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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    NAC names Elected Artists

    Zhai Yujuan with her latest watercolor. (photo submitted)

    Norwich Arts Center has named Sandra Jeknavorian and Zhai “Juner” Yujuan to the elite status of Elected Artist.

    Both Elected Artists are teachers with degrees in painting. Both have been serious painters for over a quarter of a century. Both have intriguing things to say about art and the artistic experience. Their backgrounds, however, are quite different.

    Zhai comes from a Himalaya region of China that is twice the altitude of Denver. She earned two bachelor’s degrees from Quing Normal University in Xining. One thing led to another, and she ended up in New London. Last year she married another elected artist, Mark Patnode.

    Jeknavorian comes from Hartford, a region that is three feet higher than the altitude of Norwich. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Hartford Art School and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. One thing led to another, and she ended up married in Norwich, where she is a tenured professor at Three Rivers Community College and director of the art gallery there.

    Both women have deep insights into the nature of art and the work of artists.

    Asked what it means to be an artist, Zhai said, “I feel it is to use your hands to describe the seemingly ordinary but beautiful moments in life. To use your eyes to help others discover details they cannot see. To record your feelings in your special way.”

    To see and feel with artistic sensitivity, Zhai said she has trained her hands to be those of a craftsman and her eyes to be those of a child. She said she wants her sensitivity to emulate the wings of a butterfly.

    Jeknavorian sees with similar eyes.

    “I collect natural artifacts that call to me along nature walks,” she said. “They become the subjects of my most recent work. These seemingly simple and inconsequential objects, such as a piece of tree bark, upon closer inspection are personified and reveal layers of beauty, peculiar scars, and mystifying colors and textures. They have lived a life, have had experiences, and some of them will be on this earth a lot longer than us. Also explored in my work, such as my drawings of smoke, are life and death, in particular the temporary nature of the mortal body versus the ethereal nature of the soul. These drawings capture and reveal my fleeting emotions; some dark, some light as they flow through me and continue on their journey.”

    Zhai looks at the world with eyes that are both artistic and Chinese. She said, “Since I came here, I have wanted to show the formal beauty of Chinese painting. I am trying to combine the theory of western color with Chinese watercolor. I also want to introduce silk painting to Americans. I want people to know the diversity of art.”

    Jeknavorian is looking for serious artists at Three Rivers.

    “The best art students are those with open minds and the willingness to take risks,” she said. “Students who are successful don’t claim that they do not have enough time or give reasons why it’s hard for them to create art. They are of the mindset that it would be harder for them to not create their art, and they are constantly creating lots of it.”

    Zhai has been teaching art (and Chinese) at several schools, most recently online. Her approach to teaching: “Most people think artwork serves people with artistic talents. I think everyone has the freedom to enjoy art, and I do everything I can to teach them skills.”

    To qualify as Elected Artists, NAC artists must have been recognized by another art association or presented an acceptable portfolio of exceptional work.

    Both artists have work on exhibit at Norwich Arts Center at 60 Broadway. Until the end of the pandemic, the galleries are open only on Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m.

    “Wings” by Sandra Jeknavorian.

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