Sunnyview, where for four years she has been an assistant in the hospital's studio art class for the physically disabled.
Last week, she was hired as the teacher for the twice-weekly class, replacing Sarah Martinez, Sunnyview’s art consultant and curator, who recently took on additional duties as director of the annual fund for Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation.
In summer of 2012, images from Nadeau's “Notebook” will appear in a solo show at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park.
One of her color photographs, “September Baby,” an image of Nadeau’s very-pregnant niece holding the hand of her young son, was picked for another big show, the “After School Special” alumni art exhibit at the University of Albany. Juried by art critic Ken Johnson, that show opens on Oct. 14 and runs through Dec. 10.
“Sometimes my inspiration comes from a photograph, or an item that belonged to a person I love, have loved or remember. Sometimes it is memory of a place, and sometimes from a feeling that no words can describe. I try to reach into my viewer, so they will share my experience or feel my memory, and perhaps trigger one of their own that was long forgotten,” Nadeau says.
Like her collages and glass transfers, Nadeau’s photographs are not digitally manipulated.
“I don’t Photoshop anything. Just about every bit of it is handwork,” she says.
Exhibit brings works in many media from artists across country
Paintings, photographs, prints, collage, sculpture, interactive art, mixed media and assemblage: There are 103 artworks by 68 artists from every corner of the United States in the Eighth International Acquisitions Exhibition for Artists with Disabilities, which opens Friday in the Fenimore Gallery on the second floor of Proctors.
“It’s one of the largest exhibitions ever in that space. The show spills to an adjacent conference room,” said Sarah Martinez, art consultant for the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital and director of the annual fund for the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation.
The exhibit is not only super-sized, it’s a big comeback for the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital exhibit, which returns to the Capital Region art scene after a four-year absence.
From 1999 to 2002, the annual national juried show was held at the hospital. In 2003 and 2004, as it grew bigger, it moved to the Broadway space vacated by the former Carl Co. department store, which is now part of Proctors. The exhibit was not held in 2005 and 2006 but returned to Sunnyview in 2007, with 47 artists.
This year, 415 artworks were submitted by 111 artists with physical and mental disabilities, including brain and spinal cord injuries, autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, amputation and blindness.
Artworks were selected by three jurors: Jill Foster Coxy of the New York State Museum; Megan Hyde from the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery and Emily Zimmerman of EMPAC.
The jurors used digital images to make their picks and then looked at the actual artworks to pick the award winners.
For the first time, international entries were also sought, and one of the selected artists is from Denmark.
Twelve of the artworks are on a Sunnyview “wish list,” which means the hospital is hoping that donors will buy them and then donate them to the hospital.
Sunnyview has more than 100 artworks in its permanent collection, and many of them, labeled with text that include the artist’s disability and an inspirational statement, hang in the hallways of the hospital where patients and visitors can view them every day.
2011 Aquisitions Exhibition award artists, winners
Six Capital Region artists will receive awards on Friday night for their artwork in the Eighth International Acquisitions Exhibition for Artists with Disabilities: Gail Nadeau of Albany; William Ostrowski of Ballston Spa; Jason Pitcher of Albany; Heidi Schroder of Albany; Charlotte Walwyn of Albany; and Mary Waters of Ballston Spa.
Walwyn is the third place winner for “Beach (Around the World),” an acrylic on canvas painting, and Nadeau was honored with the Inspiration Award.
The following Capital Region artists have artwork in the show:
Paul Bouchard, Saratoga Springs; R. Jane Bouchard, Saratoga Springs; Mary Chamberlain, Albany; Collaborative Artists of Creative Endeavors Art Center, Ballston Spa; Crew, Hagaman; James Darcy, Albany; Kenneth Dietcher, M.D., Albany; Matthew Gaetano, Ballston Spa; Barbara Klemz, Albany; Rose Ann Matthews, Broadalbin; and Karen Mead, Albany.