Art review: Women’s Art League of Akron at Summit Artspace

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

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April Cameron, Journey's End, acrylic, judged best in show in the Women's Art League of Akron juried show Brushstroke: Here & Now at Summit Artspace Gallery. (Bradley Hart, HART Photographic)

I once “raced” in a powderpuff derby.

This was when I worked for a newspaper in Tennessee, and it seemed like a great idea at the time.

I tried my darnedest to win. But every time I got close to passing the lead car, all the other cars would converge and block me out.

So, when the race was over, I asked one of the officials: Was it my imagination or had the other drivers acted in congress to make sure that lead driver won?

The official said something I’ll never forget: “Well, sure she won; it was her turn.”

The Women’s Art League of Akron is having its 80th anniversary show at Summit Artspace. It’s not exactly like a powderpuff derby, but it’s close.

Jurors were Susan Mencini, educator and artist, and John Klassen, executive director of the Brecksville Center for the Arts. They gave awards to:

• Best in Show — April Cameron for Journey’s End.

• First Place — Barbara Zimmerman for Garden in Blue.

• Second Place — Nicki Lanzi for St. Augustine’s Charm.

• Third Place — Shirley Ende-Saxe for Secret by Decree.

Honorable mentions went to Sandra Heller, Elinore Korow, Phyllis Lawicki, Marcia Mazak and Linda Lyons.

Cameron has two works in the exhibit, and both are stylish and brilliantly colorful. Lanzi’s cityscape of sidewalk diners in St. Augustine is beautifully composed and drawn, and nicely painted. Lawicki’s composition and drawing of guys showing off their “bone shaker bicycles” is quite good.

Ende-Saxe’s Secret by Decree is perhaps the most puzzling work, in that we must guess as to the particular secrets she’s exposing, but one or two clues tell us she’s excoriating both church and state. It is nevertheless one of the most interesting works in the show, mainly because of its many layers of meanings and secrets.

There were a handful of others that rose to the award or honorable mention level, but by and large, the jurors picked the best.

Several works seemed a bit soft around the edges, as if created by an unsure hand. A few others seemed to be on an even more uncertain level, as though the lessons of composition had either not been learned or had been lost. There were even a few instances of overworking and/or poor handling of the medium.

Searching for a reason behind the large gap in quality between the award winners and many of the other entries, I sought out Women’s Art League President Deanna R. Clucas.

Of the 87 league members, many of them longstanding, 45 entered 58 works in the show, she said.

“A lot of our new members showed in this exhibit,” she noted, “and a lot of our older ones don’t show any more because of age and so on. They just haven’t kept up. We have a requirement that the work must have been done in the last two years.”

Then she added that everyone who entered got in. “Usually in our members’ shows, it’s just that — a members’ show — and if you enter two, you get two in,” she explained. “But because this is Summit Artspace, we were a little more picky, and if you entered two you were only guaranteed to get one in, and we let the judges decide that.

“That’s a hard thing to do,” she acknowledged. “I wouldn’t want my peers throwing something of mine out.”

So, there you have it: Everyone who entered was guaranteed at least one space.

There are perhaps reasons why this venerable group has allowed the quality of its members’ work to slip. One could be the competition from other art organizations.

The Akron Artist’s Association, also a group that tends to be tradition-oriented, used to be men only, but during the 1980s admitted its first woman. Its female membership has continued to increase ever since, perhaps drawing off potential new membership from the Women’s Art League.

Artists of Rubber City, founded in the 1980s, tends to attract artists who are more contemporary, often more abstract, in their work. Its shows are highly competitive, with no guarantees of entry.

The Women’s Art League first met on Sept. 22, 1933, in the Rose Boulevard home of Florence Richardson. Twenty artists, mainly art teachers and socialites, attended the meeting.

These women were professional and dedicated painters. One member, Greta Kempton, went on to paint Harry Truman’s official presidential portrait that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

They met every Friday to sketch and paint. Their favorite subject was landscapes, painted primarily in oils and watercolors. (Even now, the work of its members tends to be, but is by no means confined to, traditional, object-based compositions.)

The club held shows to sell their works and hosted the annual Rubber Ball. Well-known charter members included Gertrude Seiberling, Jane Barnhart, Julia Devell, Grace Rankin, Ruth Oenslager and Katherine Calvin.

One of the main aims of its shows has always been fundraising for its scholarships, and this year’s exhibit is no exception.

The evening of the opening, the Women’s Art League held a sale to benefit the fund. There’s also a series of artist books created by members that can be purchased, with the funds going to the scholarship.

Each year the fund helps to send women to college who desire to major in the visual arts. Applications are accepted in the spring. To get more information on this scholarship, contact Donna Sedmock through Summit Artspace at 330-376-8480.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or dtgshinn@att.net.


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