Clear Boundaries

Walking into the Ridge Park Field House, there is a sense of dusty grandeur juxtaposed with the everyday. Climbing a flight of stairs up to the Vanderpoel Gallery–housed on the field house’s second floor–art enthusiasts pass colorful fliers advertising exercise memberships and ballet classes amid the sounds of sneakers pounding on treadmills and squeaking on a scuffed gymnasium floor. Couched amid the leafy trees and distinctive old homes of Beverly, patrons of the field house’s athletic facilities are often unaware of the gallery brimming with American Impressionist rarities above their heads.

“Our biggest struggle is getting the word out,” said Mary Lenzini, a volunteer board member for the John H. Vanderpoel Art Association. “People come up here and say, ‘I’ve been coming here for years and never knew this was here!’ ”

The Vanderpoel Gallery features the work of local artists twice a year alongside its rotating collection of more than 600 pieces of turn-of-the-century art. Currently, the gallery showcases a collection of work by artist Judie Anderson in an exhibition titled “The Line Between_______Is Transparent.”

To a certain extent the story of the Judie Anderson mirrors the story of the Vanderpoel Art Association. John H. Vanderpoel was a Beverly resident who achieved acclaim as a student, artist, and teacher at the Art Institute from 1880 to 1910. Following his death, friends felt compelled to establish the Vanderpoel Art Association to display his plentiful body of work. The collection grew to include other artists from Vanderpoel’s era, then adding rotating galleries from contemporary artists such as Anderson.

The works of both Anderson and the Vanderpoel Gallery seem to have outgrown the modest space they occupy, due to a combination of sheer volume–the gallery can only display a third of their permanent collection, and Anderson has thousands of pieces not displayed here–and the level of interest their quality and beauty inspire.

The gallery’s doors open to a room with paintings crammed on every inch of wall, shelves chocked full of sculptures and sketches, a piano, and scattered chairs. Display panels showing the hundred or so paintings that make up “The Line Between_______Is Transparent” line the room. Although the gallery overflows with the prominent brush strokes, neutral tones, blurred divisions, and focus on natural light characteristic of impressionistic portraits and landscapes, it is empty of people, sometimes prompting its volunteer docents to close long before the advertised end of viewing hours.

Anderson’s paintings fit in with the style of the gallery’s permanent pieces, emphasizing nature-based subjects, muted palettes, and unique takes on light and shadow. One half of the display panels show well-executed watercolors. Standout pieces among these include snowy scenes with grey, bare branches and lovely lavender shadows; and a stormy lakeside landscape, the motion in the smeared, blue-green clouds and the wind in the grass visible in the thin, delicate brushstrokes. In a phone interview, an affable and quietly proud Anderson said that she “sees shadows differently than other people.” Her unique insight into the interplay of dark and light comes across in the inky mixtures of purples and grays, transparence and opacity, that characterize shadows in her paintings.

The other half of the panels show selections from Anderson’s successful career as an illustrator, displaying an impressive familiarity with a variety of mediums and styles, from ink to sketches, cartoons to Mucha-esque takes on fashion illustrations. This side of the room tells the story of the happiest, proudest years of Anderson’s life. She remembers nights spent awake with a piece due the next day, working together with her husband–painting and then sleeping for an hour while he picked up where she left off. “Nobody could ever tell our styles apart,” she said.

The division of Anderson’s oeuvre into two opposite sides is purposeful. She mentions struggling with the disdain artists often have for “commercial” illustrators her entire life, until a friend told her, “What are you talking about? The line between illustration and painting is transparent. It doesn’t exist.” Reconciling the two sides of her work became the inspiration for the exhibition.

The title “The Line Between_______Is Transparent” reflects the fluidity of the division not only between Anderson’s creative and commercial life, but between her work and that of her husband during their collaboration. It reflects the unique melding of light and shadow in her paintings, and also–more subtley–it reflects the barely detectable division between her work and the rest of the Vanderpoel Gallery, and the artificial distinction between works deemed significant enough for the Art Institute and those displayed in the Ridge Park Field House.

Vanderpoel Memorial Art Gallery. 96th St. & Longwood Dr. Through April 31. Tuesday & Thursday, 1pm-4pm; Saturday 10am-2pm. Free. Tours available upon request at (777)445-9616.