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Biggs Museum's plein air exhibition celebrates nature

Wilmington's Evans contributes work to effort


Despite the current dreary, cold weather, the calendar tells us that spring will arrive at 5:37 a.m. Saturday.

It’s a time to get out and enjoy nature and all that it has to offer.

To that end, the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover is showing the exhibit, “In Fresh Air: Impressionism and the Plein Air Movement.”

“Plein-air” is a French term that translates to “open air.” Paintings in this style were created by artists who brought their supplies to scenic outdoor settings and painted what they saw.

Drawn from works rarely seen at the Biggs Museum, the exhibition tracks the influence of plein-air painting in the United States, particularly in Delaware, with a focus on the museum’s extensive Barbizon, tonalist and impressionist collections.

Over 100 years of paintings connected by the plein-air tradition are brought together in the comprehensive exhibition. The artistic drive to leave the studio and collect inspiration, impressions and ideas directly from nature is featured.

Longtime Delaware-based artist Mary Page Evans has a work in the exhibit titled, “Horizontal Sea Series.” The triptych is made up of three paintings she created while looking at the waters in Florida, where she frequently visits.

Painting for more than 50 years, she primarily works in the plein-air milieu, and her creations hang in numerous public and private collections, including at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Delaware Art Museum, the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

She even has two paintings hanging in the White House, as prized possessions of her friend and Wilmington neighbor, President Joe Biden.

“I always paint in nature, and I always quote (19th-century postimpressionist painter) Paul Cezanne. I love this quote. He said, ‘Painting from nature is not copying the object. It is realizing one’s sensation.’ It’s about feeling for me. It’s about how I feel about what I’m seeing. I paint directly from nature,” she said.

A music history major in college, Ms. Evans said she took some great art history courses, which put her on more of an art track.

“In college is where I ‘met’ Cezanne, as I say. But I’ve also had great mentors like (painters) John Mitchell and Grace Hartigan and Gene Davis. I played the piano but took great art history courses, and then, I started painting as I graduated, and the rest is history. I’ve been painting ever since,” she said.

She added that one of her favorite spots to paint nature is in Rehoboth Beach, where she and her husband, Tom, a former three-time U.S. representative, have a cottage.

“I used to paint a lot in those fields out there, but now, the developers have taken those over. That’s what happens when you paint from nature — development comes in,” she said.

Her other preferred spot is Florida, from where the Biggs piece sprang.

“I go down to a friend’s place right on the ocean. I haven’t painted the seascapes for a while because I’ve been doing palm trees these days,” she said.

Ms. Evans said she is heavily influenced by plein-air pioneers, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.

“Those are painters who painted the sky and the sea,” she said.

At 83, she said art keeps her young and still invigorated.

“One of my mentors, Gene Davis, who is a wonderful painter, always said (that) if you’re going to steal, steal from the rich. I love that. I steal from Constable and all of the really good painters. I go to museums all the time, so I’m always looking at art,” she said.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in museums because I want to look at the best. And so I’m used to going to the National Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum. I go to them all,” she said.

Even at her advanced age, Ms. Evans said she has no intention of slowing down.

“I’ve always said painting from nature keeps you honest. It’s just you, your paint and what you’re seeing out there,” she said.

Along with the plein-air display, there is another new exhibition at the Biggs, titled, “Out of the Vault: Modern and Contemporary Art.”

Guests can witness an evolution of the Biggs through a reinstallation of the museum’s entire third-floor galleries to feature rarely exhibited paintings, photographs, sculpture and crafts from the post-World War I period to the contemporary arts of today. Much of this work has been added to the collection in the past 10 years but has rarely been shared with the public.

Both exhibits will run until June 19.

In addition to the new displays, the Biggs has extended “Toni Frissell: In Italy with the Tuskegee Airmen” through April 24. The imminent fashion and society photographer, Toni Frissell (1907-88), held several official positions with the American Red Cross, the Women’s Army Corps and the U.S. Air Force to document World War II. This exhibition highlights her images of the Tuskegee Airmen from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Located at 406 Federal St. in Dover, the Biggs Museum is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations are recommended to avoid wait times. Daily admission tickets can be reserved in advance here or by calling 674-2111.

Benefit concert

The Milton Theatre is one of the few performance venues on the East Coast to stay in operation for the significant part of the pandemic. Despite regulations and numerous modifications to its operations, the theater continues to bring live performances at a reduced capacity and modified staging.

To that end, they have established the Milton Theatre COVID-19 Relief Fund to keep things running during a tough time.

On Sunday at 7 p.m., local musicians Vince Varassi, Ken Schleifer, Jeff Cooper and Cody Leavel of jazz quartet 5th Avenue will come together for a live performance benefiting the relief fund. All ticket sales will go toward the collection.

Created by jazz saxophonist Ken Cicerale, the band’s unique arrangements, both vocal and instrumental, have produced jazz favorites throughout Delmarva and New York.

Tickets are available here.

For individuals or groups larger than four, call the box office at 684-3038 for assistance.

The Milton Theatre is located at 110 Union St.

Stories sought

The “Rehoboth Beach Reads” Short Story Contest invites writers to submit stories of 500-3,500 words that feature Rehoboth Beach and fit the year’s theme, which for 2021 is “Beach Secrets.”

The first-place winner will receive $500, second-place $250 and third-place $100. The top 20 to 25 stories will appear in the anthology, “Beach Secrets,” to be published by Cat & Mouse Press in November. The contest, now in its ninth year, is sponsored by Browseabout Books.

The deadline for entries to the contest is July 1. The fee is $10 per entry, and each writer can submit up to three stories. Entries will be evaluated by a panel of judges and chosen based on creativity, quality of writing, suitability as a beach read and fit with the theme. Contest information and guidelines are posted here.

Potential entrants are encouraged to read, “How to Write Winning Short Stories,” and its companion workbook (available at local bookstores and online) and look at the previous books in the Rehoboth Beach Reads series to see the kinds of stories selected in prior years.

Now Showing

New this weekend in the theaters is the true-life historical thriller, “The Courier,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel Brosnahan.