Tev Stevig Contemplative Guitar Solos

Jeni Jol
Sain Clawhammer CLAW-001
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Tev Stevig was raised in California and studied jazz guitar at Boston’s Berklee School of Music. I mention this because you won’t hear much of that on Jeni Jol. The phrase is Macedonian Roma and means “the new path,” an interesting choice since the solo guitar and banjo pieces feel (and often are) old. Stevig mines Turkish, Greek, and Balkan tunes for an album, but his is not a revivalist’s collection; in fact, the mood and style are evocative of John Renbourn’s world music forays. Like Renbourn, Stevig uses short bass runs to set up liquid melody cascades. He prefers dance cadences and the fluidity of his phrasing evokes the elegance of dance. The album’s dozen tracks are pretty evenly divided among original material that sounds ancient, traditional tunes of unknown provenance, and Turkish composers–especially those of Erkan Oğur. He also sometimes uses an African clawhammer and frailing banjo styles on fretless guitar. The Balkans are the direct inspiration, but unless you listen closely, you might think of it as  Renaissance court music that migrated south and east. It is a lovely album for background music, quiet contemplation, or serious listening. Methinks quite a few guitar pickers will develop serious envy from listening to this superb recording.

Rob Weir


Smith College Museum of Art: Jewel of the Valley Art Crown

Pioneer Valley Delights IV:
Smith College Museum of Art, the Jewell in the Crown

Sheeler, Rolling Power
Last summer, two New Zealand friends visited and we popped into the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA). When we entered the third floor permanent collection gallery, Janet craned her neck to observe a wall of Impressionists and exclaimed, “There are more masterpieces on that wall then there are in all of New Zealand!” Masterpieces, of course, are in the eye of the beholder (and the pocketbook of the rich), but she’s not the first to be (if I may) impressed. There are but a handful of college art museums in the nation that can hold a torch to the SCMA, most of them scattered among the Ivies.

The SCMA doesn’t just collect–it’s a teaching museum par excellence. I wanted to use some art images for my Civil War class last fall and approached the museum’s enormously resourceful educational staff. They invited me to bring my class into the curatorial area, where they displayed an array of Matthew Brady photographs, Winslow Homer woodcuts, and original illustrations from Frank Leslie’s and Harper’s Weekly. I made sure that my young charges appreciated the depth of their extraordinary experience. The area in which they were working held an astonishing 1600 drawings, 8,000 prints, and 5,700 photographs!

The SCMA is a treasure chest, but it doesn’t make you feel like you’re being buried under a mound of shiny offerings. Because it is a teaching facility as well as a repository, the museum displays its fanciest baubles and puts on its work clothes in galleries whose content changes. The SCMA is spread across four floors, but only third and half of the second remain (relatively) static. The first floor is generally devoted to temporary exhibitions, like last summer’s rock posters of the Sixties extravaganza, and the more subdued (but also stunning) current exhibit of Anne Whiston Spirn’s landscape photographs. Like most college museums, the SCMA collects broadly rather than specilizing. Walking through the SCMA is akin to a virtual Art 100 textbook. This is especially true of its European collection, where you’ll find Cézanne, Courbet, Kandinsky, Manet, Monet, Pissaro, Rouault, and Seurat, among others. But you’ll also find antiquities, mannerist works, European romantics, African carvings, Inuit art, Impressionists, Abstract Expressionists, Chinese calligraphy, Ethiopian diptychs, medieval paintings, Native American beadwork, Latin American art works, and American paintings from the Colonial period to the present. Smith also honors its status as a women’s college with works by female artists ranging from Jaune Quick-to-See Smith to Georgia O’Keeffe. Make sure you walk down side corridors and into study galleries to see what Smith art students are contemplating. Lots of visitors make the mistake of neglecting the ground floor, which is where the SCMA houses more contemporary works. These works are generally not as good as those at the Mead (Amherst College), but they’re well worth a peek. In other words, the SCMA is a true jewel–heck, even the benches and restrooms are artist-designed.

My favorites are admittedly idiosyncratic. My top pick is Rolling Power by Charles Sheeler. It’s from 1939 and is a major work of Precisionist painting. I like it because it’s both geometrical and ideological. Sheeler just painted the bold shapes of a locomotive’s wheels, pistons, and drivers, but they end up as a synecdoche for American industrial might that we know (in retrospect) was bloodied by the Great Depression and chugged off into the postindustrial sunset during the 1970s.

Pissarro, Old Chelsea Bridge
You can see all of the images mentioned here on my Facebook Page, but here are some others I really like. I get a chuckle out of the huge honker of a nose on Johann Zoffany’s The Oboe Player, which stands in inelegant contrast to a gilded paining by Charles Pearce, Cup of Tea. It’s hard not to love any and all of the Rouen Cathedral series by Monet, or the stony solidity of Bridge at Moret by Theodore Rousseau. Camille Pissarro has always been my favorite Impressionist, in part because he didn’t always paint “pretty” subjects. I love his 1890 Old Chelsea Bridge, London.

The huntress Diana gets a double work out at the SCMA, once as an insouciant young girl by sculpture Jean A. T. Falguiiére (see image) and again in the controversial nude cast by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that once topped Madison Square Garden. Speaking of Madison Square Garden, Childe Hassam’s 1891 painting of the taxi stand outside that building is among my favorite Gilded Age paintings of all time. 
Childe Hassam

Want some drama? How about Gérôme and his 1850 Leap of Martius Curtius? Or Taddeo di Bartolo’s bloody 15th Century Death of St. Peter Martyr? Hardly anyone outside the Pioneer Valley knows the work of Edwin R. Elmer and the SCMA has two reasons for self-education, Lady of Baptist Corner, Ashfield, and Mourning Picture. The latter is a stunner. It looks like an idyllic 19th century rural scene unless you know that the curly-haired girl at the left has died, that her parents are in mourning, and that everything you see is either a death or
Mourning Picture
mourning symbol. A brighter favorite is View of Northampton, 1865 by Charles Farrer, which really is idyllic ruralism. It’s also an instant time machine, as it sits at the end of a gallery whose window opens toward the very spot upon that Farrer painted. It predates the founding of Smith College and few can resist the game of trying to transpose the present upon the past.

Get the feeling I love it all? I do. Check out Joseph Wright’s magical cavern, Randall Dahl’s disturbing look at the old Belchertown state school, Honoré Sharrer’s enigmatic Music for a Ballerina, and yes, stuff from O’Keeffe, Degas, Marsden Hartley, and others. Visit and share your favorites.

Important notice: Visit soon! The SCMA will be closing some of its galleries for renovations sometime this summer. Consult the Website: http://www.smith.edu/artmuseum/


Don't Overlook UMass and Hampshire College for Art

Pioneer Valley Delights III:
University of Massachusetts Amherst and Hampshire College

Katy Schimert Sculpture
Visitors seldom consider UMass or Hampshire College to get their art fixes. Neither school possesses extensive permanent collections and I suppose serious collectors would say that neither school possesses iconic works. UMass has only been collecting since 1962, and Hampshire College didn’t even exist until 1970. UMass possesses just 2,800 objects–mostly photographs, prints, and works on paper, and Hampshire has but a single small gallery and houses what little it owns in the library ephemera collection. Sound as if you can give them a miss? Do so and you’ll miss out on all manner of things you’d not see elsewhere.

UMCA--The Building is Ugly, the Exhibits Thoughtful
UMass Amherst is the Commonwealth’s flagship public university–the key word being public. Taxpayers aren’t going to shell out for million-dollar Rembrandts hanging on the walls, but they will fork over for an innovative arts curriculum and a museum or two or seven that complement the educational mission. That’s right–seven. UMass is a small city unto itself, with a total student body of around 28,000 and over 1700 faculty members. UMass approaches its museums as dynamic changing galleries rather than static exhibition space. One of the more innovative of these is the Augusta Savage Gallery located in New Africa House, which features art from African Americans and others from the African Diaspora. There’s currently an exhibit there of paintings by Oliver Lake, who is best known as a jazz saxophonist. He’s actually a bit of a Renaissance man who also produces whimsical images that draw on folk tales and animal stories. The gallery in Herter Annex generally features work by faculty, visiting artists, or students. I was particularly taken with a current exhibit by landscape architecture professor Jane Thurber titled “Lenses.” Her work uses geometric shapes for everything from accordion books to tissue collages and cutouts to call our attention to ways of seeing and perceiving. There are additional galleries at the Southwest Residency Area dining hall (Hampden Gallery), a space in the Student Union Center, another in the Central Residency Area, and still another in the Studio Arts Building. 

Katy Schimert Painting
The centerpiece of UMass galleries is its Contemporary Art (UMCA) facility inside the Fine Arts Building (FAC). Let me get this out of the way. I’m a UMass alum and I teach there. I adore the big sprawling university, but the FAC–which dominates the end of the bus circle at the campus main entrance–is the ugliest building east of Boston City Hall, a hulking white whale that legend holds is supposed to look like a monumental piano from the air. It doesn’t; locals dub it the Starship Enterprise (in concrete). It’s also an appallingly awful place for anything related to the arts and one can only admire anyone who displays beauty amidst such brutalism. My chapeau tip goes to director Loretta Yarlow, who does interesting things in a space that could be better used to store drywall.  Changing exhibitions are the UMCA’s s trademark (consult https://fac.umass.edu/UMCA/Online/). Right now there are two very interesting exhibits.  The first is from New York-based artist Katy Schimert, who is serving as an artist-in-residence. Her large paintings are watery and water-themed, but they also have a hand-dyed quilt-like quality. She has a fascination with the octopus, but as rendered in dreamy semi-abstractions. She also renders sea bottom ridges in glass that are evocative of psychedelic Bakelite. Her love of the sea is also represented by four canvases from the relatively unknown Thomas Chambers (1806-86). I was smitten by two depicting castles on the Rhine that are reportorial, but which also evoke the fanciful hilly landscapes imagined by 17th century Dutch artists if they had used colors by Instagram and the sensibility of early video games such as Myst.

Thomas Chambers Castles on the Rhine
When you see ‘famous’ artists at UMass, it’s usually in the form of drawings or photos. There’s currently a nice exhibit titled “Fractured: The Modern Nude,” that sports depictions (mostly photographs) from luminaries such as Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus, and Jared French.

As noted, Hampshire College has very little in the way of a permanent collection, but what it does have is a student body and faculty that march to a different drummer. Its gallery, located in the basement of the library, tends to supplement offerings on urban history, ethnography, natural sciences, and the visual arts. There’s generally some student and faculty art on display. Most of what you see there is from artists whose names you don’t know–yet. A recent show featured photographs of James Baldwin; the current show is of work from Hampshire’s Division III (advanced studies) students. Much of it is gloriously off-kilter and unusual. Ken Burns is a Hampshire grad and his visual arts focus endures at Hampshire.   Rob Weir