Nature Displayed Through Artistic Expression

An exciting new exhibit of paintings will be available in Jamestown Community College’s Weeks Gallery, through Oct. 3.

The exhibit opened Aug. 25, and a reception and artist talk by Alberto Rey will take place on the evening of Sept. 12. It is titled ”Alberto Rey: Biological Regionalism,” and it examines elements of nature in Western New York and connects it to an earlier school of art in the eastern reaches of the state.

Many art lovers are familiar with the Hudson River School of Artists. These were painters, beginning in the mid-19th Century, who focused on mankind and nature, living together in harmony, especially in the valley of the Hudson River, which flows north to south near the state’s Eastern boundary. The paintings were realistic, detailed and sometimes idealized.

Rey has made a series of large paintings in the same style and on the same scale as the earlier school of art. Instead of the Lordly Hudson, he has focused on a smaller and more localized stream. That is Scajaquada Creek, which flows east to west through Buffalo along the route of the Scajaquada Expressway. The stream also feeds Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park. Ironically, much of that creek now is buried up to 30 feet underground, where it flows through cement culverts.

Despite mankind’s burial of the creek, Rey has found a number of places all along the stream where it still creates a lovely scene. Sadly, though, next to each painting Rey has placed a large glass jar filled with water gathered from the creek at the site of the painting. On the wall behind each jar is a chart which demonstrates the level of E. coli bacteria in the sample, plus a measurement of the conductivity of the water and its turbidity. That is, the ability of the water to conduct an electrical current and the ability of the water to hold suspended particles. The chart includes the definition of an acceptable level of those qualities and explains the harms of unacceptable levels.

The measurements indicate that in some places the levels of pollution are 30 times higher than the acceptable level. One jar includes a decomposing shoe which was scooped up with the sample.

The exhibit is made up of 11 large paintings, done with oil paints on plaster. Most of these are scenes along the creek, although there is one of the bloated corpse of a muskrat, painted near the creek’s mouth, where it flows into Lake Erie. There are several different specimens of brown trout, a species which is known to change very much in appearance, according to the water conditions in which it lives. It is believed that none of the fish from different rivers resemble one another.

Also in the exhibit are two glass cases with examples of drawings which the artist made in preparation for the paintings, and a giant screen on which is projected the balletic movements of a video of a giant leech recorded in the waters of the Scajaquada. There is also a copy of a book, available for examination, on the Biological Regionalism and other paintings by Rey.

I spoke with Weeks Gallery director Patricia Briggs, who indicated that Rey is now working on a similar treatment on the Chadakoin River in Jamestown. She said he has created a large, hand-made map of the Chadakoin, which was still being mounted, when I viewed the exhibit, and should be displayed in the gallery, soon. Science students from JCC and from Frewsburg Central School will provide samples and testing of the Chadakoin water.

Dr. Briggs pointed out what she considers to be a ”joy of painting,” in the paintings of trout, and of Canadaway Creek, in Fredonia, while she finds the scenic paintings of the creek to be beautiful but less full of energy.

The exhibit at the Weeks Gallery is a reduction of an exhibit at the Burchfield-Penney Gallery, in Buffalo. Dr. Briggs will lead an informal discussion of the exhibit at a brown bag session on Wednesday at noon.

Also connected with the exhibit, on Sept. 15, from 5-6 p.m., Twan Leenders, president of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History will lead a nature walk, to examine spiny softshell turtles in the Chadakoin. That walk will begin in the parking lot of Gateway Center, at 31 Water St. in Jamestown.

Sept. 24, in the Weeks Reception Hall, at JCC, Leenders and John Jablonski, executive director of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy will discuss ”The State of Jamestown’s Waterways and Their Surrounding Habitats,” from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Admission to the Weeks Gallery is free of charge. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

The gallery is located on the second floor of the Arts and Science Building, adjacent to the Robert L. Scharmann Theater.