'Bridge of Light' exhibit at Slater hosts final week events

“Alegora na moreto” by Bulgarian painter Stoimen Stoilov (Courtesy Richard Harteis)
“Alegora na moreto” by Bulgarian painter Stoimen Stoilov (Courtesy Richard Harteis)

If you haven’t yet crossed the “Bridge of Light,” well, it’s not dark ... yet.

A summer-long retrospective exhibition at the Slater Memorial Museum on the campus of the Norwich Free Academy, “Bridge of Light – Artistic Illumination from the Balkans,” features 100 pieces by four decades’ worth of Bulgarian and American artists.

The show officially closes Friday, and a final reception takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The aesthetic diversity of the exhibit is alone intriguing. Pieces vary from huge oil canvases to video installations and sculpture, and the artistic inspiration ranges from Bulgarian folklore to realism.

But the connective groundwork between these artists was established years ago by the late U.S. Poet Laureate William Meredith, an Uncasville resident who also won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

During his reign as Poet Laureate in the 1970s, Meredith frequently traveled to Bulgaria, which was still a Communist country with a restrictive attitude towards cultural exchange and, indeed, a harsh attitude towards the arts in general.

In 2000, Meredith and his partner, poet Richard Harteis, sponsored an exhibition by renowned Bulgarian painter Stoimen Stoilov at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. Numerous Bulgarian and American dignitaries attended the show’s opening — including Bulgarian National Poet Lyubomir Levchev, who then initiated the Orpheus Foundation, a cooperative, reciprocal artistic exchange program.

“Over the years, William and I got to know these lively, talented folks, and through the Orpheus Foundation, numerous artists from both countries have crossed the ‘Bridge of Light’ William first established,” says Harteis, who curated “Bridge of Light.”

Last fall, Harteis and Vivian F. Zoë, Slater director, worked with New London’s Griffis Arts Center and Groton’s Alexy von Schlippe Gallery to conceptualize the show.

“Invitations were sent to any artist who had participated in the exchange program, as well as the original group brought to the Lyman Allyn,” Harteis says. “In the end, nearly 100 works were delivered to the museum and were expertly mounted by Zoë and her staff.”

In remarks at the exhibit’s opening, H.E. Elena Poptodorova, Bulgarian ambassador to the U.S., said, “Without William Meredith, this exhibit may not have been possible. His adoration and appreciation for art lives on today through his loved ones and through the William Meredith Foundation, which strives to honor his legacy of generosity and devotion to the arts.”

In that spirit, and as a final and touching element to “Bridge of Light,” Thursday will feature the presentation of the William Meredith Award for Poetry to Andrew Oerke, who died in 2013.

“Like William,” Harteis says, “Oerke believed that poetry was more than just words on a page; that it is a way of living and perceiving and relating to other people. For them, poetry can be useful in bringing about social justice and serve as a solution for changing the mind and spirit of mankind.”

IF YOU GO

What: Closing reception for "Bridge of Light – Artistic Illumination from the Balkans" and the presentation of the 2015 William Meredith Award for Poetry to Andrew Oerke

When: reception 1-4 p.m. Sunday; award presentation 1 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich Free Academy, 108 Crescent St., Norwich

For more information: (860) 887-2506

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