Watercolorists Create Rainbow of Variety at Annual Show

If “watercolor” brings to mind whisper-pink posies and quiet-as-a-tomb still lifes, you may have some surprises in store at the National Watercolor Society’s 67th Annual Exhibition at Brea Gallery. The show features, through Dec. 18, more than 100 works by watercolorists from across the United States.

Content and colors run the spectrum from “Calle Venezia,” a romantic scene by Laguna Beach artist Kay Rebber Foote, to Belle Osipow’s experimental “Light as a Kite,” a three-dimensional mixed media on canvas and paper.

“It’s exciting to see so many bold colors and geometric shapes this year,” said gallery coordinator Marie Sofi, who has worked with NWS for the last four years on the annual exhibits. “In the past, colors have generally been more subtle. Now we’re seeing more brightness, more collages, a lot more texture.”

Sofi said that public response to the exhibit, which opened in November, has been tremendous.


“This exhibit has always been one of our top draws. We’re averaging about 150 visitors and nearly 300 calls a day for this show.

“I think watercolors are a very accessible medium to audiences, and this one is really a pleasure to view. It’s a very tranquil experience, but the experimental aspects add a lot of excitement as well. It’s gratifying to see how involved people get in the show. They don’t just look at the paintings and say ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ Before they leave the gallery, they’re into the pieces, they feel them, they communicate with the artist.”

Among the works on display is “Red Still Life With One Carnation,” a light-hearted study of teapots and tap shoes by Wisconsin artist Peggy Flora Zalucha. Winner of the National Watercolor Society Purchase Award (one of the exhibit’s top honors), the work features a pair of fire-engine red dancing shoes, a gleaming teapot and a single carnation against a background of Sunday comics rendered so clearly that every punch line is legible. “Still Life” will be presented by the society to the City of Brea at the close of the exhibit for display in City Hall.

Entries in the show were chosen by a five-member jury drawn from National Watercolor Society members. More than 900 artists from across the country submitted slides of their work for consideration; only 89 were chosen (the balance of the year’s show includes 17 works by members of the jury and NWS board). Awards juror William C. Landwehr, a nationally respected curator and jurist, then selected 22 prize winners to receive cash gifts of up to $1,000.


Other top winners included Ernest Velardi’s surrealistic “That’s the Way It Is,” Meg Huntington Cajero’s “Mirage,” and “Sleepless Night” by Costa Mesa artist Sharon Maczko. (Other Orange County artists include Nedra Tornay of Santa Ana, Mary Weinstein of San Clemente, Connie Crawford of Fullerton and jurist Scott Moore of Laguna.)

According to the society’s exhibit director Howard Clapp, acceptance in the annual exhibit is the first step in NWS’ membership process. The society also requires that the applicants exhibit three additional works that are consistent with their exhibit entry.

“The membership process is tough,” Clapp said. “All artists, whether they’re writers, painters or poets, all have one really wonderful piece. But to keep that kind of thing going, well that’s quite another matter.”

Kay Rebber Foote, who has been working in watercolors and other mediums since she was 10, agrees. Unlike oils or other substances, watercolors can’t be scraped off a surface if they’re applied in error. Colors often must be built layer by layer with painstaking attention to detail.


“Once you put it down (on paper), it’s there forever,” Foote said. “You can lighten it or deepen it, you can soften edges for more subtlety, but you can never pick it up. I build my colors gradually . . . (allowing) some of the whiteness of the paper to shine through. It’s almost like a stained-glass effect, with each color modifying the other for a subtle nuance or interweaving of color.”

Founded in 1921 as the California Water Color Society, NWS now numbers more than 1,300 associate and “signature” members from California to Florida. According to Clapp, the annual juried exhibit is “the big one.” Signature members--a title given only to those members that the society considers among the nation’s best--were featured this summer in an invitational show at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

According to NWS president Lee Wexler, the society emphasizes education about watercolors by sponsoring public exhibits and workshops. The issue, says Wexler, is content, not medium. Through seminars and shows, NWS encourages the public to look at watercolors as statements by the artists and inspires them to learn more about the message behind the medium.

Under Wexler’s leadership, NWS sponsored its first national conference last month in Whittier. Held in conjunction with the opening of the Brea exhibit, the three-day event included seminars with discussions ranging from practical to philosophical--providing insights into the jurying system, the value of content over technique and the relationship between artist and gallery.


Wexler is also at work at a cooperative exhibit with L.A. Arts Corps Gallery in Los Angeles, the first invitational show open to associate members. The exhibit is tentatively scheduled for next March.

Gallery hours for the National Watercolor Society’s 67th Annual Exhibit are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. Admission is free and guided tours are available by reservation. Brea Gallery is at the Brea Civic and Cultural Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza in Brea, next to the Brea Mall. For information, call (714) 990-7730.