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Local supporters revive series of accessible art salons

Illustrator Barry Moser, seen here at his home in Hatfield in October, is one of four artists who will give presentations at the first in a new ArtSalon series at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst.
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Illustrator Barry Moser, seen here at his home in Hatfield in October, is one of four artists who will give presentations at the first in a new ArtSalon series at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

Along with good cheese, wine and bread, the French perfected the idea of the salon in the 18th and 19th centuries: drawing people together in parlor rooms and small exhibits to discuss and examine paintings, literature and other artistic subjects.

Sabine Holub, the German-born wife of former University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub, used that model when she sponsored the popular Hillside Art Salon at the chancellor’s house from fall 2009 through last spring. Every month during the school year, a select group of local artists would show samples of their work and answer questions about it from a packed house.

The practice came to an end last May after Holub’s tenure at UMass ended and he and his wife moved away. But now, a number of local artists and gallery managers have revived the concept, modified the format and organized a new series of art salons — dubbed ArtSalon — that they aim to make more accessible to the general public.

The Hillside Salons “were incredibly popular, both among artists and attendees,” said Lisa Thompson, associate director of the A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton. “We wanted to find some way to revive them, to keep the things we liked about them but also bring in some new elements.”

This Thursday, the new series makes its debut at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst at 6:30 p.m. Four artists will give short presentations about their work and then lead a more general discussion about it: woodblock printmaker Annie Bissett, sculptor Sergei Isupov, illustrator Barry Moser and Guy Petitt, director of the Hadley art gallery/publisher Flying Object.

A $5 donation is requested, and snacks and hors d’oeuvres will be served.

Eva Fierst, the education coordinator for the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of Massachusetts, says ArtSalon will be staged in different towns in the region; the second is scheduled for next month at the A.P.E. Gallery. Organizers hope to do the following two in the fall in Easthampton and Holyoke.

“The idea is to give any community that wants to host this an opportunity to be a part of it,” Fierst said. “We’re looking for different curators in communities, who can invite the artists and then get some sponsors for the event.

“This is still a work in progress,” Fierst added. “But we think this is something people will want to be a part of.”

Fierst had firsthand experience with the UMass Hillside salons: She organized all the shows, selecting the artists and preparing email announcements of future salons. The salons became so popular, she notes, that registration for a coming show was usually filled within 30 minutes of its announcement, and attendance was capped at 100.

As popular as the salons were, Fierst notes, they got a reputation as being “a little bit elitist,” as many attendees had smartphones and instant access to emailed registration invitations; with a budget of $2,500 to $3,000 per event, there was plenty of good wine and food as well.

“You tended to see a lot of the same people” at the salons, Thompson said. “We wanted to make the new format a little more democratic.”

One way to do that is to hold them in venues that can accommodate more people, like the Eric Carle Museum, where director Alix Kennedy has been “a wonderful supporter for us,” said Fierst.

Fierst and Thompson began talking of their goals last fall with Elizabeth Stone, a Florence painter and chairwoman of the Northampton Arts Council, and Leslie Ferrin, a sculptor and gallery owner. The group opted to keep the basic format for ArtSalon the same. Each artist can present a slide show of 20 pieces of work, with each slide visible for 20 seconds, or 6 minutes and 40 seconds for the whole presentation. The number of artists at each salon will be limited to four or five.

Ferrin, Fierst, Stone and Thompson will choose the presenters for each show, with an emphasis put on mixing established artists in with up-and-coming ones and people from different disciplines. The organizers hope to do monthly shows, the summer not included.

The budget for the new salons will be more modest, perhaps $500, Thompson says, with much of that expected to come from attendee donations; some might have a cash bar as well. But she and the other organizers also hope to get local businesses as sponsors, with a special inducement: Any sponsor will be able to make a slide presentation to the audience, just as the artists do, about their business.

“This will be an amazing opportunity for creative marketing,” Fierst said with a laugh. “You can sing, you can dance — whatever you want.”

The website for the new salon series is valleyartsalon.blogspot.com.

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