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Salem News

Visions of harmony

Beverly painter kicks off art exhibits at Wenham Museum
By Will Broaddus Staff Writer

It’s hard not to feel at home in Valerie McCaffrey’s paintings.

Now on exhibit at Wenham Museum in “Landscape – Out of My Mind and Into Yours,” McCaffrey’s works depict beautiful communities where the elements of life are all in harmony.

But if viewers long to dwell in the places that the paintings represent, they should also explore the features that make these images so inviting, as museum curator Jane Bowers advises in the show’s catalog. 

“Although Valerie’s style seems naive, and will correctly remind you of Grandma Moses, take a second (or third, or fourth!) look and you will see that her exuberant use of color, her idiosyncratic use of scale and perspective (or not), and touches of humor make these paintings worth a good long stare,” Bowers wrote. 

The exhibit is part of a new initiative to exhibit art at Wenham Museum, where the focus is on “the artifacts of childhood, domestic life, and the history and culture of Boston’s North Shore.”

“Most of our visitors are families with children under 8, but we really fell like we also need to include in our mission more programs, events and exhibits for adult audiences,” Bowers said.

They believe art exhibits will serve that purpose, and McCaffrey has already had one show at the museum, last November in the lobby, with panels from a visual memoir that she has been composing.

But “Landscapes” will be the first show in the museum’s spacious Burnham Hall, which is usually busy with children’s programs during the rest of the year.

“The colors are joyful and bright and summery, and they’re really wonderful pieces,” Bowers said. “I thought it would be a great way to kick off these exhibits in our function room.”

McCaffrey, who runs the Garage Art School in Beverly, started painting in high school. But she became self-conscious about her narrative, or folk style after a friend who was attending art school described her work as “calendar art.”

“I thought she knew what she was talking about and I did not,” she said. “Then, when I painted, I tried to paint the way I thought I should paint.”

But in the early 1970s, after deciding that she could paint any way she wanted, McCaffrey went back to using her “greatest talent,” which she describes as “the mechanical ability to reassign perspective so I can replicate what I remember honestly.”

Honesty here doesn’t mean the same thing as accuracy. Rather, it suggests that when McCaffrey paints, she stays true to her feelings, as these are reflected in memory.

So when she depicts buildings in Wenham or canals in Venice, Italy, their size in a picture and the angle at which they face a viewer is determined not by natural perspective, but by a sense of their importance.

McCaffrey said the subtitle of her show, “Out of My Mind and Into Yours,” describes the fact that she is painting her memories in this sense, and sharing them with her audience.

It also suggests the phrase “memory painting,” which has been used to described the work of Grandma Moses, who lived from 1860 to 1961 and whose name was Anna Mary Robertson Moses.

McCaffrey made a joint presentation at Wenham Museum last December with Will Moses, the great-grandson of Grandma Moses, who paints in his relative’s style. 

Memory paintings aren’t only personal, but also capture the way life used to be by portraying community events such as holiday celebrations.

Several of McCaffrey’s paintings in this exhibit work in this way, including “The Cathedral of Entertainment: Olympic Park,” which depicts an amusement park where she spent time as a child with her family.  

“Show at Long Hill” recalls a more recent event, a garden club show that McCaffrey attended at Long Hill Reservation in Beverly, which is managed by The Trustees of Reservations. 

McCaffrey supplements all the paintings in her show with comments in a catalog, and points out that novelist John Updike was at the Long Hill event, and is shown in the painting peeking at his watch, which she caught him doing.

But there are several paintings in the show that depart from these themes, especially a group of religious paintings that address five events in the life of Jesus. These paintings help draw attention to spiritual elements throughout McCaffrey’s work.

There are also paintings that depart from the “naive,” or folk style of painting, especially her piece titled “The Cotswolds: Finding Our Way,” which shares a moment of disorientation.

The settings in McCaffrey’s other paintings are usually divided into sections by roads or paths as seen from above, which not only suggest direction but also organize the image, like the lead in stained-glass windows.

There are plenty of vertical and horizontal lines in “The Cotswolds,” but they belong to pastures in the English countryside, which appear in natural perspective. These borders don’t orient the viewer in relation to anything larger, and there aren’t any roads or pathways in the painting.

But if one looks long enough, one will notice two travelers sitting in a car, who are clearly lost, because they are consulting a map.

“You look at it basically like an interesting horizon, it almost takes on an abstract quality, with long, vertical lines,” Bowers said. “But, ‘Oh my God, they’re in the car!’ You have to look a couple times to find them.”

If you go

What: “Landscapes – Out of My Mind and Into Yours,”paintings by Valerie McCaffrey

When: Now until Sept. 22, 2018

Where: Wenham Museum, 132 Main St., Wenham

How much: $10 adults, $8 seniors (ages 65 and over), $8 children ages 1-16; free for babies 11 months and under

More information: 978-468-2377, www.wenhammuseum.org


The following events feature Valerie McCaffrey at Wenham Museum. Admission is free; no registration required:

  • Art activity making collaged landscapes, Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 at 10:30 a.m., as part of Free Fun Friday, a free day of admission sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation. For younger kids, there will also be a coloring activity based on one of the paintings.
  • Art activity at Wenham Museum Summer Fair, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018 at 10:30 a.m. The program she does that day will be similar to the Free Fun Friday program. The Summer Fair itself is free and takes place outside on the Wenham Museum and Town Hall lawns.
  • Featured speaker at Trails and Sails weekend, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 at 10:30 a.m. The museum participates in Trails and Sails every year.

Hamilton Wenham Chronicle

Wenham Museum unveils ‘Wenham in All Seasons’

By Tim McCarthy
May 2016

The Wenham Museum invites the public to take a look at “Wenham in All Seasons,” their latest piece of art now display. The oil painting, commissioned by the museum itself, was created by Beverly Farms artist Valerie Weigand McCaffrey and features [Read more…]

Salem News

Three of a kind

Beverly grandmother, granddaughter unite for art exhibit, and remember the daughter and mother they lost

By Will Broaddus Staff writer
August 22, 2013

The two painters currently exhibiting at Beverly Farms Library, Valerie McCaffrey and Christine Green, have a lot in common.

In addition to being talented artists, they are grandmother and granddaughter, and enjoy a close relationship that they explore in their show.

“She’s the reason I’m painting,” Green said of her grandmother. “Every time I would go over to her house, we’d be doing art. I guess you could say there’s some natural talent there, but she is definitely the reason I could grasp that natural talent and take off with it.”

Most works in the show are self-portraits, a genre Green focused on during her junior year at Beverly High School, but there are portraits of other people.

“We decided, when she came up with the title ‘You and Me, Me and You,’ we would do a painting of each other,” said McCaffrey, who has taught art classes at her Garage School of Art for 18 years.

Green’s portrait of her grandmother, “Her Glow,” depicts McCaffrey’s smiling face, beaming under the brim of a hat.

McCaffrey’s painting, “Christine Elizabeth Unfinished,” shows Green in her prom dress seated at a piano — she is a pianist as well as a painter — working on a canvas that is propped on the keyboard.

“The only finished part of that painting is the figure of Christine,” McCaffrey said.

Christine’s parents, Cathleen and Matthew Green, stand in the background, where Matthew holds a younger version of Christine in his arms. Their forms are less distinct, as if they are watching her from the past, while their love is realized in Christine’s creative work.

“I’m a narrative painter,” McCaffrey said. “My paintings have a lot of stuff in them.”

As Christine’s mother and Valerie’s daughter, Cathleen Green forms a third “you” in the exhibit, and is the main subject of two other paintings in the show.

Cacky, as Cathleen was known, was diagnosed with cancer five years ago and died in 2010. She was an oncology nurse and also enjoyed painting, and her husband suggested Valerie and Christine include a portrait of her with their paintings of each other.

“That was a last-minute decision,” Christine said. “We had about two weeks until the show, so I suggested it to her and she was like, let’s do it. And I really think it tied the whole show together.”

Christine worked from a photograph of her mother, which was hard to find because Cathleen was usually behind the camera and didn’t want her picture taken.

“Everyone says it really represents her,” Christine said. “I think I picked a good picture.”

People who know the Greens and attended a reception for the show on Aug. 13, burst into tears when they saw Cathleen’s portrait, Valerie said.

Valerie’s portrait of her daughter, “Studies of Cacky,” shows her playing violin, attending a class at the Garage School of Art, and talking to a paper girl, but they are preparations for a portrait rather than a finished work.

“I’m not ready to do it,” Valerie said. “You nibble away at this kind of a grief.”

Which makes Valerie all the more impressed by what Christine was able to accomplish in her own portrait of her mother.

“She has the ability to convey psychology and spirit,” Valerie said.

Christine prepared the work for this show in a burst of creative energy between the end of June and the beginning of July.

“I decided to do one new painting for the show. I sat in my attic and whipped it out in about four hours,” she said. It was a self-portrait, something she’d avoided doing for the past year.

“It was like something clicked; it looked so much different than anything I’d ever done before. The painting popped, and I felt like it said so much more than my other paintings did.”

She replaced the paintings she had planned to use in the show with the new ones that quickly followed.

The painting that set her going, “Growth of Confidence,” shows Christine absorbed in the creative process, eyes focused on a canvas where she is about to apply paint.

The growing confidence she records has helped validate Christine’s decision to attend the Rhode Island School of Design this fall, where she was admitted early decision.

She has always been interested in marketing and design along with painting, and won an award for a fashion project she did for DECA, a program that prepares high school students for business careers.

Christine worried that she would have to choose between her interests at RISD, but she no longer sees a conflict.

“I was very apprehensive about going into the art world at first, because you hear so many things — ‘Oh, you’re going to be a starving artist,’” she said. “But I’m really not worried about it anymore.”

Cover, America Magazine, Jan 2-9, 2006

America Magazine