Sounds of smooth jazz waft through Pleiades Gallery; it is the perfect background for “The Music Makers,” a members’ show, which is all about a “love for the musicians of the past as well as cutting edge artists of the future.” The show announces itself in the window of its storefront location with Renee Leverty’s Paul Bunyan-size lower torso titled “Big Britches.” Whether this is a listener or a musician, it is a show-stopper.
Further into the exhibit the insides of a sound box, with a metal head attached, titled “Muzak,” becomes another Leverty figure. This show is small enough to stop and appreciate each piece for its artistry and for the stories behind the compositions. Tom Dunne offers a portrait of “Jikan Leonard Cohen, Silent One,” which salutes the Canadian music hero (1934-2016) who practiced Zen Buddhism along with his Orthodox Judaism and whose “Hallelujah” eventually became one of the most performed songs in American musical history. Jenny Blazing’s deteriorating cityscape, “Paved Paradise,” celebrates Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and the line, “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot." “Fiddler’s Magic” by Yuko N. Taylor represents yet another idea about music and those who want to remember it.
The day I visited, Taylor was in charge of the gallery which was a buzz of activity with last-minute installation details for the music exhibit. When most of those folks left, we talked about her life in the states and her painting. She told me “Fiddler” was a copy of a 1910 archival government print she found online. “I look for these vintage photographs,” she said, “and then I think about how I could weave my Japanese culture into the story.” Her “Fiddler” shows us an African American group of boys and men in an ambiguous setting. The fiddler sits on a bench of sorts; a man stands to one side, pointing to a framed portrait of a woman on the wall. Four young boys, all barefoot, dance to the fiddler’s tune. A blue border adjoins the picture at one end with a cloudless sky and a tree branch which bends from the weight of an owl watching the entire spectacle. “The owl,” Taylor said, “in Japanese culture is a symbol of luck and protection.”
Love brought Taylor to North Carolina. In Tokyo she met an American Marine, attached to the Embassy, married and came with him to North Carolina, his home. Two grown sons and a divorce later, she is a painter and a philosopher. She said in Japan young women were trained to become good wives; as an American and single, she has learned to take care of herself. “The owl,” she said, “represents me floating ideas.”
Upstairs Teddy Devereux, a fused glass artist, has a solo show. She is a retired micro biologist whose knowledge of science supports scientific themes that mesh perfectly with the technique of fused glass. She writes about nature’s patterns and biological forms and how the colors, transparency and light of fused glass make it a wonderful medium for creating microcosmic art. In her “Beach Stream,” the sparkle and glow of the glass looks exactly like a stream of water and in “Tide’s Out” that stream gets smaller as the ocean’s bottom is revealed. It is not possible to comb the beaches as Devereux does, collecting fossils and shells, and not understand how plastic trash has dirtied our shores and poisoned the fish. A small sculpture, “Impulse,” may tell it all. She explains that the sculpture was inspired by some pipe she found on the beach. The glass pipe sits in a circle of overflowing green glass and a small figure is jammed in its round opening. It is as if trash will one day consume us all.
Back downstairs I was able to catch Kim Wheaton, one of the gallery directors, to talk for a few minutes and she was all excited about the new iteration of the Pleiades dream. The gallery was founded by Leverty and Wheaton, who are both working artists. It is the only artist-member gallery in Durham and its mission, according to its website, has been to connect people to the power of art, while running a business that supports individual artists. They invited eight other artists to join with them in an artist-driven contemporary art gallery. Over the years, the eight members have changed; today there are nine as they transition to a nonprofit organization. She described the core members as divided fairly even between art school graduates and those from various other backgrounds. Among the non-art academics are a graduate nurse, retired military, corporate leaders, empty nesters and retired scientists.
Wheaton explained, “We will still have our juried members, but we will also have a board. Leverty will be chairman and one of our members will have a seat; others will represent the community. We will do more invitational shows and much more outreach. As a non-profit we can apply for grants and we can do fund raisers.” She continued, “When we decided to change to a nonprofit, we had unbelievable help from the community. A law student from Duke helped us with the complicated paper work and the organization SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) continues to give us much needed advice.”
She also said their goal is not to tell the communities what they need but to listen to what the communities want and see how they can help. And she added, “There is no arts education in the lower grades at all so we have to think critically about art and see what we can do about that.” Pleiades is in its fourth year and with its invitational shows, especially the “Truth to Power” exhibition, has made an impact on the Durham art scene. Changing to a nonprofit should ensure a long life for this group; hopefully, the people of Durham and the Triangle will give their support.
Blue Greenberg may be reached at email@example.com.
WHAT: “The Music Makers,” members show, Teddy Devereux, featured artist
WHERE: Pleiades Gallery, 109 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham
WHEN: Through July 9.