Women’s art caucus shows members’ creative side

Margaret Smith

Joy, grief, discovery, anger, wonderment.

These moods and more are part of “Intimate Spaces/Selected Works,” a juried art show of work by female artists, sponsored by the Central Massachusetts chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art -- a nationwide organization with local chapters supporting female artists -- at the Fitchburg Art Museum.

It’s a dazzling collection of ideas and images as well as emotions, in media that includes paint, photography, sculpture, fabric art and more.

Some are by artists who could be your neighbors; others come from other parts of the world, to share universal feelings immediately seen in their work.

The exhibit is one of many activities sponsored by the caucus chapter, founded by artist Catherine Judge of Fitchburg, who established the caucus chapter with Joanne Boudreau of Ashby about six years ago.

Judge said they created the chapter because they wanted an organization that could serve the needs of female artists in the area.

For various reasons, they said local artists didn’t always join the next-nearest chapter, based in Boston.

“Joanne and I felt strongly about the power of women’s art making,” said Judge. “It is really common for artists to live close by to each other and never cross paths.”

The bylaws require the caucus chapter to have at least one juried exhibit a year, Judge said.

The caucus chapter has about 45 members, with many in the northern central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire area.

Judge said one goal is to increase membership from communities south of Worcester.

The caucus also sponsors artists’ demonstrations and lectures, and looks for opportunities to travel to museums and exhibits.

A contingency also plans to attend the national Women’s Caucus for Art convention in Los Angeles in 2009. “It’s a terrific way to connect with women who share your interests. That is a great networking opportunity.”

Fabric artist Cindy Walter of Leominster, a member at-large and exhibits coordinator, works in human resources but pursues her art both as an avocation and hopefully, in the future, a full time profession.

“I have been engaged in the arts probably about five years now,” said Walter, who creates works ranging from framed and unframed wall hangings to mural-sized pieces to three-inch greeting cards.

“I do painting. I do a lot of embellishment – bead, anything I can find that I can put on fabric,” Walter said.

Walter said she got involved through Judge. “Catherine really symbolizes what the caucus is about. The caucus is about supporting women artists,” Walter said.

The caucus puts on two exhibits of art each year, but this year has added a third, with a show at Fitchurg Access Television in November, with dates to be announced.

Many lives, many visions

The members come from many paths, with some who have been career artists for many years, and others who create art in their spare time after meeting the needs of work and family.

Some are life-long artists. Some, said Walter, “are like me, who found art late in life.” She said a ruptured disc forced a three-month home stay before surgery. “As a kid, I had to sew my own clothes,” she said, but added that discovering a creative side to a necessary skill “saved my sanity.”

Alicia K. Geilenberg-Drakiotes, who works from her southern New Hampshire studio but also teaches area classes, said she joined the caucus chapter in 2002. “I just have been in love with the chapter. It’s a vibrant chapter -- it’s a young chapter. They are very active and very supportive. It has just done wonders for me.”

She said she has a degree in visual communications. However,.nerve injuries prevented her from working in her field for several years. Working in new media, including pastels – and networking through the caucus -- helped her gain self confidence.

“Everyone is doing every type of medium in this group,” she said, adding that she finds the caucus chapter more supportive and less competitive than some artists’ organizations.

Although competition may be a fact of life for most artists, Geilenberg-Drakiotes said good artists also learn from one another, and good teachers pass on their skills and encouragement to emerging artists.

“I go out with painters I love. We sit down in our easels.” Although they may paint the same scene or object, she said, “You would never know they are the same, because of our individuality and our painting style.”

Lynn Thibault, a member at-large who is also a fabric artist from Leominster, has been selling art since age 3 and said, “Five or six years ago, I started playing around with designing my own patterns and designs.”

Thibault, who works full time at a medical clinic, is a member of Material Girls, a Leominster-based quilting guild, and said she joined the caucus at the urging of Walter, who is a friend of hers.

“She brought me into the group one evening in September, and I was very enchanted by them and their desire to promote female artistry.”

They needed a member at-large, so she volunteered.

Members also offer each other input on their work.

“Even if they don’t agree with you, they give you a reason why,” Thibault said.

As for her own work, Thibault said, even if she does not make a living from her art, she said, she will work full time to support it – as a way of life.

The details

"Intimate Spaces/Selected Works" runs through Sept. 7 at the Fitchburg Art Museum, 185 Elm St., Fitchburg. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, students and corporate members. Children and museum members free. Free admission for all the first Thursday of the month, 4 to 8 p.m. Special tours and other activities will be offered as part of Fitchburg's "First Thursday" celebrations.

For more information, call 978-345-4207 or visit www.fitchburgartmuseum.org.

For more information on the Central Massachusetts chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art, visit www.centralmasswca.org.

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor for Community Newspaper Company’s northwest unit. E-mail her at msmith@cnc.com.