Watercolor exhibit brightens up Biggs Museum

DOVER –– More than 50 original watercolor paintings are on display at the Biggs Museum of American Art until Sept. 20 as part of a Juried Exhibition of the Delaware Watercolor Society.

“We do juried exhibits once a year and this time around, we are lucky enough to play host to the Delaware Watercolor Society,” said Ryan Grover, curator of the Biggs Museum.

Marjorie Hegner’s Merit Award-winning piece was entitled “Jumbo’s Dragon, Hong Kong” and was one of three paintings that were displayed in the competition.

Artists are allowed to enter multiple paintings and those that go on display are selected by a juror, in this case Susan Heron of Virginia and the artists’ signatures are covered so the selection is impartial.

“Most of my paintings are based on my travels,” said Ms. Hegner, a resident of Wilmington.

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Louise Gatanas, of Lewes, won a Merit Award in the Delaware Watercolor Society exhibition at the Biggs Museum of American Art for her work entitled “Provence, France”.

“Everywhere I go, I take tons of pictures and if there’s something that really strikes me, I will make a sketch when I get home and go from there.”

Ms. Hegner’s interest in painting started at a young age when she was taught by a family friend in Milwaukee and continued painting through her youth until she studied art education in college and went on to become an art teacher.

“It’s something I really fell in love with and now that I’m 74, it’s still something I do regularly,” she said. “I used to be more interested in selling my work, but now it’s something I do pretty much full-time and I want my work to be a legacy I leave to my family.”

Louise Gatanas, of Lewes, another Merit Award winner, also fell in love with art many years ago and still constantly is either painting or thinking about painting.

“Art has been a great thing to come back to,” she said.

“A lot of people only do it for a handful of years after they’re done with school, before they’re caught up in family life and everything else, but art is always there for you and even now at 75, I’d say it’s more than just a hobby, it’s something I do every day.”

For both artists, competition is an important part of the artistic process with each regularly entering pieces into competitions.

“Just being on display at a competition is thrilling,” Ms. Hegner said. “By getting in, you know that you did a good job and winning an award makes that even more special.”

Ms. Gatanas considers entering competitions a good way to improve her work.

“It’s exciting and demanding. It takes a lot of work and discipline,” she said.

“I think it’s important for all artists to enter competitions but you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get some criticism. But I think it helps me gain confidence in my work too.”

Mr. Grover said that although this is the only Delaware Watercolor Society competition at the Biggs this year, the group does several competitions.

“The Watercolor Society is very interested in giving their artists constructive criticism and feedback, it’s an important part of the group, so the artists have multiple opportunities to compete every year,” he said.

Watercolor paintings aren’t all the typical pastel, transparent color one would expect. Some artists in the show chose to use gouache, a high-pigment watercolor that produces brighter, more opaque color.

Gouache is the paint of choice for Ms. Gatanas but painting was not the first medium she used, it came after extensive training in marble sculpture in both Italy and New York City.

“After working with white marble for so long, I was ready to use some color,” she said.

Her winning piece is entitled “Provence France,” one of two works of hers on display, and she considers it a painting within a painting. The piece has a bright, vibrant featured portion with the painting continuing onto a softer, muted border. It is a product of years of working on large floral-centered projects.

Not all watercolor works are even done with paint brushes; one of the pieces Ms. Hegner entered, “Sisters in Turkmenistan,” featuring two camels, was made using a pouring technique.

“You block off sections for different colors and pour the paint, starting with the lightest colors and it always feels like a surprise when it’s finished,” she said. “And you only use a brush if you want to add some detail.”

There is no theme to the exhibit so there is a wide range of pieces for visitors to see.

“There was no limit on subject matter so everything you see is very unique and it’s what the artist is interested in,” Mr. Grover said.

“There are many inventive pieces and some great works on display.”

An Artist Reception for the exhibit will take place today from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Biggs, 406 Federal St. in Dover. The event is free to children under 12 and museum members. Admission is $5 for nonmember adults. Light refreshments will be served.

The Delaware Watercolor Society exhibitions are made possible, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency dedicated to nurturing and supporting the arts in Delaware, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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