Exhibition at Sweetwater Center for the Arts rooted in mothers' creativity

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"First Fruit XVI: Tending Our Mothers' Gardens," an exhibition of work by six women artists with Pittsburgh ties, is a highlight of the 16th annual MAVUNO Festival of African American Art & Culture at Sweetwater Center for the Arts. An artists reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, coinciding with the Sewickley Fall Gallery Walk.

Exhibition curator Elizabeth Asche Douglas will give an illustrated lecture, "Tending Our Mothers' Gardens," focusing on universal cultural and humanitarian themes, at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 5, followed by a reception.

Exhibiting artists and their media are Leslie Ansley, painting and murals; Christine McCray Bethea, multimedia; Tina Williams Brewer, story quilts; Charlotte Ka, painting and installation; LaVerne Kemp, fiber; and Ann Tanksley, painting, collage and prints.

Their diverse works find commonality in the exhibition theme, which came from a 1973 essay by "The Color Purple" author Alice Walker, in which she wrote "... in search of my mother's garden, I found my own."

In addition to thinking of her own mother, "one of [Ms. Walker's] points was that slave women had no outlet for their creativity and learned to be creative with whatever they had," Ms. Douglas said. Gardens became one means, where women would grow vegetables for the table and flowers for beauty in the same space. At Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, slaves were given plots in which to grow their food and were permitted to barter any produce beyond their needs for other goods.

"The garden became one of the first products of economic pursuit among the black citizenry," said Ms. Douglas, an artist and jazz singer who was professor of fine arts at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, from 1966-96.

Ms. Douglas knew the artists' work and selected them because she admired their art and because it was a good fit to the show's theme.

She chose Ms. Brewer because she references the African-American quilt tradition, making art of whatever was available in the house. Ms. Bethea constructs sculpture out of salvaged materials that resemble the "weird contraptions" African-Americans made of found objects and placed in their gardens. Ms. Kemp emblazes burlap with items such as jewels and buttons, in a manner that Ms. Douglas said she had never seen.

Ms. Ka created a " 'Queen of Our Mothers' Gardens,' swathed in gold tulle covered with butterflies and flowers." Ms. Ansley's work is done in "a more traditional vein with an African-American slant." And Ms. Tanksley "paints, in neo-primitive style, African-American social and anthropological subjects."

A full-color exhibition publication with images of displayed works, and artists' statements and short biographies, is free to exhibition attendees.

The exhibition works entwine personal history within metaphor for cultural heritage, paying homage to both familial individuals and a broader ancestry, equal providers of roots that nurtured the women's growth. As Ms. Ka writes in her artist statement, "The 'Queen of Our Mothers' Gardens' is a tribute to my mother and to all of our mothers. She represents compassion and lasting love and fertility. ... I also give praise to the gifts received from Mother Africa, my spiritual and cultural Mother."

The Sewickley Gallery Walk continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. "First Fruit" continues through Nov. 2 at 200 Broad St., Sewickley. Exhibiting artist LaVerne Kemp will offer a free children's workshop from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Monday-Tuesday (pre-registration required). Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 1 to 9 p.m. Wednesday; 1 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday (closing times Friday and Saturday may vary). Admission is free. "Sewickley Sings," an evening of church choirs, begins at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 ($3 suggested donation). Information: 412-741-4405 or www.sweetwaterartcenter.org.

Qualters show

An artist's reception for "Robert Qualters: Recent Work" will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at borelli-edwards galleries, 3583 Butler St., Lawrenceville (free and public). The exhibition continues through Oct. 26 (412-687-2606).

Salon with Brits

An Artists' Salon of readings, talks and discussion with five London-based author/artists will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at SPACE gallery, 812 Liberty Ave., Downtown (free; 412-325-7723). The program is held in conjunction with the exhibition, "The City & the City: Artwork by London Writers," at Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood St., Downtown (continuing through Dec. 31; 412-471-5605). Salon participants are Tom McCarthy, author of "C," "Men in Space" and "Remainder," and founder of the conceptual artists affiliation International Necronautical Society; Rachel Lichtenstein, "Rodinsky's Room" and "On Brick Lane" author; avant-garde poet Caroline Bergvall; critic and nonfiction author Sukhdev Sandhu; and conceptual artist Rod Dickinson. Exhibiting at Wood Street, in addition, are Iain Sinclair, Chris Petit and Emma Matthews.


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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