MIDDLEBURG — If you go:
What: Barbara Johnson and James Shaffer one night art exhibition
When: 5-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: Shade Mountain Winery, Route 104, near Middleburg
For more information: Call the winery at 837-3644
Barbara Johnson’s approach to art is asking “what if” and enjoying the unintentional that follows.
Finding inspiration with acrylics, the McEwensville artist, 69, long focused on contemporary realism creating still lifes and landscapes but admits she really only started taking her artistic inclinations seriously about 15 years ago. In that time, she turned a new corner and transitioned to collage painting which, she says, “has provided me with new opportunities of visual expression.”
Her collages contain an eclectic mix. When she sees something that could be put to better use, she collects it and gives it new life. “I use ... ‘found’ things” such as copper, burlap and bark, she says. One of those found things was the bottom of a burn barrel. “My grandson had it in his truck,” she says, then describes the damaged metal’s colors and texture. “I told him it was way too beautiful to be thrown away.”
She incorporated it into a painting which became a part of a collage she titled “Mindstorm.” The title, she explains, came from the painting appearing “like brain cells exploding behind the burning barrel.”
And now, her grandson “wants it back,” she adds.
That’s just one story behind one piece of art. There are stories behind each of her creations.
Part of her transition to collage can be pinpointed to when her father died after which she created a series of three collage paintings. Delving into her art, she says, seems to help when she finds herself in need of closure.
Elsewhere in McEwensville, James Shaffer — better known as Pete to his friends and family — was an up-and-coming artist of his own.
Shaffer, 42, says he’s always enjoys drawing but assumed it would lead him in a different career direction. He studied engineering and drafting technology, earning a degree from Penn Tech and a bachelor of arts degree from Lock Haven University. But while engineering didn’t prove to be his calling, those studies helped instill in him a sense of precision and rigidity in his early work. He fondly recalls the large systematic approach to drafting that involved intricate detailing and full schematic drawings. In 2004, his vision for art exploded into a spontaneous world of color and a true form of abstract impressionism.
By day he works as an assistant administrator at the federal penitentiary in Allenwood. But late at night, when his wife and daughter are asleep, he is in the basement, with classic rock music and his huge canvases and his colors. Among those he plans to exhibit at the winery is one stretching 4 feet by 4 feet made up of more than 200 individual painted canvases woven together like a quilt.
Johnson’s pieces are much smaller. And while Shaffer works his magic at night in a basement, Johnson prefers the day, “when the sun is bright and you can see better,” she says. Secluded in a sunlight studio in her home, she spins her stories into her collages while listening to Il Devo or The Four Tenors. One piece she’s currently working on includes pressed glass and a horse’s collar.
One may ask “what is it?” when viewing either artist’s work Saturday night. Both may see the same landscape but how they capture it is not the same. Johnson can tell you the meanings behind the items she’s attached to her collages while Shaffer encourages you look again and see if you can’t figure it out. He equates what he does to what you may see through the blurry windshield of a car on a rainy day, with the wipers shut off. The landscape behind may be the same as Johnson’s, but he’s seeing it differently.
Years ago, the two took a plein air (meaning “in the open air”) class together, painting along the creek in New Berlin. “Everyone was painting the water and the trees,” Shaffer recalls. “I painted a barn and a helicopter, just to be different from the pack.”
Johnson nods, remembering. “I painted the water and trees,” she admits.
Both are now award-winning artists, with their creations in numerous private collections. A member of the Milton Artisans Society and the Susquehanna Art Society, Shaffer’s art is currently on exhibit at the Bare Metal Gallery in Northumberland. Several of Johnson’s paintings have been juried into national shows by the National Collage Society and International Society of Experimental Artists.
His goal is to get into a show in New York City. Her goal is to be represented by a gallery.
They encourage and critique each other from their separate perspectives. Yet how did two such very different artists come together for a one-night exhibit? They seem to have only McEwensville in common. They laugh and try to avoid the question.
It goes back to some of those “what if” and “unintentional” directions she allows her art to take her, and his abstractions.
“He’s married to my daughter,” she finally offers. Shaffer just smiles.