Film series connects Lyme Academy College and The Kate

“Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings” includes footage of the installation of his works at MASS MoCA. (Courtesy Checkerboard Film Foundation)

Last spring, the The Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts and The Katharine Hepburn Center formed a collaboration with its “Bridging the Arts” film series.

 The curated art films, shown at The Kate and produced by the Checkerboard Film Foundation, aim to give students and the general public an intimate view into the lives and processes of iconic artists who’ve made and are making major contributions to American arts.

This year's series begins on Tuesday, and each film will be introduced by an expert on the featured artist.

Edgar Howard created the nonprofit Checkerboard Film Foundation, based in New York City in 1979, which has since made more than 50 films on American artists. Starting on 16-mm film, the productions have evolved through the years to digitalization and hi-definition formats.

“Our mission statement is essentially to produce these films for education and archival purposes,” Howard explains. “We reach out to libraries, film festivals, art galleries, etc. in the U.S. and (more recently) around the world. Our next major challenge is to archive and preserve an estimated 450 hours of interviews — some that never made it into the films — with artists, architects, photographers, writers, dancers, art historians and others. Ultimately, we want to make this amazing material available for research purposes.”

Howard credits Marguerite d’Aprile Quigley, director of arts programming at Lyme Academy College, with the idea of a collaboration between the college and The Kate.

“The whole thing came about when Henry and Mary Dunn of Old Lyme made an extraordinary gift and gave a copy of all 50 of our films to Lyme Academy College in January of 2013,” Howard says. “They’ve been doing this ever since, and just last month donated our latest three films to (the college).

“It was Marguerite’s idea to not only make the films available to the students, who had access to the collection already in the library, but to also reach out to the community,” Howard continues. “So that’s how it really started. I think it’s a wonderful concept.”

Brett Elliott, executive director of The Kate, says the audiences for the films have been growing. He says he likes the fact that the series is so professionally produced “but not necessarily above anybody,” adding that the film series makes the featured artists and art very accessible.

“People who’ve come have really enjoyed it and come back for the next one,” he says.

“The Kate has typically done a lot of theater and music and so now we’re spending a lot of time thinking about other arts organizations and how we can partner with them and do great things with them,” he adds. “It’s super unique that the Lyme Academy has access to the Checkerboard Art Film series and that we have the equipment and the space to show it. (Hence) the name ‘Bridging the Arts.’ It’s very good for both of us to explore things outside the regular network.” 

Upcoming films

The first film that will be shown is “Picasso & Braque.” The film, which will be shown on Jan. 24, features William S. Rubin, director emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art’s department of paint and sculpture, who, in 1989, organized the museum’s groundbreaking exhibition “Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism.” It included more than 400 paintings and sculptures by the artists and charted their partnership from 1907 until 1914 when Braque went off to serve in World War I.

A short talk before the film will be given by Nancy Peel Gladwell, associate professor of painting at Lyme Academy College, where she has been teaching since 1994.

Gladwell points out that this film reveals a lot about the close relationship between Picasso and Braque, of which the general public may not be aware.

“Rubin talks in depth about these two artists because it’s really a singular act,” she says. “I can’t think of any two artists launching on the same path, who met each other and engaged in six or seven years in conversations about painting and art.

“There are lots of examples of Braque’s and Picasso’s work done in the same year that look to the untrained eye almost like twin paintings — they could be painted by either one,” she adds. “But if you look a little deeper, you see that they came from very different backgrounds. Braque we know basically from Cubism — that’s it. He was more of a Fauve — like Matisse or Derain. He felt he needed more structure. Picasso’s work before this was heavily influenced by African, tribalistic art. There was never a career like (Picasso’s) — it spans so many different styles and interests. But both artists were tremendously influenced by Cezanne and both felt they had to keep a foothold in what the natural world looked like.”

Gladwell says of the art films overall, “They’re just really interesting and amazing educationally. There is a lot of interest in the arts in this area — it’s highly educated about art — and so, these films serve both the public and our students.”

“Two Masters of American Photography: Siskind & Callahan” are the next films in the series and will screen on Feb. 28. These two short films focus on two great masters of 20th-century photography.

“Aaron Siskind” is filmed on location in Martha’s Vineyard and Lima, Peru, and surveys the photographer’s work over half a century, from his social documentaries of the 1930s to his abstract imagery of found objects, stone walls and graffiti in later decades.

“Harry Callahan” is a portrait of the photographer from the mid-1940s through the 1960s. Recognized for the quiet elegance of his pictures, he discusses his work, and his wife Eleanor — his principle subject — and his daughter Barbara recall their experiences.

“Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings” at The Kate on March 21 celebrates the region’s renowned pioneer of conceptual art. LeWitt (1928-2007), who grew up in Hartford and lived for many years in Chester, produced more than 1,200 wall drawings, deliberately using limited lines and geometric shapes to create remarkably complex works. The film spotlights a major LeWitt retrospective at MASS MoCA that includes 105 works spanning his career from 1969 to 2007 on approximately 40,000 square feet of old mill wall surface.

COMING UP

Tuesday, Jan. 24: “Picasso & Braque” will screen at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 28: “Two Masters of American Photography: Siskind & Callahan” (2 films) will screen at at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, March 21: Sol LeWitt: “Wall Drawings”at 5:30 p.m.

The films are produced by Checkerboard Film Foundation and co-sponsored by Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts and Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, where they will be shown. Each film runs less than one hour and will be introduced with a brief lecture. The Kate is at 300 Main St., Old Saybrook.

Tickets are $15 general admission and can be ordered online at www.katharinehepburntheater.com or call (860) 510-0473.

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