Ohio Wesleyan’s Ross Museum hosts contrasting exhibits through March 20

DELAWARE – In “Deaf Republic,” allegorical poems that denounce military violence and oppression, Ilya Kaminsky created a young deaf martyr and a community that protested with sign language.

The collection of poems, published in 2019, is a story that makes sense not only for the Eastern European country envisioned by Kaminsky, but also for any oppressed place.

The American Figurative Painter James Stewart, who lives in western Pennsylvania, imagined the “Deaf Republic” set in Weimar, Germany, and created a set of paintings to reflect and illustrate the poems.

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Twenty of his paintings as well as several of his sculptures and relief works which also depict the “Deaf Republic” are on display until March 20 at the Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware.

Stewart’s works are filled with characters from Kaminsky’s poems. Petra, the deaf boy, is watching a puppet show when he is shot dead by soldiers. The gunshot – or their horror at the murder – renders the whole town deaf and mute.

Momma Galya, leader of the puppet theater, incites the insurrection. A young married couple, Sonya and Alfonso, become victims. Puppeteers teach villagers signs and lure soldiers to their deaths.

Stewart’s oil paintings place these figures in scenes, some gruesome and many chaotic. “Large Overture” features the town cafe, puppet theater, soldiers, and victims all blended together in a collage-like scene.

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In “Large Overture II”, Petra can be seen being shot in the lower right corner of the painting. The rest of the canvas includes a group of soldiers standing nonchalantly beside their jeep, the corpse of a naked woman lying in the street, a woman covering the eyes of her two children, a puppet show, and in the background , a cafe filled with well-dressed patrons oblivious to what is happening outside their window.

"Kelly Gymnasium," part of the "In the light" Ron Anderson exhibition

A phrase from Kaminsky’s poem “And yet, some nights” is suitable for a number of paintings:

“Our country surrendered / Years later some would say none of this happened; the stores were open, we were happy and went to see puppet shows in the park/ And yet, some evenings, city dwellers dim the lights and teach their children to make signs. …”

Stewart’s paintings are dramatic and heartbreaking. They’re not hung in an order that matches the poems, but they inspire viewers to experience Kaminsky’s words for themselves – and to consider how the poems and paintings can offer relevant warning in more than one place in the world.

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In contrast, the Ross Art Museum also features paintings by the artist Columbus Ron Andersonwho finds and depicts joy in the lives of his subjects.

"Pause the track," one of the paintings "Ron Anderson: Into the Light" exposure

The 17 oil paintings in “Ron Anderson: Into the Light” are energetic depictions of African-American life in music, dance, and sport. A number of these works were seen in Anderson’s 2019 solo exhibition at the Shot Tower Gallery at the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center. They take a different look.

In “Lady in Red”, showing the vigorous dance of a young woman, you can almost feel the trembling of her hips. In “Sundance,” couples dance to a musical combo and you can almost hear the trumpet blast. “Blues Singer” features an Ella Fitzgerald-like singer backed by drums, piano, saxophone and bass.

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Many of these works have a focal point of light – a lit match or a spotlight, for example – and, despite their nocturnal settings, an overall sunny glow.

Anderson beautifully captures the movement, vitality and sheer exuberance of his subjects and, as the title of the exhibition suggests, brings them “into the light”.

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In one look

“James Stewart: Deaf Republic” and “Ron Anderson: Into the Light” continue through March 20 at the Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University, 60 S. Sandusky St., Delaware. Opening hours: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. Masks are required and any group visit of more than five people should call or email the museum to schedule a time. Call 740-368-3606 or visit [email protected].

Julia P. Cluff