Kenneth Stubbs
(American artist, 1907-1967)

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Museum exhibit inspires the mind's eye

There are things bright and beautiful at the Cape Museum of Fine Arts "New Acquisitions" show -- paintings and sculpture and sketches that catch the eye as well as the mind. The patrons, it seems, have been generous this year.

This annual exhibition, which continues through March 10, is intended to allow the public to view those pieces donated to or purchased by the museum during the preceding 12 months. At this point in its relatively brief history, the museum has amassed a collection of over 400 pieces.

Those exhibited, however, number far less. They do not even include all the works new to the museum, primarily because the limited space of the museum's temporary headquarters does not permit an extensive display.

"We have a lot more," acknowledged museum directory Suzanne Packer, "but rather than crowd them, we thought it would be better if the pieces could have space."

Twenty-four artists are represented in the exhibition, all but three of them new to the museum's collection. The most sizable new donations are the gift of more than 40 Gordon Hansen portraits and sketches (given by museum trustee Roy Mennell) and a dozen Thomas T. Eastwood paintings (donated by his widow). The latter was somewhat unexpected.

"Mrs. Eastwood contacted me because she knew we had a sizable collection of Howard Gibbs," Packer explained. "He and Eastwood grew up together and went to school together. And she was interested in keeping her husband's work together. The museum has been very lucky. Since we put this show up, she's offered us even more.

"The exhibition also includes three new pieces by Gibbs. Knowing that he and Eastwood were contemporaries, it is fascinating to see the divergent paths they followed. Eastwood's work is round and soft with a childlike innocence. Gibbs, on the other hand, is somber and disturbing.

"Gibbs' work is very emotional and hard to take," Packer agreed. "Some of his paintings have skeletons and skulls. People sometimes have great difficulty with his paintings, but they're exquisite."

One of the most striking of the new works is "Orpheus Series," a nine-piece woodblock reduction print by Varujan Boghosian. Packer explained that, once the museum moves to its new building in April 1990, she will likely hang the work in a straight line along an entire wall. Grouped together, however, it retains its haunting impact, as the image seems to slowly disappear.

Only three works of sculpture are displayed, but they are all wonderful pieces. "Roseate Spoonbill," made of corten steel by Del Filardi, is captivating in its stance and detail, while "Homage to Mobius," a brass and stainless-steel maze of curves and loops, is perplexing and amusing. Harry Holl's "Woman's Head," a terra-cotta planter, brings a gaiety and sparkle to the room.

Several of the paintings draw on typical Cape images and senses but do so in an inviting manner. "Chair 1" and "Chair 2," watercolors by Jane A'Lee Heyerdahl, evoke the sound and feeling of a sea breeze blowing through a summer day.

A similar serenity is prompted by Anne Teufel's watercolor,"Lotus at Ashumet" and David Laakso's oil painting, "Cottage Roses."

Two small paintings by Kenneth Stubbs,' "Still Life with Melon" and "Shorescape," are intriguing for both content and technique. They are casein paintings, a process that uses paints based on a milk by-product, Packer explaned. This precursor to acrylic lends them an opaque but not heavy quality.

Among the pieces of which Packer is most proud is a portrait of a young Portuguese girl by William McGregor Paxton.

"He has a national reputation and we hope this will attract more pieces," she commented. "Numberwise, we received about the same number of pieces as in other years, but we were given some very fine pieces this year. Our collection is starting to show more than one artist from an era, which opens a whole set of possibilities for future shows."

Packer is eagerly anticipating the move to larger quarters in the spring, when the museum will be able to display much more of its collection. It will be the realization of the dream to create a museum for artists with ties to the Cape.

"These donations show that people believe in our mission," she noted. "I think our mission is right. We need a place for Cape artists, and we want to see (their work) here on the Cape, for people to enjoy.

Janina Birtolo, Cape Cod Newspapers Staff, Dennis Bulletin, January 30, 1990, page 18