“Read to Me” exhibition now on view at J. J. Newberry Building in Saugerties

Seated: Jennifer Hicks, standing (L-R): Tracey Crockrell, Traci Horgen, Norm Magnusson and Michael Pope. (Photos by Dion Ogust)

Since the advent of the coronavirus, culture vultures have had to subsist on a meager diet of art shows rendered via webpages and video tours. That dearth may soon be coming to an end. Among the physical spaces that have opened their doors to visitors in recent weeks is the J. J. Newberry Building in Saugerties, an annex of the 11 Jane St. Art Center. The former department store has been gutted to reveal an expansive space with great old pressed-tin ceilings, affording plenty of room for social distancing as you take in its latest exhibition, “Read to Me: A Reference to Words.” It opened on August 1 and will run through September 6.

“The opening was originally going to be in April, to coincide with Poetry Month and International Sculpture Day,” explains 11 Jane St. founder/director Jennifer Hicks, who curated the show. The theme was inspired by memories of stories read aloud in childhood, with the participating artists translating that experience into visual media. “When someone read you a story, that information got transmitted and interpreted by whoever was going to read to you,” said Hicks. “There was a kind of comfort in that community aspect. Sharing and transmitting information in art can be literal or abstract. ‘Read to Me’ is also a demand – a cry for help, or a cry for information.”

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Visual artists included in the exhibition are Tracey Cockrell, Melinda Stickney-Gibson, William Greenwood, Traci Horgen, Iain Machell, Norm Magnusson, Michael Pope, Jillian Rose, Joseph Zito and Hicks herself. Works by writer Brier Eckersley and poet Will Nixon are also represented. All are based in the Hudson Valley. 

While some of the selected artworks pre-existed the show, others were generated in response to the theme. “The pandemic gave people time to reflect on creating work especially for this,” says Hicks.

Artist Tracey Crockrell

The gamut of media represented ranges from oil, acrylic and metallic paints to ink and charcoal drawings, photography and typography, often mixed and overlaid against a wide variety of substrates. There’s a large representation of sculpture, incorporating wood, metal, ceramics, textiles, natural, found and repurposed materials.

Joseph Zito built a working clock that runs backwards, its hands ending in wooden boats: an attempt to recapture a favorite moment in time in an amusement park recalled by his now-deceased cousin. Videomaker Michael Pope created an evocative wall of aggregated maps, carved out and painted over.

Among the most striking works on display is the Poemophone sound sculpture by Tracey Cockrell: a circle of rebuilt manual typewriters inlaid with wood and the metal keys of kalimbas. It’s tough to resist the temptation to try playing them, but their sounds are incorporated into the recording that plays overhead as you peruse the sculpture. 

The wry sense of humor of Norm Magnusson, known in our region mostly for his waggish imitations of historical markers, is represented in various sculptural media including neon and a roll of toilet paper with “ME” printed on each sheet, poking fun at the pandemic hoarders.

“Read to Me” is open to the public (a few at a time, wearing face masks) from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays, or by appointment by e-mailing info@11janestreet.com. The J. J. Newberry Building is at 236 Main Street in downtown Saugerties.

Interviews with some of the artists will be shared online, on Facebook and Instagram, at 8 p.m. each Sunday and Wednesday. Hicks launched the series on August 9. Also participating will be Tracey Cockrell on August 12, Iain Machell on August 16, Melinda Stickney-Gibson on August 19, Norm Magnusson on August 23 and William Greenwood on August 26, with Hicks returning on August 30. Visit www.11janestreet.com for information.