Craven Allen pays tribute to current, past employees

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 08:13 PM

“Homecoming,” Craven Allen Gallery, 1106 Broad St., Durham, through April 19.
Gallery hours are Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For information, call 919-286-4837.

After a little more than 20 years in business Craven Allen Gallery has organized a group show for its current and former employees. Three -- Kathryn DeMarco, Mark Mooney and Jennifer Purcell -- still work at the gallery. The other seven -- Tony Alderman, Steven Braker, Helen Griffin, Joy Greenwolfe, Linwood Hart, Paul Hrusovsky and Jen Kunz -- have moved on in pursuit of their own art. 
Co-owner John Bloedorn and I talked at length about these highly educated people who worked as custom framers for so many years.
“This business started as a premier place to frame fine paintings,” he said. “Having an art gallery with exhibitions was never in our original plan, but we did have the space downstairs and eventually we fixed it up and began to show art.”  He also told me when he interviewed people for the job of framer, he asked to see their art portfolios. “If we didn’t like their art, we felt we would not like the way they would frame someone else’s art and so we didn’t hire them.” 
With the enthusiasm of a beaming parent, not an employer, Bloedorn moved from one artist to the next, pointing out they all had bachelor of fine arts degrees and a number had their master’s of fine arts degree. He also told me they all were doing art on the side and had enjoyed a good deal of success. In fact, he said, they all went into life thinking of themselves as artists.  Everyone, except Hrusovsky, had worked as a framer; he became the gallery director.
Bloedorn said he was a great help in finding artists whose work might be considered edgier. “When we began the gallery,” Bloedorn said, “we decided to show people we had a relationship with and whose work evoked a personal response, and that is still our plan.” Certainly Hrusovsky’s work fits into the edgier category with his abstract geometric forms realized in various manipulations of paint and color.
We stopped to look at Alderman’s boat scenes, and Bloedorn said he was their first employee and had taught them about framing. He pointed out the hand burnished frames around Alderman’s pictures and touched them lovingly with the respect one has for fine craftsmanship.
DeMarco is a master of collage and has been working at the gallery for 16 years; recently she has taken over as gallery director because Hrusovsky has opened his own place.  DeMarco’s subjects range from self-portraits to portraits of her pets which seem to get most of her attention. Her materials range from found paper to textural paper and very often these snippets of writing turn the tone of the image from ordinary to something else entirely.
Mooney’s “Townes” is a beautifully rendered large monochromatic painting in tones of yellows with images that seem to be remnants from some past debacle. In his artist’s statement he quotes a conversation he has with his 6-year-old about the painting. She thinks it is just a big yellow painting and when he tells her what will also be in it, she figures out it is the details that will give it meaning.
Greenwolfe, one of the two photographers in the show, has focused on watery images capturing the reflections and refractions in a pool of water. At the moment she is balancing the care of a young child and the pursuit of a master’s degree in teaching. Kunz, the other photographer, offers several images of women and children in Tanzania, where she spent more than two years in the Peace Corps. From the Peace Corps she moved to the United Nations Food Program and then to India, where she married. With her new husband she is back in the States applying to graduate schools.
A retired art teacher from Durham’s Riverside High School, Griffin now has time to work daily on her art, which involves printmaking, mixed media and graphic design.  Bloedorn said her work is almost all political, especially focusing on family equality. In her gallery statement she wrote she draws on the news and tries to promote peace and justice through visual means.
The lone sculptor among the artists is Jennifer Purcell whose background is as interesting as her work. Born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and raised in Fuquay-Varina, Purcell studied sculpture at Syracuse University, ceramics at Alfred University and did residencies in Kyoto, Japan. Her sculpture combines exquisitely worked wood, special prayer cloth material, and blown glass; she believes the objects in our daily lives, like light fixtures, should be beautiful and considered art.
Braker, a landscape artist who paints with a spare brush rather than an overly juicy one, moved to North Carolina as a “time of survival,” according to the gallery notes, and took all sorts of odd jobs, but working as a framer at Craven Allen put him back on course.  Today, he is a stay-at-home dad with outside studio space.
We stopped for quite a while in front of Hart’s work. Bloedorn said Hart had been with the gallery for 18 years and had left a lot of disappointed collectors when he moved to Minnesota. In his artist’s statement the artist said he never imagined he would move away from North Carolina but has realized you can and “there is somewhere else and you can still adapt at any age.” The work here is abstract with figures and objects embedded in the paint. He describes his technique as including “fingers, brushes, razors, scrap paper, plastic bags — whatever it takes.” 
Bloedorn said he does not know why they waited so long to showcase their employees. “These people are really smart; everybody is somebody or about to be somebody.” What a statement from the owner about the crafts people who worked for him over the years.
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at blueg@bellsouth.net or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.