End of an Era: The Gallery at R&F Handmade paints, 1995-2016
By Pamela Blum
In its 21 years of existence, the gallery at R&F Handmade Paints in Kingston, New York, has made significant contributions to artists who work in encaustic and oil sticks, as well as to galleries and viewers wanting an understanding of the encaustic medium. From its humble beginning in 1995 in the narrow hallway leading from the entrance to the factory, the gallery developed into an expanded, dedicated space when R&F bought and moved into its own building in 2006. During that time, the gallery has served as a focal place for discussing and understanding voices in encaustic and has provided a wonderful showcase for inspired artists’ work.
Now that R&F has expanded its product line, more manufacturing space is required. This means that reluctantly R&F is phasing out the gallery in its current location. However, its commitment to promoting the work of artists who use encaustic will continue in other forms. This article considers the gallery’s history and contributions.
At its “grand opening” in December 1995, marking R&F’s move to Kingston, the gallery invited 25 artists from the area to display their work. The first solo shows, beginning in the spring of 1996, drew from R&F’s staff which, at the time, was comprised entirely of artists. These included Jim Haskin, later R&F partner, and Darin Seim, now R&F’s president. Subsequent early shows included other artists who used encaustic, including Wayne Montecalvo, Laura Moriarty, Tracy Spadafora, and Cynthia Winika, who have all made careers teaching workshops on encaustic and oil sticks and showing their work.
In 1998 Laura Moriarty became gallery director. Laura dedicated the gallery to showing how various uses of encaustic and pigment sticks [R&F’s term for is highly pigmented version of the oil stick—ed.] had developed. She frequently chose artists who, in conjunction with their shows, taught workshops at R&F, among them David A. Clark, Lorraine Glessner, Alexandre Masino, Lisa Pressman, and Gregory Wright. There were also shows of historical importance. In 2005 the gallery showed the paintings of Rifka Angel, perhaps the first artist in the United States to work consistently in the medium of encaustic, from the early 1930s until her death in 1988. In 2010, the gallery, in collaboration with the Nancy Graves Foundation, exhibited nine large works showing Graves’ exploration of encaustic.
Blurring and crossing borders, R&F exhibitions expanded the pool of information about artists’ use of encaustic alone and with mixed media—papermaking, photography, sculpture, collage, drawing, and printmaking—the latter including monotypes and encaustic combined with traditional printmaking. The gallery showcased people who had invented and mastered these diverse methods. A few examples include Paula Roland’s monotypes; Rick Purdy’s encaustic inlay; Laura Moriarty’s layering and folding; Alexandre Masino’s and Cynthia Winika’s artists books; Lorraine Glessner’s meticulous collages; as well as Kevin Frank’s and Leigh Palmer’s painterly representational work. Staff shows featured R&F employees who not only make the paints but are skilled artists in their own right. R&F Founder Richard Frumess exhibited his encaustic tests panels, which look remarkably like art.
At the same time that the gallery at R&F was mounting innovative shows, other venues and enterprises were exhibiting and moving forward work in encaustic. The pivotal year for works in encaustic was 1999. Waxing Poetic, the Montclair Museum exhibit, raised expectations for quality and range of encaustic work. Joanne Mattera was researching artwork for her seminal text, The Art of Encaustic Painting, Watson-Guptill, 2001, for which she made use of R&F’s growing image library. By 2007 Joanne had organized the First International Encaustic Conference, an opportunity for artists to come together to explore encaustic work through seminars, demonstrations, workshops and exhibitions.
In 1997, R&F held its first Biennial Exhibition with gallerist Stephen Haller as its juror. Subsequent jurors included curator Tracy Bashkoff, and artists Judy Pfaff, Mia Westerlund Roosen, Joan Snyder, Heather Hutchison, Joanne Mattera, and Michelle Stuart. Several of these exhibits were held in the galleries of Ulster Community College, Marist College, and the College of New Rochelle in New York State’s Hudson Valley; and Ball State University in Indiana. In 2005, the biennial was taken over by the Samuel Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz to celebrate R&F’s influence on encaustic painting in the Hudson Valley. Karl Willers and Beth E. Wilson, the museum’s curator and director, respectively, curated that exhibition.
“Biennials provided a way of trying to track the development of encaustic by showing concepts and technical skills framed by each juror’s particular perceptions. These exhibits educated artists about what they could do with encaustic paint,” Laura Moriarty noted in a recent interview with me. The most recent R&F Biennials, Encaustic Works 2012 and Encaustic Works: Nuance 2014, were represented as exhibitions in print, a project Laura organized.
In 2013 Laura left R&F to pursue full-time artmaking. During the following two years, I curated shows featuring stellar work by Lisa Pressman, Lynette Haggard, Natalie Abrams, Lori Van Houten, and Marina Thompson. The final show, running through mid-January 2017, features Carol Bajen-Gahm’s mixed media paintings and my own encaustic wall sculptures.
As Laura has aptly said, “The most important part of learning [about encaustic content and technique] is actually seeing the work.” This will continue as opportunities present themselves. In the last few years R&F has been heavily involved in developing the Midtown Arts District in Kingston. That district, along with multiple venues crisscrossing this and other continents, opens up many opportunities that go far beyond the humble hallway where the gallery at R&F started.
The author would like to acknowledge and thank Richard Frumess, Laura Moriarty and Darin Seim for sharing information about the development of the Gallery at R&F. R&F plans to put online a full archive of exhibitions and exhibitors