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Arts & Culture
Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

The Springfield Museum of Art's Members' Exhibition Closes Sunday

Aillen Cave's "Carmazzi's" recently won second place in the Springfield Museum of Art's Annual Juried Members' Exhibition.
Springfield Museum of Art
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Aillen Cave's "Carmazzi's" recently won second place in the Springfield Museum of Art's Annual Juried Members' Exhibition.

This weekend is the last chance to see the Springfield Museum of Art’s 75th Annual Members' Exhibition.

The yearly show is actually older than the museum.

Collections and Exhibitions Manager Elizabeth Wetterstroem says it's the members' exhibition that gave birth to the museum, not the other way around.

"Basically, the Women’s Town Club in Springfield is who formed the exhibition the first year," she says. "Then, a few weeks later, all of the artists who were in that show took a vote on some officers, and that’s who formed the Springfield Art Association. So, this really launched the beginnings of the museum."

Decades later, the Springfield Museum of Art hasn’t lost touch with its roots. Anyone who buys an annual membership can submit work to the show, and at least one piece will get in. So, membership has its privileges, and members are the driving force.

This year's show has 122 pieces by 87 artists, most of them local and many well-known.

And all that work arrives at the museum on the same weekend.

"It’s one of my favorite days of the year," Wetterstroem says. "The artists will start to trickle in over the course of a few hours, and the gallery starts to fill up. It becomes very colorful in here, and it’s really neat to be able to see the work once it’s in person and as you start you see how the work might fit together in an exhibition."

There’s a wide variety of art, too. From painting and photography to sculpture and tapestry. It seems there's something of every style in every medium.

SMoA Members' Exhibit | Nathan Conner | JAZZ MAN | Acrylic painting on marble paper
Springfield Museum of Art
Nathan Conner's "Jazz Man."

In addition to launching the museum, this is an exhibition that helps boost careers.

Nathan Conner retired from a Honda assembly plant less than a year ago, and he just won third place in the exhibit. He has a degree and a background in art and design, but when he retired, he wasn’t sure he wanted to invest in an artist studio.

Then, he brought some of his paintings to a First Friday party at Hatch Artist Studios in Springfield.

"I was walking around and one of the ladies wanted to buy the painting from me. It wasn’t even finished. So that was like a confirmation to me to go ahead and rent the studio space. And after I rented the studio space, I met a lot of other people, and they told me about the art exhibit in the museum," he says.

Conner’s painting that won third place is of a jazz musician playing trumpet. The background is black, and there are bright gold line drawings of a wide array of jazz instruments.

It’s not his only work in the show. He also has a triptych of first responders and essential workers on display. Those are from a series he started as the pandemic worsened.

"I was so moved by the nurses and the doctors and the frontliners who were out there fighting, putting their lives on the line," he says. "That’s when I decided to do the painting, and I started off with the doctors and the nurses, and then I did the policeman, the fireman, the teacher, the bus driver, and the cashier."

Some of those portraits are of locals, working here in the Miami Valley. Conner will be showing his paintings at an arts festival next month, and he’s working on a mural in Toledo.

SMoA Members Exhibit Michele BonDurant | SUMMER | Acrylic painting, cut paper
Springfield Museum of Art
Michele BonDurant's "Summer"

Back at the Museum, Elizabeth Wetterstroem says she loves getting to see artists grow and change and experiment over the years. And she gets to see that because, even when they go on to solo exhibitions and bigger things, many of them continue to be members and put work in the juried exhibition.

She was also excited about this year's juror, who selected the winners.

"Because we’re a Smithsonian affiliate, we were able to contact our local representative, and we had Joan Moser, who was a senior curator of graphic arts from 1986 to 2016. So that was a pretty special thing these artists got to experience, having their work looked at by someone from the Smithsonian," she says.

Even the little placards with names of artists and works are unique this year. A handful of them have QR codes that museum-goers can scan with their cell phones to hear audio of the artists talking about their creative processes.

In one of those artist talks, Michele BonDurant addresses her quest to capture a specific summery image.

"So, I did a painting," she says. "Because of the density of the trees, the painting wasn’t very successful, but I liked the composition. And I took it home, and I was like, I need to sort this out, and I think I can do it with paper."

BonDurant did use paper, and paint, and her camera for reference, and other tools, until she came up with a work called “Summer” for this year’s exhibit.

"I just felt like it’s the sunny shadows and the house and the basketball hoop. It’s our community," she says. "Yes. It’s very our community."

The Springfield Museum of Art’s Members exhibit runs through this Sunday, October 3.

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.