Mary Henthorn
WINDOW TO WENDY’S WORLD: Artist Wendy Edwards expands on some of her favorite pastel artworks included in the collection which spans over 300 years. Edwards’ work is included in this exhibition.

Pastel artist Wendy Edwards visited the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) on Wednesday afternoon to talk about the “Powdered Pigments: Three Centuries of Pastel Drawings” exhibition currently on view.

The exhibit features over 30 pieces from the Museum’s collection, showcasing over 300 years of innovative use of oil pastels. Edwards worked as a professor at Brown University from 1980 until his retirement in June 2020. His 1984 work, “Cushion,” is featured in the exhibit.

BCMA Co-Director Frank Goodyear opened the conference by thanking Lily Weafer ’23 for her help in curating the exhibit. Weafer, who is currently studying abroad in Spain, began working on the exhibit during her internship at the Museum last summer exploring the collection and researching pieces before finally making selections for display.

As she spoke, Edwards guided customers to the pastels she found most striking.

“I think this museum does a lot for the community as a whole,” Edwards said. “They seem to be very active and reactive to current issues: good things, bad things, confusing things. It’s a difficult time in the world, and for that reason it’s actually a very exciting time for artists and I think this group of drawings spans a period of time, showing their active ability to do art and to express themselves.

Among the pieces that interested her, Edwards focused on “The Barefoot Child” by Mary Cassatt and “Twin Study with Cord” by Anne Harris, both of which include images of toddlers. Cassatt’s work is a vibrant image of a mother holding her child against a bright orange background. Harris’ work, which an audience member says was created while she was a college professor, is a soft, gray image of a baby after delivery.

“What’s better than a baby?” Edwards asked. “I’m a new grandma and I have a grandson who will be one next week, so I’m more drawn to these images than ever.”

Edwards and her husband Jerry Mischak, who is also an artist, shared some of their own pastel anecdotes. Her husband remembers being arrested at a Spanish airport for the large pastels in their suitcases. The pastels looked like sticks of dynamite and were about airport workers.

“Back then it was about the same size,” Mischak said. “So the guy shows them to me like, ‘What’s the point?’ And you know, I was ready to grab one and get on the floor and start drawing.

Edwards’ “Cushion” piece was created during the height of the AIDS epidemic and layers many different pastel colors with dominant blues and greens.

“I had a dear friend who was one of the first people diagnosed with AIDS in New York,” Edwards said. “My husband and I drove back and forth to New York and took care of him. So this corpus really started from a need and a desire to cling to life… I gave it a whole series of drawings, large drawings and paintings.

Shortly after this project, Edwards decided to stop using pastels. She believed the materials were unsafe to work with, especially since she hoped to have children. Some pastels have been linked to toxic materials that can cause bodily harm if ingested or after prolonged exposure.

Edwards believes that pastels can act as expressive, active, and personal tools for artists. By rubbing the pigment onto various materials or finding specific edges of the pastel to use, Edwards found power in this art form.

“We are so privileged to have the opportunity to have such a range of beautiful pastel drawings in this exhibition,” said Edwards.

The exhibition of pastels will be presented at the Museum throughout the summer.


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