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This photograph titled “The Joy of Bubbles,” by Michael Quan is included in the “Furs, Feathers, Fins” exhibit at the Wickford Art Association, which opened last Friday and runs through Mar. 7. . The family-friendly exhibit features animal-centric work in a variety of mediums and was pushed up from its usual April slot at WAA to accomodate public school students who may visit it during their school vacation week.

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Things have gotten wild at the Wickford Art Association as the annual Fur, Feathers, Fins exhibition, which features art inspired by a wide variety of creatures both big and small in a wide variety of mediums, is on display at the North Kingstown gallery now through March 7.

“(The show) is pretty diverse this year and it’s wonderful balance of photography, painting and 3D sculpture,” WAA Gallery Director Catherine Gagnon said. “The variety offered in terms of animals is quite vast. We have everything from bugs to reptiles, fish, birds, man’s best friend and then some exotic animals.”

Normally the show is held in April, however Gagnon said a variety of factors prompted the WAA to move the show up a couple months.

“We planned it a little bit earlier this year because last year it was probably the exhibit that was the most interrupted by the COVID-19 shutdown across the state,” Gagnon said. “We planned it a little bit early also to line up with the common public school vacation week, which is this week, because it is a very family friendly exhibit featuring animals and art in all different mediums. (There’s) lots of sculpture this year, and it’s a really terrific exhibit for families to enjoy, so we wanted to make sure that it was accessible during the week of vacation.”

The exhibit features 72 pieces in a wide variety of media, particularly photography, sculpture and painting, and was juried by WAA juried member artist Betsey MacDonald, a first time jurist and former biology, chemistry and art educator whose combined her love of animals and anatomy with painting to create hundreds of animal portraits.

“(She) is an amazing artist who brings to her own art her depth of knowledge about the science of animals,” Gagnon said. “She does a lot of animals in her painting works and you can really tell that she understands the anatomy and the biology of the animal to a very, very high extent in her own work, so she brought a very interesting perspective to the show, really seeking to choose pieces for the exhibition and some prizes (for pieces) that moved her in some way, so she was a terrific first time jurist for us.“

Additionally, Gagnon said she chose MacDonald as part of a concerted effort to switch things up with the WAA’s jurist pool and give more opportunities to the organization’s juried member artists.

“I do have some jurors from the past joining us from certain shows, but I also wanted to maybe start a tradition of having one of our juried artist members actually serve as a jurist for one of our shows alone rather than on a panel, because we have several exhibits throughout the year where the pieces are selected by panels and the panel make up is always these juried artist members,” Gagnon said. “It’s kind of like this higher level of membership at Wickford Art. These folks go through a process to be selected. They have to show their portfolios and really prove that their experience and their expertise is wide and quite accomplished.”

A staggered in person opening and virtual opening night gala were held Feb. 12 for the exhibit, including an awards show, with the top honors going to “Monkey Trio” by Lisa May, which is a cast paper sculpture.

“It is absolutely extraordinary,” Gagnon said of the piece. “It’s technically the three monkeys representing See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, but there’s also a fourth juvenile monkey in the sculpture that is hanging upside down from the other three. It is technically a cast paper piece that is holding up a piece of glass in order to make it look like a table. It’s not the most functional table, but it’s absolutely gorgeous and so the piece is all paper. The sculptures themselves, the shapes are stuffed with paper. They are dressed in paper. Their fur is paper. It is absolutely an extraordinary piece and the pictures, in a way, don’t even do it justice, you really have to see it in person.”

“This sculpture is so much fun and meticulously made,” MacDonald wrote in her jurist statement. “Lisa makes and shapes this paper and ends up with dancing monkeys in colorful little vests which are also paper, holding up a piece of glass… This is a beautifully crafted and joyful piece of art.”

Second place honors went to “Beach Music,” an oil painting by Ann Hagan Webb, while third place went to Marc Jaffe for his photography piece “Looking Out.” Judge’s Awards went to “Messenger,” a gouache and paper collage by Susan Sward and “No Social Distancing,” an encaustic with 24K gold leaf, while honorable mentions went to Jodi Manca’s acrylic “Waiting” and “My World” by Paul Murray, another piece which stood out to Gagnon as it featured an image of a polar bear shot on location in the Arctic.

“We have a couple of photographers who regularly exhibit with us who take great pride in going on location for their photography, so we have one individual, Paul Murray,” Gagnon said. “He had three pieces in this show, two that are polar bears, one of which received the honorable mention, and then also… a picture of two fawn. I’m not sure where he captured that, but I do know that he was in the Arctic for both of the polar bear shots, so that’s really exciting.”

The diverse body of work comes from a variety of WAA artists from all walks of life, both personally and artistically, another point of pride for Gagnon.

“We have people like (Murray) and then we have some high school students who have some really terrific work in the show, so it’s a pretty broad representation of our membership and our exhibition community,” Gagnon said.

Fur, Feathers, Fins, Gagnon said, tends to be ne of the gallery’s more popular shows of the year, something which she attributes to the relatability and understanding that comes with animals that might not be as universally felt with other themes.

“I think that there’s an element to being able to relate to the pieces that is pretty important,” Gagnon said. “With art shows that explore more abstract concepts, you’re going to end up with pieces that the general public might not necessarily immediately get with, you might have to spend some time understanding that piece, potentially discussing that piece, in order to understand, comprehend and appreciate it for its beauty or for its aesthetic value, but I think with animals, animals are part of our everyday world and so even if you’re looking at a particular portrait of a dog, a chihuahua, laying in a pile of blankets, which is one of the pieces in our show, I’ve never had a chihuahua but I’ve had other animals and I’ve experienced that same exact feeling of watching my animal curled up in a pile of warm blankets, so there’s a connectivity that’s more immediate.”

Additionally, Gagnon said the show tends to be one of the more popular ones every year among families.

“I think because this is a very family friendly show, it has in the past attracted families visiting our gallery and we really want to encourage that as much as possible because art is and should be for everyone, regardless of age,” Gagnon said.

The exhibit is on display through March 7 during gallery hours Wednesdays through Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., and can also be viewed in full online on the WAA’s website, though Gagnon says the WAA is trying to encourage more people to visit the gallery in person again.

“We really at this point want to encourage people to come back into the gallery because it’s a safe environment,” Gagnon said. “We have worked really hard to follow all of the COVID compliance regulations that the state has put out. We have actually installed new air systems that are up and operating and it’s cleaning the air inside the space to a very, very high level and we really want people to feel more able to walk in and enjoy and spend more time in there.”

The next show at the WAA is Push-Pull-Print, which is slated to run from March 12 to April 3. For more information on the Wickford Art Association, visit their website, wickfordart.org.

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