Empowerment of women has long been a cornerstone of the YWCA – so it is fitting that as the Troy-Cohoes branch celebrates its 125th anniversary with an open house and rededication tomorrow night. The festivities will include a one-day art show featuring the work of 13 different women, from as far north as Lake George but most from the immediate Capital District. “What I really love about a show of all women artists is that it’s empowering all by itself,” says Troy-Cohoes YWCA staffer Kerri Neufeld, who coordinated the exhibition in collaboration with Karen Schlesinger, of Troy’s Digital Artists’ Space. “Here is a group of women from our own area who are doing all of this beautiful work.”
Participating artists will offer works for sale and have agreed to donate 20 percent of the proceeds to the local YWCA chapter. Accompanying the exhibit, live music will be provided, particularly by local musician Mike Thomas in the gymnasium where the work will be displayed.
Participating artists represent media from portrait (Ashleigh LaRaose) and general-subject photography (Sarah Tuck and Trish Hennessy), to paint (Christina Demers and Laura Colomb), pencil and pastel (Michele Wright), acrylics (Sarah Goodbread), mixed media (Kate Austin, Emma Copley and Claire Sherwood) and jewelry (Pam Demers). Many give particular expression to the emotions and experiences of women, including divorce, child-rearing and illness.
“I feel very lucky to have all of these women participating,” says Neufeld. The work of sculptor Michelle Vara has received a particularly high recent public profile. Two of her pieces that utilize found metal objects have been featured in the ongoing Art in the Streets exhibition in the Downtown Albany business district. Another public installation, “The Train of Artillery,” was dedicated earlier this summer in a pocket park in Northumberland.
“I’m very passionate about recycled metals, for multiple reasons,” says the Granville-based artist, whose keeps a studio in Wilton. “They carry an air of their own, a life of their own. Plus, I’m not a fan of discarding things. And I kind of have a lot to say.” One subject to which her art is speaking loudly: domestic violence against women.
Vara recently completed a series of a dozen large-scale works on the subject, seven of which will be on display at the YMCA show. The first of the pieces, “Effie,” draws its title from the nickname of a friend who, two years ago, was beaten to death by her husband in a domestic incident in Granville, while she protected her children.
“I was pretty shocked, and so was the very small community of Granville,” Vara says. “I don’t think you ever expect a thing like that, or the outlash of emotions you experience from it. I was a person who was not aware of the magnitude of what domestic violence was until it happened so close to me. As an artist, the only way for me to deal with these things was to pull out my sketchbook and set to work.”
“When you begin this process of expressing emotion in your art, it’s because you’re overwhelmed,” she continues. “You’re overwhelmed in ways you can’t even verbalize. I was supposed to meet her for lunch that day (she died).”
The finished piece unleashed a torrent of other revelations. “My studio had an influx of people who were either domestic violence victims or people who were family members of domestic violence victims,” Vara says. “It was an education for me in a different way. People don’t have a way of responding emotionally to this.” She decided to interpret some of these buried emotions in her series of sculptures.
“What the pieces do is open a dialogue, which is very intense, to all people, all sexes, all monetary placements,” she says Vara, a New Jersey native who moved north initially to pursuer a career building log homes, eventually lost interest in it and returned instead, nearly two decades ago, to her youthful interest in art.
“I normally don’t do a single-day show, but the opportunity to participate in this was very welcome,” she says. Her works in the domestic violence series have been displayed in various settings prior to the YWCA show. “Normally this is the close of my season, when I’m normally winding down and bringing my pieces back home (from exhibitions). I have 20-some commissions to do in the coming months, but this seemed a good conclusion to this chapter.”