Just as the enigmatic Mona Lisa draws crowds in the Louvre, the portrait of RBG—the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who made such an impact on women’s rights—is capturing the attention of visitors to the Spring Salon at New Hope Arts (NHA).
She is immediately recognizable, but what is surprising about the portrait is the medium: artist Beth Schroeder uses acrylic paint on bubble-wrap, a pixelation of the formidable RBG, if you will. “It’s so startling because it looks like a mosaic,” said Carol Cruickshanks, NHA’s executive director. It’s behind glass in a framed case, as if to accentuate the need to preserve the image of this indelible woman.
RBG is just one of over 150 entries by NHA members whose art is hung salon-style, in thoughtful groupings that allow breathable space for the viewer to take in each work carefully. Cruickshanks points out that, unlike the other themed shows which NHA presents throughout the year and are open to nonmember artists, the Spring Salon is an “open-access exhibition to all our members.” While it’s not a juried show, “it is a salon in the sense that the artist can select the piece that he or she feels represents what they’ve been doing in the last year or what they want to show to the public.” Besides paintings, there are also small-scale sculptures and woodworks displayable on a table, podium, or shelf. Cruickshanks started the salon idea eight years ago.
“I felt like we needed to focus on our membership at least for one show a year.” In 2022, which marks the 20th anniversary for NHA, this is the largest number of entries ever. Because of the increase in membership, the size of a submitted work was restricted to no larger than 500 square inches for a flat piece, and approximately the same in cubic inches for a three-dimensional piece. Cruickshanks works closely with NHA’s exhibition specialist, Christine Ramirez, who worked at the gallery long before Cruickshanks became the executive director in 2011.
“Despite the fact that we have over 150 pieces in the gallery, it doesn’t look crowded…[Christine’s] really an expert in [making] everything work visually in such an elegant way for our space…we have these 13-foot-high walls including elevation above that which is not hung. She knows how to use the space appropriately, and it always elicits a lot of compliments…I frankly don’t know how she does it because it’s like magic.” One can preview the Spring Salon at the virtual exhibit posted online at newhopearts.org, although Cruickshanks is quick to say, “I will make this statement which may be unpopular, but virtual exhibitions, sorry, just don’t make it!” Yet when the pandemic hit in March 2020, she said to herself, “we need to go online.” At that time, NHA was running 13 online exhibitions on a weekly basis until it was able to open its doors in August 2020, with only a maximum of 10 people at a time in the gallery. “I found strangely that after this crisis for the arts as well as for everybody else, it has really changed the appreciation of gallery-goers and artists. They’re really happy to have a live space and to see actual art.”
When I ask Cruickshanks, who was an art historian and professor at The College of New Jersey for 20 years before she became NHA’s executive director, how she views this 20th anniversary, she responds, “It’s an interesting embrace for us, mostly because of the fact that we have our board organizing a campaign for improving the building,” so that it will be fully ADA-compliant with the installation of an elevator to take visitors to the gallery, which is on the second floor. She also tells me, “I chose to emphasize at the very beginning of the year that we’ve been here for 20 years, whether you know it or not…we’ve done some fairly significant things, including major exhibitions focusing on very important regional artists.”
A number of videos on NHA’s website document its history to give people “the scope of what the projects have been and what has passed on through the gallery in those 20 years.” Going forward, Cruickshanks’ eye is on moving forward. She cites flexibility as one of her leadership strengths: “If that’s not going to work, let’s try this. We have to do that because…you must try to do something different than what other people are doing to be cogent, and you must have a presence in your community.”
The Spring Salon is open and free to the public every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. through May 1. New Hope Arts is located at 2 Stockton Ave. in New Hope.