The Violette de Mazia Foundation is about to embark on a series of classes, programs and walking tours focusing on art appreciation, and one of the more unique classes involves and exhibition called “The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World,” at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Feb. 13-27.
Artist Christine Stoughton, the instructor for the class — which will run Wednesdays in February — said she became involved with the foundation after taking a number of its courses.
“I was a teacher and a psychologist in my former life and then I went back to the Academy, and after I graduated from Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts I started teaching again,” she said. “I was teaching studio courses in printmaking, and I found that while I was great at teaching the technique of printmaking I had a harder time discussing with the students what they were trying to express in their work and trying to find the words in their vocabulary to articulate the underlying meaning in their work. I was struggling with this and somebody suggested to me that I should take the Violette de Mazia Foundation courses because it would help in finding the right words to help me with the critiques. So I started taking courses and I got hooked. I continued with them for a number of years and then they asked me to start teaching for them.”
Stoughton said the course focused on “The Female Gaze” as an opportunity for pupils to see and get insight on the diverse selection of work by known and unknown female artists.
“I’ve never seen so many works by female artists in one setting,” she said. “I think the sheer diversity of the work we will be looking at will dispel any preconceived notions of what female art is as opposed to male art. I’m looking forward to looking at that question, looking at the work and doing some myth -busting. There are so many works that we won’t be tackling all of them. This will be an introduction to the method that we teach. But I think what is unique about this is that we will be looking at the works of female artists in a great variety.”
While “The Female Gaze” will present contemporary work with a number of different media included, a companion exhibit will also be on display that will include some of the more historic pieces by female artists.
Stoughton said course participants will be able to explore links among the work through the two exhibits.
“We’ll be able to look at it somewhat historically to see what influences may have affected the contemporary work we’re looking at.”
Stoughton pointed out that one doesn’t have to be an art expert for the courses at the Violette de Mazia Foundation, as they require nothing more than curiosity and a sincere interest in learning.
“They are very universal,” she said. “Most of our students are just interested in understanding art better, but they come from very diverse professions and ages. They come from different walks of life. We teach courses all the way from grade school to seniors, so there’s no one type of student. We have a very large return rate. Most people come to us confused about how to think about and approach art. They have some ideas but aren’t very confident in their own abilities. They think they need to rely on art historical perspectives of what other people have written about. But we give them tools that make them more independent in looking at the works themselves. So it’s a very empowering feeling and, once people get hooked, we have a very large returning group of students. They always want more.”
Stoughton added that in her experience, taking the courses made her a better artist.
“What we teach is how to see more,” she explained. “Once you start that process of seeing more, you become more open to the world outside of art and to your everyday existence. What art is, is teaching people to see things in new and exciting ways. So by the sheer amount of art that I look at, it continually feeds my creative juices and makes me braver in what I attempt in my own work.”
People looking for works by LGBT artists can also head over to the William Way LGBT Community Center, which currently has two exhibitions on display.
Its Art Gallery features more than 100 pieces from the center’s permanent art collection through Feb. 22, and “Intimately Preserved” is a solo exhibition of artwork by Emmett Ramstad inspired by historical research at LGBT archives in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Bloomington, Ind., through March 29.
Candice Thompson, director of center services, said the center’s committee of volunteers decides which pieces from their collection go on display.
“When the committee decided it was time to highlight the tremendous permanent collection the center has amassed over the years, we were really committed to it being a diverse representation of the artists who have contributed their works to the collection and who have exhibited in the gallery,” she said. “Over the course of a weekend, a small group from the committee met and walked the building, examining the pieces that were installed in public spaces throughout the center and the pieces that were in storage. We felt like it was also important to highlight new additions to the collection and to include pieces that the community doesn’t see as often because they are in storage.”
Thompson added there will be more exhibitions from the archives later this year.
“The next show in the gallery beginning in March is our Eighth Annual Juried Art Competition and is a great opportunity for artists to exhibit in the space,” she said. “It’s an open call to all LGBTQ artists in the tri-state area, and this year we are very excited to welcome Amy Sadao, the new director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, as our guest juror.”
For those who want to go beyond just viewing the art the center has on display, there is much more that supporters can do, Thompson said.
“One of the most important ways the community can support the gallery is by becoming involved in the work we do to support local LGBT artists,” she said. “There are opportunities to become involved by donating your time and talents through volunteering at the center, which is priceless. Become a donor and help to fund the great work that we do. Those unrestricted dollars make such a difference. You can also consider donating your artwork to the center to help build the collection. We are focused on collecting LGBTQ artists specifically. We also host artist receptions about six times a year, so please consider coming out to support our artists and help spread the word about the local LGBTQ artistic community, which is so amazing.”
For more information on the William Way LGBT Community Center’s art exhibitions visit www.waygay.org.
For more information on the Violette de Mazia Foundation and their classes, call 610-971-9960, e-mail LFishel@demazia.org or visit www.demazia.org.