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What you need to know for 08/20/2017

Historian translates love of old buildings into art

Historian translates love of old buildings into art

Irma Mastrean, historian for the town of Princetown, will exhibit her artwork at the Mabee Farm’s Fr
Historian translates love of old buildings into art
Irma Mastrean, historian for the town of Princetown, will exhibit her artwork at the Mabee Farm's Franchere Center in Rotterdam Junction for the next two months.

In a one-room schoolhouse in the town of Princetown, about 70 years ago, Irma Mastrean discovered that she might be a pretty good artist.

“It was probably pretty unusual in those days, but our teacher, in that little one-room schoolhouse, would give us art lessons on Friday,” said Mastrean, whose artwork is on display at the Mabee Farm’s Franchere Center.

“I can remember we would all start with the horizon line, and all the other kids would put it right in the middle. I said, ‘no, it doesn’t have to be in the middle.’ I’ve been painting ever since.”

Reception slated

The historian for the town of Princetown since 1976, Mastrean will have her paintings on display for the next two months, and a reception for the artist will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Franchere Center.

The exhibit is titled “Nostalgia,” and includes more than 20 of Mastrean’s paintings of old homes and landscapes, many of them from the town of Princetown.

“I enjoy painting, and I like to paint something that I know about, places I’ve loved in the past, things like that,” said Mastrean, who typically paints with acrylics on masonite.

“A lot of my paintings are from around here and New England, and if I see something on my way to Plattsburgh to see my son I might paint that, too.”

Included in the exhibit are paintings of the Van Guysling House in Schenectady, the Altamont Train Station (now the Altamont Free Library) and her largest work, an image of the family farm she grew up on in Princetown.

“I call that my ‘Grandma Moses’ painting,” she said. “It means a lot to me because it’s the farm I was raised on, and I enjoy painting farms and barns. I also do old schoolhouses, train stations and other old buildings. The old Altamont train station was beautiful, and I enjoyed painting that, but sometimes it might just be any old building, especially if it’s not in too good shape. It’s got something to do with being nostalgic.”

Schenectady image

Another of her paintings, “Downtown Schenectady,” is an image of the intersection of Broadway and State Street and shows a sign that reads, “Planters Peanuts.”

Mastrean graduated from Draper High School in 1947, married in 1949 and began a family with her husband, Steve.

“I worked at Barney’s, the Schenectady Trust Company and an advertising firm on Erie Boulevard, and I would love going shopping downtown,” she remembered. “When I was working I didn’t paint that much, but then when I was home taking care of the kids I did quite a few paintings.”

On occasion, Mastrean would have the opportunity to take art lessons.

“I took a commercial art course in the 1950s, and learned a lot about vanishing points,” she said. “Once you learn those things they sort of cramp your style a little bit. I also took some classes at the college [Schenectady County Community College] and for one of them I had to paint in the abstract style. That was hard for me, but I feel like all of the classes I took were helpful. But I still the paint the things I feel I know. I paint what I have experienced in my life.”

Illustrating charts

Mastrean, who has sold her work at the Stockade Art Show, held each September in Schenectady, also earned a little money painting illustrated herb charts.

“I don’t enjoy doing still life, but I will do it on occasion, if I see a flower I like or something like that,” she said. “I can’t do small things anymore because I just can’t see that well close up, so if I’m going to do something these days, it’ll be something big, like a big red barn. I love old buildings.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or

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