Durham News

Art show at Durham’s Carrack celebrates feminist gallery’s legacy

Carol Adamec’s painting in the exhibit is of a lily in the great outdoors, expressing the strength, beauty and resilience of nature.
Carol Adamec’s painting in the exhibit is of a lily in the great outdoors, expressing the strength, beauty and resilience of nature.

In 1978, Center/Gallery opened in a two-room space on Ransom Street in Chapel Hill.

Founded by 13 women who wanted to create a space where women artists could show contemporary work and inspire each other, as well as the community, the gallery thrived for several years until it closed in 1987.

But it has lived on in spirit, with its members continuing to support each other in their art and personal lives, though often the two are indivisible.

“Center/Gallery: Feminist Legacy/Feminist Future,” on exhibit at Durham’s The Carrack Modern Art, 111 W. Parrish St., features work by members of the Center/Gallery and women who have been mentored by these members.

A reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 20, during Third Friday Durham. At 4 p.m. Saturday, March 21, the public is also invited to a panel discussion that will include art critic Kate Dobbs Ariail, feminist commentators, art historians and Center/Gallery presidents and board members.

Virginia Tyler, who came up with the idea for the show and coordinated it, said that Center/Gallery has had an immeasurable impact on her life.

“I feel that the members of Center/Gallery need to be heard and remembered,” Tyler said. Even some of the founders who have died, like Sally Prange and Nan Gressman, will have work in the show. “I was honored to have known these people and been a part of the group,” Tyler said. “I want to thank them.”

When Tyler joined Center/Gallery in 1982, she had just graduated from Duke University where she studied public policy and art.

“But I didn’t believe that a woman could become an artist,” said Tyler, who teaches art at Raleigh’s St. Augustine’s University. “Women artists were invisible then. I had lovely art professors at Duke, but none of them were women.”

“I would go once a month to the gallery, and it changed my world,” Tyler said. “Center/Gallery gave me the confidence to say ‘yes.’ They were telling the truth about their life and selves, and that is what I wanted to do.”

One of the founders of Center/Gallery, Carol Adamec, now lives in New Mexico, but in 1976, she had just landed in Chapel Hill, newly graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Center/Gallery ended up being like graduate school for me,” she said. “The members shared their creative excellence, expertise, enthusiasm, drive and vision that provided me with crucial encouragement and support I needed for my own art making, art consciousness, professional growth, and artistic self-respect.”

Adamec’s painting in the exhibit is of a lily in the great outdoors, expressing the strength, beauty and resilience of nature.

“At the time, I was a wife and mother, and teaching art classes at the Art School in Carrboro,” she said. “I had a painting accepted into a juried show at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. With a new baby, a full schedule and no car, I wasn’t going to be able to meet the museum delivery schedule. It was Center/Gallery member Bea Schall who drove my artwork over to Raleigh so I could be in the exhibit. I can’t even imagine how or where my art or life would be without my Center/Gallery experiences.”

A fire usually starts with one spark, and here that would be Hollie Taylor. In 1977 Taylor attended a talk at UNC by Lucy Lippard, an internationally known artist and feminist.

“I was amazed at how many women artists there were in the audience,” Taylor said. This discovery led her to send out a call to Triangle women artists. With little effort, a group of women coalesced. “I think other artists in the audience were at the same place as me,” she said.

Participants gathered for discussions in people’s homes until the house on Ransom Street was rented.

“We did not set out to make a gallery, but decided after months of meeting that this was a step we wanted to take. We were primed to make a feminist gallery happen,” Taylor said. “Center/Gallery became the North Carolina nucleus to a huge and important women’s art movement.”

Her mixed-media piece in the show, “Apex and High Point,” portrays Taylor’s parents at the peak of their lives.

“I depicted my mother during her 40s when her art and her art organizational leadership were both strong,” Taylor said. “Her power stance fed my feminism, which developed in me in the late 70s.”

Hunter Levinsohn was at one of those first meetings.

“The room was stuffed full of women, all excited and very interested,” she recalled. “There was a wonderful, palpable enthusiasm.”

Levinsohn’s work in the show is “Au Pear Shrug, Congressional Wear by K Street Designs, Launder with Care.” The mixed media piece uses many Styrofoam pears.

Being pregnant and having a toddler kept Levinsohn from being able initially to be a part of the electricity of that group but in January of 1978, she ran into Schall who encouraged her to return. “I went to the next meeting. Funny thing, it was at the home of a woman who wasn’t even an artist. The group just had such amazing and positive energy. It excited everyone,” said Levinsohn.

The show, full of powerful art from artists whose reputations are valued not only in the Triangle but throughout the country, ends March 28.

Tyler’s installation in the show is a sterling silver chain that hangs from the ceiling, and attached to it is a needle with a few tufts of milkweed seed pod fluff glued to it.

“The variety of work that you are seeing in the gallery would not have existed without Center/Gallery,” she said. “I would not have made most of my pieces if I had not been inspired by these women.”

Meyer: writetoeloise@gmail.com

If you go

“Center/Gallery: Feminist Legacy/Feminist Future,” on exhibit at Durham’s The Carrack Modern Art, 111 W. Parrish St., features work by members of the Center/Gallery and women who have been mentored by these members.

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