Gallery exhibit displays a natural instinct for art 

Artist shows connection to the ‘continuum of life’
BY KATHRYN BOUGHTON Republican-American 
Saturday, October 25, 2014 1:05 AM EDT
Image: Amelia de Neergaard of Cornwall stands Thursday in front of one of her sculptures on display at the Torrington UConn campus. Kathryn Boughton/Republican-American…

TORRINGTON — For Amelia de Neergaard of Cornwall, her life in art has brought her full circle, back to her original passion: the natural world.

The realization of her new/old direction is on display in two sister exhibits: one at the Torrington UConn campus on University Drive and the other at Five Points Gallery, 33 Main St.

De Neergaard is exhibiting “Random Order: Recycling Nature,” recent works using natural and recycled materials. She gave a presentation at the UConn campus Thursday night and will participate in an artist’s discussion at Five Points on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. 

Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, de Neergaard indulged an early passion for the natural world.

“My mother and grandfather were very interested in nature and I did a lot of exploring as a child,” she said before her presentation Thursday. “I had a museum in my room — a shell collection, rocks, fossils, butterflies. It was a big treat to go to the city to a shell shop, where I could buy all these things.”

Her interests were eclectic and persistent.

“My great-grandfather had an Egyptian collection, which I got when I was about 12,” she said. “I went to the Brooklyn Museum and had it cataloged. In elementary school I would give talks about the artifacts. Looking at this (collection of my works), it seems I have always been attracted to the remains of life — shells, skeletons, pods, twigs — which sort of connect us to the continuum of life.”

Although she said she “never thought about twigs as having such fragile beauty,” she has, indeed, discovered that beauty and her art transforms natural materials into a new language — sculptures that are rhythmic, lyrical and calligraphic.

THE WORKS ARE THE END RESULT of a creative journey that started during her high school years, continued at Bennington College, and later at the California Institute of the Arts. At Cal Arts, she was part of the Feminist Art Program.

“While working in the Feminist Art Program, I became much more aware of expressing myself on a personal level,” she said. “I learned that art was more about expressing myself, not just about making art.”

With her education behind her, she came back East and worked for two decades as a graphic designer, a job that fit nicely with her own creative schedule.

“It was a great way to make a living,” she said. “I would work for two weeks for a magazine and have two weeks off. At one point, I worked for Newsweek International. I would go to work at 4 p.m. and get out at 2 a.m. so I had days free.”

Her work was briefly put on hold when her first child was born and the family moved to Connecticut, but it resumed as her children grew older. In Cornwall, she has worked as a librarian and art educator, teaching adult and children’s art classes.

She continued her own art education by studying such craft processes as papermaking, basketry, wirework and fiber techniques, all of which have found expression in her art.

“I’ve always been interested in crafts,” she said, adding that today she is drawn to the linear qualities of branches, twigs, vines and pods, where using “found” lines adds an element of chance and randomness that often inspires new forms.

“Randomness and order are opposing ideas,” she said. “That interested me a lot — taking ordered things and breaking them up; taking random things and imposing order. Trying to create random pictures is harder than you would think, particularly when using natural materials.”

She said she focuses on “drawing in space,” using natural materials to create layered lines, complicated webs or single, elegant lines.

“Important to me are the ways of connecting these elements, the details and the craft,” she said.

PAMELA BRAMBLE, ART INSTRUCTOR at the Torrington UConn campus, coordinates ARTS Projects events on the campus, arranging exhibits and lectures for students and the local community. The programs complement the school’s Litchfield County Writers Project, which regularly brings area authors to the school to discuss literary works.

Bramble said the central tenet of the ARTS Project is “to feature the creative process and to exhibit finished works, sketches and source materials.”

In de Neergaard’s case, a Cabinet of Curiosities exhibits natural and ethnic objects that have inspired the artist over the years, as well as experiments with various techniques and media. Six of her sculptures are shown in The Brick Wall exhibition space.

Five Points Gallery is showing more of her work until mid-November in its first collaboration with the school. Gallery hours are Thursdays through Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.