Peter Watrous was only 6 years old when the first Stockade Villagers Outdoor Art Show was held in Schenectady. That was back in 1951, when an art teacher and his students hung their paintings on the fence around the statue of Lawrence the Indian.
But Saturday morning, when Watrous sets up his artwork near the Indian for the 63rd Stockade show, he’ll be continuing a family tradition that stretches back more than half a century.
“I have a special attachment for the Stockade show, as my father was one of the organizers,” Watrous, now 69, says.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Peter’s father, John B. Watrous, was an artist, art director at General Electric and instructor for an informal men’s art group that met in the Stockade, at Arthur’s Market.
“John is the artist who designed the art show flier,” says Connie Colangelo, a longtime Stockade resident and co-chairperson of the event from 1978 to 2012.
While Peter’s father and the other founders have passed away, the same Watrous design still advertises the show and is posted on the show’s website.
63rd Stockade Villagers Outdoor Art Show
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Front and Ferry streets, Stockade District, Schenectady
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.stockadeartshow.com. Artists can enter show in advance or on day of show beginning at 9:30 a.m. Fee is $40, or $10 for artists aged 8 to 18. Rain date: Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.
The elder Watrous was also one of the nine founding members of the 58-year-old Oakroom Artists, a juried group that today boasts some of top talents in the Capital Region.
Last week, Peter Watrous and his wife, Margaret, talked to The Gazette at their home in rural Duanesburg about the family’s passion for art. Upstairs and downstairs, the cozy house, which dates back to 1887, is filled with paintings by Peter, his father, and his mother, Aria.
“It’s a Watrous museum,” he jests.
On the first floor, where Peter has a small corner studio, purple morning glories from the garden curl across a window, and from other windows there are views of a thick forest that rolls down to the Normans Kill.
Peter, who served 20 years as the chairman of the Duanesburg Parks and Recreation Commission, is a nature lover, and this affection is apparent in his art.
In many of his acrylic paintings, the slightly abstracted shapes of trees are expressed in a vibrant palette of yellow, green and blue.
Moving closer to these paintings, the viewer notices something else: The shapes are made of cut-out pieces of canvas.
“I think of mosaics, stained glass,” he says. “It’s a jigsaw puzzle kind of thing.”
Working flat on a table, Watrous paints a scene on canvas, then uses a box knife to cut it into shapes, which are rearranged and then glued to another painted canvas background.
“Cutting up a painting leads me to new, often unexpected, creative possibilities. I find my greatest artistic pleasure in the revelation of these surprises and discoveries,” he says.
His other pleasure comes from playing with color.
“I am always very conscious of the colors I choose and the way that colors react with each other and affect the mood of a work,” says Watrous, who describes his work as an “ambiguous mix of painting and sculpture.”
At last year’s Stockade art show, it was one of these artworks, “Dejeuner Interrompu,” that won first prize.
“That was a total surprise,” he says.
This spring, he won first prize at the Zephyrhills Art Club’s annual art show in Florida.
While Watrous grew up with artist parents, he decided on a career in social work.
After graduating from Schalmont High, he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at New York University and a master’s in social work at the University at Albany.
For 10 years, he worked at Parsons Child and Family Center, and for 22 more, he helped outpatient children at the Capital District Psychiatric Center, before retiring seven years ago.
Watrous always brought art-making into his work with children, but his own art was an activity for his spare time, and for several years, he and Margaret were busy raising their two sons, Ben and David.
While Watrous wasn’t really interested in art as a child, that changed during the late 1960s, when Pop Art was at its height and he was in his twenties, living in the Bronx.
“I had access to a large studio at Hunter College. Inspired by the large cutouts of Matisse and the soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg, I began cutting and often folding painted canvas to create large two-dimensional sculptures.”
He took classes at the Art Students League and spent a summer at Woodstock School of Art.
In the early 1970s, when the renowned kinetic sculptor George Rickey was the juror for the Mohawk Hudson Regional, he selected one of Peter’s pieces for annual show.
“Basically, what I’ve been doing for 40 years is cutting canvas. It’s been a journey from one thing to another,” he says.
For several years, Watrous took a hiatus from making art, but then, about 15 years ago, he revived his interest by taking watercolor classes with Karen Rosasco of Duanesburg, an Oakroom artist and art teacher who exhibits her work internationally.
“His solutions to weekly class assignments were both creative and unique. His brush literally danced across the page instead of filling in the lines,” says Rosasco.
Watrous “has carried on the tradition of art talent found in several generations of the Watrous family,” she adds.
Peter’s father went to Syracuse University on a track scholarship and studied fine art. Before he worked at GE, he was a magazine illustrator.
When Peter was a young boy, there wasn’t enough housing for all the GE workers, so the family lived for a short time in an apartment over Arthur’s Market. Then they moved to West Hill, a community of GE physicists and engineers in Rotterdam, to a home designed by his father.
In 1967, when John B. Watrous was 58, he died suddenly of a heart attack while he was at work at GE.
Peter’s mother was a graduate of the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C.. She taught art at Schenectady Community College, at the Schenectady YWCA and at a home studio in the Stockade and was once a juror for the Stockade show. Mrs. Watrous, who died in 2000 at age 87, was painting landscapes well into her eighties.
Peter’s brother, John P. Watrous, who retired two years ago after teaching art in Schenectady public schools, has shown his paintings at the Stockade show. John’s wife, Peggy, is an artist and taught art at parochial schools in Amsterdam. She’ll also be exhibiting at Saturday’s Stockade Show.
Another brother, Gary, is a passive solar architect and lives in Louisville, Ky.
Peter’s sister, Becky, is married to Mark Weinheimer, son of the late George Weinheimer, another Oakroom Artists founder. Becky is education director at Historic Cherry Hill in Albany.
In 2006, “The Watrous Family Art Exhibit” was held at Schenectady’s Moon & River Cafe, showing paintings by Peter, his parents, his brother and his sister-in-law.
On Oct. 3, Peter will return to Moon & River, opening a monthlong solo exhibit.
“I hope that my paintings and ‘constructions’ of trees, flowers, etc., express the joy and reverence that I feel toward nature,” he says.
“Art creates an emotional response in the viewer. It doesn’t have to be a clear feeling that you can name, but as with many things, you know it when you are having an emotional reaction.”
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or email@example.com.