January 09, 2018

When Academic Technology Center technical trainer Jess Baer first thought about entering some of her artwork into ART|WPI, an annual university-wide community art show, she realized her oil and watercolor paintings of pets would surprise people who only know her as a techie at WPI.

“People don’t know this side of me,” she says of her artistic talents. “They are baffled.” But Baer’s positive experience gave her a new appreciation for the welcoming attitude of the WPI community. “I liked seeing what other people were doing. There are professors doing really cool stuff and you would never know that,” she says.

Kathy Markees

According to Kathy Markees, special collections curator at Gordon Library, ART|WPI is the brainchild of Karen Oates, biology and biotechnology professor, and former dean of arts & sciences. The 7th ART|WPI exhibit will open at the end of this month, and organizers are again inviting entries from students, faculty, and staff who want to display their artistic talents.

A true community arts show, the exhibit fulfills one of the library’s purposes of being an exhibition space for artistic works, says Markees, while also providing a way to celebrate the tremendous creativity that exists on a campus known primarily for its engineering and scientific accomplishments.

The entries reflect the passions of folks whose workdays are spent in roles that typically don’t involve as much hands-on creativity. Displayed works are diverse—past entries included marionettes, photography, drawings, paintings, wood carvings, copper gravestone rubbings, pottery, and painted furniture. Markees, also a bookbinder, exhibits some of her work in the show, too.

Anyone interested in exhibiting their work may drop off the pieces between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., January 16–18, in room GL-013. Each person may submit a maximum of four pieces, with works framed and ready to be hung. Pottery and freestanding pieces are arranged in display cases. An experienced art committee organizes, registers, hangs, and tags the work. Entries vary each year, but up to 70 works have been displayed at ART|WPI during one exhibit.

The exhibit kicks off with an opening reception on February 1, when attendees can chat with the artists about their works and enjoy light refreshments while they take in the diverse display of creativity and talent. Throughout the exhibit, attendees can vote for a People’s Choice award for their favorite piece.

“I love the diversity of ART|WPI. It’s an opportunity for those who might not have a chance to show their work. It’s open to everybody and I just love that. Being inclusive is very important to the process.” -Kathy Markees

Lori Willens, longtime accounting clerk in Financial Services, says she enjoys the interaction that offers time to explain her watercolor techniques with people at ART|WPI. “The way I do a lot of my paintings is different,” she says. “I use Saran Wrap or sometimes salt. I like to throw color on paper and then put Saran Wrap over that and see what happens.” People are always fascinated by hearing her methods, she says, and she shows how that base of color inspires the final painting.

The show offers a peek into the lives of colleagues and coworkers that might otherwise remain hidden. “I never knew there were so many talented people here,” says Diane Begreen, Gordon Library’s operations manager, who runs the event with Markees. “It’s jaw-dropping. There is so much talent in a technological university.”

Baer, who holds a degree in illustration, says she decided to enter her ceramic pieces last year, but had a little more hesitation. The pieces, cups with rows of realistic-looking teeth covering a smooth rim, are edgy. “I didn’t know if I should go down that road,” she says, laughing. “This was a part of me I hadn’t shown to people at WPI.” And while some found her pieces perplexing, she also met many who formed a connection based on her style and approach. The acceptance only strengthened the comfort she feels at WPI.

Visitors check out the artwork at a past ART|WPI show.

It’s that unexpected bridge that surprised people who are typically focused on more technical topics—including Baer herself. “I was so psyched there was anything art-related here,” she says.

Response has been overwhelmingly positive throughout the years. With the show missing only one year (due to staffing factors, not lack of interest), organizers get frequent inquiries about the next scheduled show.

Begreen says entries don’t always meet a standard size or typical appearance, as they run the gamut from knitted items to photography to papier mâché. “Anything that you can think of or that you can create, we will put it in,” she says.

“We even had a student enter a painting looking out the rearview mirror of a car,” says Markees, “and it had to have been six feet long. Whatever it is, we really try to be able to show it.”

With each entry bearing a descriptive tag, artists share the stories behind their inspiration so others can discover what motivates them and learn more about the materials they used. The opening reception is a time when creativity comes to the forefront. “People can come and talk about art and hear others talk about art,” says Begreen.

“I love the diversity of ART|WPI,” says Markees. “It’s an opportunity for those who might not have a chance to show their work. It’s open to everybody and I just love that. Being inclusive is very important to the process.”

For more information about ART|WPI, contact libraryexhibits@wpi.edu.

- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil