BENNINGTON — Marcy Hermansader has spent the better part of her adult life creating art described traditionally as "works on paper." However, her work could be better known as "works with paper," a moniker which reflects her artistic ethos.
An eclectic selection of this passion will be on display this summer, as the Bennington Museum just opened the exhibition "it is all a mystery: Marcy Hermansader drawings, 1981-2015." The show will span 35 years of Hermansader art, representing 14 works drawn from four distinct periods of her thematic emphasis.
"The paper is often just a background to work on," Hermansader said. "But I may cut into it, creating flaps or windows or punctures, as if seeking something vital inside or behind it. On the other hand, weaving paper or building up layers has seemed to me like an attempt at repair, the repetition of small marks, an act of meditation."
Museum curator of collections Jamie Franklin conceived of the show, and said that each of Hermansader's works is both fleeting and ephemeral, resulting in a highly material and haptic experience for the viewer.
"Hermansader's work is akin to sophisticated visual poetry," Franklin said. "Each image is a distillation of the artist's emotive responses to that which she encounters in her daily life. Based on her revelations, both large and small, and her responses to events in the world, the art opens the viewer's eyes, mind, and heart to universal experience."
A series of contrasts, Franklin continued, runs its course throughout the exhibition: personal vs. universal, macro vs. micro, life vs. death, war vs. peace, and many other such divergent life forces.
The seeds of this creative friction were planted in Hermansader's earliest days and memories as a child. She was born in 1951 on Long Island, the youngest of three children. At age nine, her family moved to West Redding, Conn. She said that both her parents were creative and encouraged her endeavors.
"My parents rebelled against their strict Pennsylvania Dutch religious upbringings by raising their children without a spiritual practice," Hermansader said. "Feeling the need for one, at a very young age I invented my own [by] making offerings to pieces of African and pre-Columbian sculptures in our home. They seemed to have mysterious powers and spoke to me of a world beyond the everyday."
Hermansader took her interest to college, attaining a BFA from Philadelphia College of Art in 1973. She said she majored in sculpture because its department at PCA "seemed to be more lively." There, Hermansader studied under Cynthia Carlson, Ree Morton, and Rafael Ferrer, three noted sculptors she considered excellent teachers and mentors.
But more friction ensued, which ultimately led her to the drawings for which she is known today.
"After graduating I realized that I did not have the resources or personality to continue doing the large installation sculptures I had done in school," Hermansader explained. "[So] I continued to draw, [but] had never really stopped. In addition to drawing on paper, I have used paper in other ways [such as] weaving it, making collages, and rolling it into large spirals."
The current exhibition plays on many of these creative nuances, yet for an artist with a prolific life opus, it's a compact retrospective. Still, the earliest work in the show, "Seveso," dates to 1981, and commemorates a serious industrial accident in Italy.
There are also drawings where Hermansader – who has lived in Putney for more than three decades - used as a point of departure the photographic postcards that are contained within them.
Included also in the show, Hermansader said, are several dark collages she made in response to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most recent works on exhibit are drawings inspired by specific plants, insects, and insect structures.
"I study them but do not depict them literally," she said.
Hermansader's art is represented by BigTown Gallery in Rochester, (Vt.) and Fleisher-Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia. Her work is part of the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the DeCordova Museum, and The Robert Hull Fleming Museum.
The exhibition will run through July 31. In all, Hermansader said that her process begins with the unknown, and never quite ends, but continues to grow.
"It is all a mystery beginning when something calls to me," she said. "Perhaps [it's] an object as small and specific as a seed, or as large and formless as two faraway wars. Time passes. Sometimes weeks, sometimes years. But it comes back to me, reduced to an essence or built into a web of connections."
"it is all a mystery: Marcy Hermansader drawings, 1981-2015," will run through July 31 at Bennington Museum, 75 Main St. Info: 802-447-1571, or visit benningtonmuseum.org
— Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist