Southern Alleghenies Museum to focus on realist at its 4 sites

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Realist artist Colleen Browning, who was born in England in 1918 and died in 2003 in New York City, is the subject of four simultaneous exhibitions opening this month at Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, and its branches. The "Colleen Browning Symposium on 20th-Century American Realism" will be held Sept. 10 at Loretto.

Browning was of Irish heritage and spent part of her childhood in Ireland. Her artistic ability earned her work entry into national exhibits while she was still a teen, and she attended London's Slade School of the Arts on a scholarship. She developed an appreciation for mural painting and became a set designer. By 1949, when she immigrated to New York with her new husband, the novelist Geoffrey Wagner, she had switched from theatrical work to easel painting and was experimenting with surrealist compositions.

She maintained studios in Grenada, where she spent several months a year, and in New York, where she taught at the National Academy of Design. In the middle of the past century, she was receiving critical praise and her paintings were included in such prestigious exhibitions as the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial and the Carnegie International, at which she won a popular prize in 1952.

The exhibitions are part of "Colleen Browning: A Brush With Magic," which SAMA has traveled to Ireland and New York, and will later send to Connecticut, Ohio and Texas.

From 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 23 a free reception will be held at SAMA-Johnstown for "Colleen Browning: Illustrator and Printmaker," which highlights her commercial illustration and printmaking work, and her illustrations for Karen E. Lotz's children's book, "Can't Sit Still" (continuing through Oct. 6; reserve for reception at 1-814-269-7234).

SAMA-Ligonier Valley follows with "Colleen Browning: The Early Years," charting the artist's growth from child prodigy to professional artist, with a free opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 24 that will include wine, hors d'oeuvres and an appearance by Philip Eliasoph, author of the new book "Colleen Browning: The Enchantment of Realism" (through Nov. 3). Reservations for the reception can be made at 724-238-6015.

"Colleen Browning: Magic Realist," 40 paintings including masterpieces of Magic Realism drawn from the Umbrella and Subway series, opens next at SAMA-Loretto (through Oct. 13). The 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 25 reception will include cocktails, dinner and a presentation by Mr. Eliasoph ($50; reservations, 1-814-472-3920).

Finally, "Colleen Browning: Drawings," celebrating her draftsmanship and featuring late career sketchbooks, opens at SAMA-Altoona from 6 to 8 p.m Aug. 27 (through Jan. 12) with a special Blue Monday program including live music by Tom McCarty and Friends ($20, reserve at 1-814-946-4464).

The symposium begins at 10 a.m. Sept. 10 at SAMA-Loretto. Four scholars -- Henry Adams, Philip Eliasoph, Gail Levine and Jonathan Weinberg -- will speak on Browning and American realist art of the 20th century. Video of the event will be streamed live on the Internet at


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: or 412-263-1925.


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