Once Was and May Be is the title of the current Brian Druckenmiller exhibit at Sewickley’s Sweetwater Center for the Arts wrapping up this Saturday, July 31 with a talk with the artist from 6-7:30 p.m.
It’s also a good working title for what promises to be an interesting thematic transition as the Center welcomes a new events coordinator/curator, Carolyn Pierotti.
Sweetwater Center for the Arts began in 1975 as an ambitious civic vision by local artists, squeezing two classrooms and a photo and ceramics studio into a small Victorian house on Thorn Street (now a commercial office space). In 1988, the center moved to its present location, the Old Sewickley Post Office, which it shares with Sewickley Valley Historical Society.
Today, Sweetwater offers nearly 400 classes, workshops and lectures a year spanning visual, performing, literary and culinary arts for all ages and every skill level. A long-running concert series has featured an eclectic range of performers including Jessica Lee and Mark Strickland, Tania & Jeff Grubbs, Cello Fury, Roger Humphries, Emmet Cahill, Ms. Freddye’s Blues Band and more.
On Aug. 13 from 6-8 pm, the center marks its anniversary with a special 46 Works 46 Years Art Auction, kicking off an exhibition running through Aug. 31.
Carolyn Pierotti is an Ambridge native and a lifelong artist and arts curator, producer and teacher with a BA in painting from Carlow University. She formerly owned Percolate Gallery in Wilkinsburg, served as exhibitions chair and vice-president with Pittsburgh Society of Artists and operates her own art consulting business, Purple Room Fine Art.
Recently, Ms. Pierotti took a few moments to talk about Sweetwater’s legacy and its plans for the future.
LOCALpittsburgh: Sweetwater was part of the community arts movement that blossomed across America in the 1970s and introduced a lot of local artists to their neighbors. Do you believe these centers are as important today as they once were?
Carolyn Pierotti: Absolutely. We’ve lost art in so many places. So many school art programs have been been eliminated, and art instruction is too often put at the bottom of the academic barrel because it’s not felt to be important.
Yet it is so important for a child’s cognitive development and self-esteem. In a world saturated by social media, it’s important for kids to explore other ways to express themselves and solve problems.
Doing any kind of art teaches discipline and skills. It teaches failure and how to learn from it. And that’s good for adults as well as kids.
LOCALpittsburgh: Did that skill — learning about failure — help you in your own artistic journey?
Carolyn Pierotti: For a long time I didn’t know what my journey was. I started out as a kid making cartoons and was a huge fan of fashion magazines — the clothes, anatomy, poses. I would make sketches from those. But as a painter, I tried to paint what I thought “painting” was, if you know what I’m saying. I was confining my work to an ideal of painting that wasn’t anything to do with who I was or what I felt.
LOCALpittsburgh: How did you get past that?
Carolyn Pierotti: It was in my classes at Carlow that I discovered my own “art self”. I started pushing boundaries, painting for myself, not trying to measure up to a standard that didn’t reflect who I was.
LOCALpittsburgh: How would you describe that next phase?
Carolyn Pierotti: A lot of my past work was woman-centric … based on motherhood and self-image as a wife and mother … the work was more moody. The work I’m doing now is emotionally-charged, the colors are really bold, vibrant, and I’m working smaller. In fact, I haven’t exhibited for about three years since my Distortion show at Boxheart Gallery, and now my work has really transitioned from where I was in my life at that time. A lot of change for me.
LOCALpittsburgh: You’re showing at Thoughtrobbers Gallery in August?
Carolyn Pierotti: August 21 to August 28, with an opening reception on the 21st from 6-10 p.m. The exhibit is called Transference and is very different from what I’ve done in the past. In psychology, “transference” is when you take your feelings or your fears and place them into somewhere or somebody else. Instead of me taking the trauma I’ve felt into grief, I’ve put it into the art. The paintings I’ve been working on are reactionary.
LOCALpittsburgh: You mean, reacting to certain events or —
Carolyn Pierotti: Yes, reacting to, responding to what is happening in my life. The work I have now is coming from a better space, and this is a retrospective and evolution of the last three years, about 30 pieces. It’s going to tell a story, a narrative. Usually I stage my exhibit so the viewer moves from front to back thematically, or in time. With this show, I’ll ask the viewer to start from the back and work their way forward to see where the evolution began.
LOCALpittsburgh: Speaking of going forward, as you start your new position here at Sweetwater, how do you envision the center might evolve in the near future?
Carolyn Pierotti: In thinking about exhibitions for 2022, I’d like to stay with the center’s strong traditional foundation of the last almost half century blended with some new, out-of-the-box exhibitions, perhaps more socially-charged themes like Trigger Warning, which was very well-received despite occurring during our COVD-19 protocols.
I’d like to showcase some new artists that may have not traditionally been shown in local galleries. And maybe some artists that Sewickley and Beaver County haven’t seen before. What happens in the art world is Pittsburgh stays Pittsburgh, and Beaver County stays Beaver County. There often isn’t a lot of crossover. I might bring in some Pittsburgh artists and have them involved in more of our classes and installations. It’s a way to shine a light on this unique space we have here and build a broader audience.
LOCALpittsburgh: Regarding COVID-19, what effect have you noticed the pandemic might have had on the visual arts?
Carolyn Pierotti: I think we’re still digesting it on a personal and a professional level. For a lot of artists it’s been very hard. No openings, no place to physically show your work. It changes how you think, it changes how you work, how you communicate, how you think about your art. I think we’re still digesting what’s happened.
* UPCOMING AT Sweetwater Center for the Arts, 200 Broad Street, Sewickley. (412) 741-4405.
Sunday, Aug. 15, 2:00-6:00 p.m. Revive the Arts Festival, a free art and music festival with live bands, pottery making, plein air painting demos, food trucks at Sewickley’s Riverfront Park.
Sept. 17-Oct. 23. A new exhibition at the Center coinciding with the 25th annual MAVUNO Festival for African-American Arts & Culture on Sept. 18 at Sewickley’s Riverfront Park.