Bringing contemporary art to Williamsburg, one painting at a time

219 North Boundary Street may, at first glance, appear to be an unassuming, 1920s-era Sears-Roebuck house. Step inside its glass front door, however, and you will find a cozy haven for contemporary art.

This Century Art Gallery, a non-profit gallery which opened in 1959, brings contemporary artists to Williamsburg. According to artistic director Apryl Altman, when the gallery first opened, contemporary art was lacking in a town otherwise filled with history.

“The mission of the gallery from the very beginning was to bring contemporary art to Williamsburg that people might not necessarily get to see otherwise,” Altman said. “Of course, back in the fifties, everything in Colonial Williamsburg was 18th century. [We] try to bring current art to the area.”

The gallery is composed of three exhibit spaces: The main exhibit sits just inside the door, the back of the house is filled with three-dimensional work, and a Members’ Gallery occupies the second floor.

“We like to try to find a variety of different artists and different mediums to bring to Williamsburg,” Altman said. “Upcoming, we will have four different artists in the craft area. [They are a] potter, a glass blower, a woman who makes leather pocketbooks and a jewelry maker.”

For their newest exhibit, This Century Art Gallery welcomed watercolorist Chee Kludt Ricketts and her most recent body of work, “Sky Light.” The collection is comprised of colorful and expressive skyscapes inspired by the view from her home in Standardsville, Va.

“These are a response to the world I see,” Ricketts said regarding her work. “We live on a hill on a farm, and we are surrounded by mountains. But when I would go outside every morning and every evening, what I would really notice were the skies because, where we are situated, we can see the weather change fronts coming across the mountains. A day with a blue sky might be a nice time to be outside doing something, but I really like the days where something is happening.”

Chee Kludt Ricketts displaying one of her paintings. SARAH RUIZ / THE FLAT HAT
Chee Kludt Ricketts displaying one of her paintings. SARAH RUIZ / THE FLAT HAT

The works range in mood from dramatic storm fronts to glowing golden clouds. Rickets said that, when searching the skies for inspiration, she often lets the feeling of the scene, rather than the actual scenery, guide the shape of the painting.

“The light and the color and the air will all give me a sense of what it is that I might want to create later,” Ricketts said. “It may be a rainy and gloomy day outside and I may produce something that’s bright and cheerful. I’m not trying to copy nature. I’m trying to respond to it and hopefully evoke in anyone who looks at it the same sort of feeling.”

According to Ricketts, the process is just as important to the paintings as the subject.

“I think most artists will tell you, and I believe it’s true for me, that their favorite painting is the one they’re working on because [of] the process,” she said. “It’s not so much about the finished piece. It’s about what you learn and what you experience when you’re working on it.”

Ricketts said that working with watercolors allows her greater freedom to explore the painting as she goes.

“Watercolor is unique in that it is the only medium that really allows you to put the colors down and let them flow and they mingle or granulate,” she said. “And so I thought I wanted to explore that, and from that came these expressions.”

This exploratory technique not only allows her to discover a new painting, but also to discover her own visual style.

“Art is visual communication, and I think it’s important for each of us who works creatively to develop our own visual voice,” Ricketts said. “This is part of that process for me.”

A close upp of "Quicksilver Shower." COURTESY PHOTO / CHEE KLUDT RICKETTS
A close up of “Quicksilver Shower.” COURTESY PHOTO / CHEE KLUDT RICKETTS

Although “Sky Light” is finished and ready for exhibition, Ricketts admits she is not quite finished with her study of the skies.

“I’ve been in the clouds since 2011, and I don’t think I’m done yet,” Ricketts said. “Recently I’ve begun experimenting with watercolor on canvas. It doesn’t react in exactly the same way, but I’ve found some of the effects that you can achieve on the canvas very pleasing. So that’s probably the next thing that I’m going to explore intensively.”

Having taught art herself for 50 years, Ricketts shared her advice for students who may be interested in art.

“There is great joy to be found in the process of creating,” she said. “I used to tell my students, because so many of them were headed into other careers, ‘It’ll be there for you when you are of an age where you can slow down. It’s like riding a bicycle; what you know will come back to you.’ It has certainly brought me tremendous joy to be able to create and to share.”

The collection “Sky Light” will be on display in This Century Art Gallery’s main exhibition room until Dec. 19. Office Manager Sarah Braun said that Ricketts’s work adds a unique voice to the gallery, as well as the larger contemporary art scene in Williamsburg.

“It’s a new perspective,” Braun said. “The amount of detail she puts into her work using watercolors is phenomenal. When people think contemporary art they think crazy things, like those artists in New York doing public art pieces, but all mediums are contemporary if they are in the present.”



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