When Charles Bluestone was a young attorney living in Manhattan in the 1990s, every night he’d take Bucky, his West Highland white terrier, for a walk down East 58th Street past stately apartment buildings, the UN Secretary General’s townhouse, and a charming row of private residences from an earlier century. At the edges of the East River, he’d marvel at the delicate design of the Queensboro Bridge while watching boats navigating the waters.
These nightly strolls took him past a basement apartment with a large picture window set at street level. The lights were usually on, allowing a glimpse of an elegant living room decorated with a leather Roche Bobois sofa and a coffee table with an oversized bowl filled with cream-colored ostrich eggs. Chuck would always stop to admire the elegance of this display, especially the curvature and fragility of these once-living eggs, and dream of one day having an ostrich egg display of his own.
Now, some twenty-five years later, the vivid memories of these nightly strolls have set in motion a series of events that have culminated in the exhibition Art 360° : Contemporary Art Hatching Across Ohio — a collection that not only celebrates the image of “a chick breaking out of an egg” but also the concept of “a person giving birth to an idea.” It is the synchronicity of these two ideas that’s at the heart of this innovative exhibit.
A Dream Evolves
Chuck eventually moved to Columbus, Ohio to work as an Assistant Attorney General. At that stage of his life, the quotidian needs of a growing family made spending money on ostrich egg shells out of the question. But he never forgot his dream. About fifteen years later, he came across an Easter display at Whole Foods Market — ten ostrich eggs each dyed shades of yellow, pink, blue, orange, brown or green. When he inquired about their post-holiday fate, the store manager offered the eggs to Chuck.
At home, Chuck tried everything he could to restore their original natural color, but no amount of soaking and scrubbing would reverse the dye process. Feeling dispirited, he stored them in his basement for more than a year while occasionally contemplating a possible use for the colored eggs.
He thought back in time to other connections to eggs that he experienced in his life. While in law school, Chuck would occasionally visit the Forbes Magazine Galleries on New York’s Fifth Avenue to admire capitalist Malcolm Forbes’ collection of antique toys, paintings and historical artifacts, including the world’s largest private collection of Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs made for the Tsars of Russia — masterpieces of imagination and artistry. As a devoted reader of Martha Stewart’s Living magazine, Chuck had saved a particular issue featuring an article on the Ukrainian tradition of pysanka — decorating Easter eggs using beeswax to create stunning designs.
As an art enthusiast, exhibition models also resonated with him. He recalled seeing a show sponsored by the Rivet Gallery in Columbus in which twenty-five painters from around the US, each painting in their own unique style were given as a canvas the same white polymer model of a bulldog and from that produced a series of remarkably different “paintings.” The distinctiveness of each artwork was striking. This turned the idea of a single artist painting multiple views of the same object in different ways – such as Claude Monet portraying the same haystacks under varying atmospheric conditions – on its head.
His love of the arts being well-known to many in Columbus, Chuck was invited to join the Board of Trustees of The Ohio Art League, which supports visual artists and promotes opportunities for their work to be seen, reviewed, and exhibited. Founded in 1909, the OAL is the oldest artist collective in the state.
Then, during his term as a Trustee, the economic downturn and declining donations closed the doors of the OAL gallery in Columbus’ Short North neighborhood. Luckily, The Ohio State University offered free use of a storefront in its Campus Gateway complex. The inaugural show in the new gallery featured artworks by Joey Monsoon, who cleverly decided to sell a self-published paperback catalogue alongside his paintings— patrons who bought paintings were happy to have their new acquisition featured in its pages, and fans who could not afford an original painting could at least own a catalogue.
A few years later, OSU reclaimed the space that it had lent to the OAL, resulting in the arts organization losing its own gallery space once again. As of today, the OAL has not been able to re-open its own permanent gallery space, which is a loss to the Ohio arts community.
The synchronicity of those experiences led to an epiphany: if Chuck could convince a dozen OAL artists to transform the discolored ostrich eggs in his basement, he could put together a small gallery show where they’d sell a catalogue to raise money for the OAL.
Eggs symbolize life and play a part in both Jewish and Christian religious holidays in springtime, be it the roasted egg on a Passover Seder plate symbolizing the adversity Israelites endured as slaves in ancient Egypt, or the Easter egg acting as a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave. Chuck also liked the fact that the ostrich egg is the largest egg in the world, once holding the largest single cell organism. But most dramatically, he thought artists would enjoy the challenge of working with a radically different 3-D shape compared to the typical rectangular or square 2-D canvas. Artists would have to start at a certain point and work carefully around the egg in a full 360° to ensure that the artwork came together seamlessly.
From 2007 to the present, Chuck’s passion for Art 360° : Contemporary Art Hatching Across Ohio has benefited from the tremendous support of fellow OAL Board members and artists. Slowly at first, the series of decorated eggs grew to include names such as Hani Hara, Sarah Fairchild, Amanda Tirey, Chris Rankin and Paul Emory.
One day, a chance encounter with Ohio Arts Council staffer Ken Emerick led to the suggestion that the Art 360° Project be expanded to include artists from other regions of Ohio, including Will Reader of Portsmouth. Discovering that Reader sold his works through the Southern Ohio Museum, Chuck ordered one of his paintings. By happy accident, the painting was carried up to Columbus by museum director Mark Chepp and his artistic director wife Charlotte Gordon. Chuck took the opportunity to show them a couple of decorated ostrich eggs and asked that they take a blank egg back to Will Reader with a request to participate in the fund-raising exhibition.
And The Project Evolves
Three days after meeting Mark and Charlotte, to his astonishment, Chuck received an invitation to exhibit the ostrich eggs at the Southern Ohio Museum. Because artwork is typically featured in multiples of a dozen, he was asked to expand the egg collection to 24, enabling him to include more artists from around the state.
In the summer of 2014, Nannette Maciejunes, Executive Director of Columbus Museum of Art, asked Chuck to a meeting to discuss the possibility of him joining a museum committee. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to promote the ostrich egg project, he showed her the first completed eggs and left with an invitation for another museum show — another affirmation of the show's creativity!
The scope of the project was again expanded – now to 48 contemporary Ohio artists working in an even broader range of artistic disciplines from watercolor, acrylic, oil, encaustic (wax), and kaolin clay painting to intaglio, lithographic and monotype printing, from ceramics, fiber, and photography to scrimshaw, sculpture and glass. Even a work created by a light artist will be featured in the show!
With the inaugural museum opening in March 2016 now in sight, the enthusiasm that the Art 360° project is generating from the arts community and the general public gives hope that the goal shared by Chuck and all 48 participating artists of raising funds to enable The Ohio Art League to purchase its own building and have a permanent location in the state’s capital will be realized.
Words of Gratitude from Charles Bluestone
Suggestions for artist participants have come from many sources, including Tamara Harkavy (Director, Cincinnati Art Works), Dennis Harrington (Director, Cincinnati’s Weston Gallery), Anagreth Nil (emeritus Chief Curator, Columbus Museum of Art), Henry Adams (emeritus Curator of American Art, Cleveland Museum of Art), Alexandra Coon (Director, Massillon Museum of Art), Betty Talbott (Director, Ohio Craft Museum), gallery owners, other artists and my wonderful friends Marc Ross, Sophie Knee, Cathie Bleck, Michael Mercil and Ann Hamilton.
Ultimately, the final selections were mine. I truly believe these 48 artists represent some of the most creative artwork being made in Ohio today. Despite some challenges, it’s been a wonderful 10-year journey that delivered so much more fun than this boy ever imagined and, most importantly on a personal level, enriched my life with so many new friends. To all, including the special contributors listed below, I give my sincere thanks:
- Brad Feinknopf and his assistant, Lauren Davis, for taking the glorious photographs that appear on the web site and in the exhibition catalogue as well as creating the video which was the first introduction for many you to the Art 360° Project
- Bob Press (Mills James Productions) who lent a real professional turntable so that the eggs wouldn’t go flying off during the filming process and who also printed hundreds of DVDs of the video
- Chris Rankin (Design Spot) for developing the memorable Art 360° logo
- Kevin Conlon (Provost, Columbus College of Art & Design) for blessing an internship program for CCAD students that gave them experience designing the web site, social media campaign and the exhibition catalogue
- Stephanie Byars for typing, re-typing, and re-typing again the artist biographies
- Our CCAD interns, Dyan Johnson for building the structure of the Art 360° web site, and Sierra Clark for developing the social media platforms. And Prof. David Bennett whose incredible talents in the graphic arts field made our web site the champion that it has become
- Tom Katzenmeyer and the Greater Columbus Arts Council for opening the door to their vault and providing the critical grant that allowed me to commission art historian Ann Bremner to study the artworks and pen her insightful scholarly essay
- Kathy Hamilton (The Eggery Place, Dallas, Texas, tel: (972) 241-4379), who was a wonderful source for additional jumbo-sized ostrich eggs
- Belinda Nicoll for copywriting and communications strategy
To all who attend our exhibitions, explore the web site, buy the poster and exhibit catalogue, or donate funds to The Ohio Art League, you have my great appreciation.
Through our mutual efforts, let’s raise enough funds to help The Ohio Art League buy a building as its new permanent home, where the best of Ohio contemporary visual art will be displayed evermore.
Charles L. Bluestone
New Albany, Ohio
April 16, 2015