Viewers walk inside Composition in the Round, stepping through a curtained entryway to find themselves surrounded by mysterious imagery painted on a 100-foot-long length of raw canvas, eight feet high, that encircles the room. The space, inside what was once the Stone Ridge firehouse on Cooper Street, is the permanent home now for the 1983 work created by Marilyn Reynolds. With her husband, Kent Babcock, and son, photographer Seth David Rubin, Reynolds is in the process of renovating the building into a three-story structure that, along with the dedicated space for the monumental Composition, includes studio space for herself, art galleries for a rotating exhibition of her lifetime of work and an in-progress workshop space for community art classes.
Reynolds is a self-described intuitive painter. The imagery in Composition in the Round comes from “the most uncensored part of my mind,” she says, “pouring forth in the most unpredictable way. There’s not one stroke of anything dishonest there.”
The center of the long canvas, directly opposite the viewer entering the work, is taken up by the depiction of an enormous bird in flight, its 21-foot wingspan painted with energetic brushstrokes. This image was the first Reynolds painted on the canvas, and it came from her subconscious, she says, representing her intuitive thought process as she began the work. A feeling about the innocence and vulnerability of the bird led her then to move to another point on the canvas, where in charcoal she depicted a man holding a gun. Other imagery followed: a pipe organ, a steamship, a standing bear, a beached whale.
The characters emerged in a kind of dreamlike procession, according to Reynolds, who created the work during a six-week residency funded by a New York State Council on the Arts grant. With children to care for at home at the time, Reynolds created the piece by traveling from her home in Stone Ridge to a Dominican convent in Sparkill, where she worked through the nights in the basement. She made the framework for the painting herself, out of two-by-fours, with nuns helping her hold the long piece of canvas up while she stapled it to the frame.
There was no master plan behind the imagery, but Reynolds says she had always wanted to create a painting that people could walk into, surrounded by images “speaking to each other across the space” in a field of energy.
“The reference to the organ throughout the composition reflects my intense love of that instrument,” she explains in a written statement about the work. “My great-uncle was a well-known church organist in Chicago, and my mother played the organ throughout her life. Even as a young child, I would linger after the congregation had left the church sanctuary until the organist played the final chords. I felt transfixed, enveloped in the great silence that always followed.”
That feeling of contemplative, profound silence following the thundering of organ pipes is what Reynolds hopes to evoke in the viewer with the experience of entering Composition in the Round. The piece has been exhibited several times over the years, but due to its size has not had a regular home until now.
In speaking with Reynolds, she acknowledges that the imagery, while subconscious, relates to her convictions about human rights and social justice. She has an affinity for the vulnerable among us, whether that be a child abused as she was – she was raped as a six-year-old and never spoke of it until recently – or the women speaking out these days about sexual harassment and discrimination. She also has strong feelings about “our blue marble,” as she refers to our planet, concerned about Earth’s degradation from climate changes and abuse.
A native of Elkhart, Indiana, Reynolds earned her BA degree in French and Art at Indiana University in 1962, studying in Paris on a scholarship. In 1983, she earned an MFA from Brooklyn College. Reynolds first came to the Hudson Valley when she took a job at Bard College as director of the Education Program there. She has lived in Stone Ridge since.
Reynolds has exhibited her painting widely in this country and abroad since the 1970s. She has been the recipient of many grants, the first a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant in 1963 and including two Pollock-Krasner Foundation grants, in 1987 and 1997. She received an Athena Foundation grant and residency at sculptor Mark DiSuvero’s studio in Long Island City in 1985. And in 1996, Reynolds was commissioned to create faux “Picassos” for the Merchant/Ivory film, Surviving Picasso.
She has also been involved in arts education for all age groups for nearly 40 years, a passion that the artist plans to bring to the Stone Ridge community through workshops in the new space being established in the historic firehouse. Her work in museum education for institutions that include the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Dutchess County Arts Council and, most recently, as director of education for the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah, has focused on “helping people overcome their fear of visual art,” she says. “And helping people learn to see through art helps them to learn to see the entire world differently.”
Art education in the Stone Ridge space will be “a serious endeavor,” Reynolds notes, “not a ‘Sunday painter’ kind of thing. I really want to make a difference, and help people expand their consciousness around visual art. I can’t wait to get started.”
But the enterprise, to be called Blue Marble Arts, in tribute to Reynolds’ concern for the planet, will have to wait until the construction of workshop space on the top floor is completed. And because of the need to raise funds to do that, there is still a lot of work to do. (Reynolds and her husband have demonstrated their complete dedication to the project in having mortgaged their own home to purchase the building.) A recent visit to the site revealed a studio-in-progress that promises to become an inviting, well-lit space. Windows were being installed, with Reynolds noting that she has several pieces of stained glass from an old church that will be inserted into the final product. Below the workshop space, in a loft over the main floor, is the studio space in which Reynolds will work herself.
At this time, the main floor of the old firehouse is open to viewers by appointment, who may experience the permanent installation of Composition in the Round in its own gallery and a rotating exhibit of works by Reynolds in the remainder of the space. Visitors over the next few months should be forewarned that the gallery holding Composition is unheated at this time. With time and funding, the space will evolve organically, says the artist. “Like any creative process, you can’t force it.” The eventual goal is to become a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit with regular public visiting hours.
The former firehouse is located at 3410 Cooper Street, off Route 209, across from the Asia restaurant. To make an appointment, call Marilyn Reynolds at (845) 657-7024. For more information, visit www.marilynreynoldsartist.com.