Mount Washington's Three Graces to be Featured at Fremont Gallery

Kim Axelrod Ohanneson

(Originally published in Patch, on April 21, 2011)

These three Mount Washington artists are featured in the Fifteen Graces Show at the Fremont Gallery in South Pasadena.

In Greek mythology, the Three Graces were the daughters of Zeus, and goddesses of charm, creativity and beauty.

The same qualities imbue the art of Julie Nagesh, Connie Rohman and Gilly Shaeffer.  The Mount Washington artists are three of the Fifteen Graces, the newest show at Lida Chavez and Carlos Chavez-Andonegui’s Fremont Gallery in South Pasadena.  Opening May 1st with an artists’ reception from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and honoring the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Women’s International History as established by the U.N., the show features work by fifteen female artists who come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and countries. 

A similar diversity of disciplines is reflected in the work of Mount Washington’s Three Graces.  Nagesh works with kiln-fired glass to create stunning wall hangings and large-scale sculptures such as the shimmering, sensual kimonos that will be seen in the Fifteen Graces show. Rohman uses fabric and thread as her canvas and paint, reinterpreting traditional quilting techniques to produce vibrantly elegant wall hangings such as her “Line/Language” series in which hidden messages are incorporated into the design. Shaeffer creates coolly beautiful botanical illustrations that are almost architectural in their spare simplicity.

The mother of the Three Graces was Eurynome, the goddess of "water-meadows and pasturelands"; similarly, the three artists are creatively nourished by the urban oasis that is Mount Washington. Native toyon, one of Mount Washington’s iconic plants, is a frequent subject for Shaeffer, who took time out from a retreat of silence at an undisclosed seaside location for a phone interview.  Nagesh loves the “eclectic, diverse community” of Mount Washington as well as the opportunity to be in “constant contact with nature.” And given that leaves and vines as well as language are common motifs in her work, it’s not surprising that Rohman finds the intellectual and artistic community as stimulating as the “organic, natural world, not the built world” that is such an integral part of the hillside community.

Lured to the Arroyo Seco in the 19th century by journalist and Los Angeles booster Charles Lummis, artists embraced and were inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, which combined the practical and the humble with the artistic and the elegant.  Interestingly, the chosen media of the three Mount Washington artists all started out as crafts or “practical” arts. Shaeffer notes that botanical illustrations date back “from the first century, when people would record information about plants for medicinal use” and the goal was to be as accurate and realistic as possible.  Now, notes Shaeffer, botanical illustrators strive to bring their own individual “feeling and style” to their work via placement and editing of the subject.

Similarly, over the past few decades, work in fiber and glass, once relegated to the subcategory of “craft”, is now more widely celebrated as art.  Rohman, who describes her work as “abstract conceptual art that references quilting and uses traditional quilt blocks,” notes that furthermore, “there has been a movement in the [artistic] community to classify “’fiber art’ as just simply ‘art’ with fiber as the medium.”

“Elevating the field has been my goal,” concurs Nagesh. “There aren’t that many great [glass] artists; maybe seven or eight.”  Gallery co-owner Chavez-Andonegui  agrees that there are far more “hobbyists than fine artists” in all three fields and that in addition to Nagesh, who has been represented by the gallery for several years, he wanted to include Rohman and Shaeffer’s work in the show because “it’s very, very good.”

Fifteen Graces, which runs through May 27, 2011, will be featured in the South Pasadena Art Walk on May 7th, the Saturday before Mother’s Day, when shuttles will transport art enthusiasts to other Arroyo Seco- adjacent galleries in addition to the Fremont Gallery, which architects Chavez and Chavez-Andonegui created out of part of their office.

“It’s so beautifully designed,” enthuses Nagesh.  “It’s full of space and light.”

Just like Mount Washington….


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