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Art center welcomes latest exhibit, education program

The artists are the heart and soul of the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center’s latest endeavor, the member’s co-op show.

“This is a brand new concept for this organization,” said Janis Wood, the center’s president. It’s similar to co-ops at other galleries, where artists get a designated space to set up themselves and display whatever works they’d like.

“You can use it as you wish,” Wood said, although artists must pay to become a member first. That’s $45, $65 for a family or $15 for a student for 12 months.

She said there aren’t many similar options nearby unless you go to somewhere like Newport News. The co-op idea launched earlier this year, and the center is now on the third iteration of it. The shows last for several weeks before rotating to something new. The current show features 14 artists throughout the main gallery.

“It’s just an exciting opportunity that they've never had before,” Wood said. “They can have a big wall, a small wall, whatever suits their body of work.”

Artist Ann Lee’s textiles mark a relatively new medium for the center. Her works of fashion, such as a purple scarf sewn on top of paper for an intricate design, stand out as they stand on racks in the building’s main room. Painter Bill Smith displays his works of his most recent interest, handmade clay jewelry, in a glass case nearby.

“It’s so much fun to have something different here,” Wood said.

Long-term member George Van Eron chose to hang a series of paintings inspired by a single photograph his daughter captured of the New York City skyline. Six artists opted to embrace the cooperative nature of the exhibit and share one wall.

Wood also asked the co-op artists to work one day a week, an effort to help the gallery. In exchange, the center asks for 20 percent commission rather than the usual 40 percent. The artists can also use the gallery to throw their own parties.

“We’ve had two really banging parties,” Wood said.

Heart and soul

Williamsburg resident Hank Mook’s paper mache artwork is another unique addition to the current lineup. The works sit adjacent to a wall adorned with paintings by his wife Elaine Abbott.

“Elaine and I have been what you would call aspiring show artists for years,” said Mook, adding that they’ve appeared at An Occasion for the Arts, Norfolk’s Stockley Gardens Art Festival and the Boardwalk Art Show along the Virginia Beach oceanfront.

The couple used to own a retail store with the Village Shops at Kingsmill. One year, they wanted an Easter display, so Mook created a paper mache Easter Bunny.

Since then, he estimates he’s made hundreds of paper mache pieces, many of them surreal and humorous.

“My selling point is whimsy,” Mook said. “It’s also political.”

“Political Hot Air,” on display and for sale during the current show, features animal symbols of political parties suspended in a hot air balloon.

It’s more a passion than a source of income for the 91-year-old, who said he likely averages 50 cents an hour in a good year. The works also take “too long” to make, even just waiting for the paper mache to dry, after which point it’s hard like wood. But such is art, and the gallery’s latest exhibit aims to highlight why such pursuits are worth the effort.

“To me, the collection of artists who are here give a very strong hint that there’s a hell of a lot of talent here in Williamsburg,” Mook said.

The numerous styles across media like paper mache, watercolor and photography spark the possibility that there’s something inside the gallery for every taste.

“You can’t measure talent,” Mook said. “It’s what appeals to the individual.”

His wife hails from a family of artists including her brother, Williamsburg artist and architect Carlton Abbott. When Marcel Desaulniers owned the Trellis in Merchants Square, Elaine Abbott’s colorful paintings of fruit lined its walls.

“She is terrific, a real colorist,” her husband said.

“It has a pretty good history,” Abbott said of the art center. She praised Wood and the rest of the board for offering the opportunity for so many diverse artists to show off their work, and she was also more than happy to come in and work once a week.

Wood was in the process of making signs for the gallery’s new art education center, where classes are already underway for adults. Mook is currently teaching the current offering, which goes in-depth on paper mache. The center plans to offer classes for kids starting in the spring.

Looking forward, the center also worked with the city of Williamsburg to take several of the sculptures, whose fates were previously uncertain, from the sculpture garden on the 900 block of Richmond Road. The center plans to display five of the more colorful ones in the garden out front over the next few weeks.

“We’re going to make a nice little home for those,” Wood said. “We’re excited."

Want to go?

The Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center, at 110 Westover Ave., is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday noon-4 p.m. The Third Members’ Co-op Show runs through Sept. 22.

For more information and to register for classes, go to .

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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