An art exhibit with family ties
BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Sunlight on orchids and whiskers on kittens: These are a few of one mother-daughter artist duo’s favorite things to draw and paint.
Karen Cummings, a homemaker and community volunteer, and Jacqueline, the youngest of her three daughters, have partnered for their first-ever exhibit this month. Their work is on display at the Niskayuna Branch Library for the month of May, in an exhibit that opened just in time for Mother’s Day.
“Anything that brings a mother and a teenage daughter together is the ultimate positive,” said Karen, whose creative spirit has played a guiding role in all three of her daughters’ lives.
Sarah, 28, is a history teacher who especially enjoys sharing an art history curriculum with her students, and Michele, 30, uses the patience and creativity she learned at home in her job as a kindergarten teacher.
But it’s 18-year-old Jacqueline who’s taken to creating images of her own. They live in Clifton Park, but their artistic careers are intertwined with nearby Niskayuna, where their work currently lives in the library’s meeting room.
When Karen was just starting out as an artist, just after her oldest daughter was born, Niskayuna couple Gerry and Jennings Massingill became her benefactors.
Jennings, an engineer at GE and an artist, bought Karen her first set of watercolors and gave her free art lessons on Fridays after he met her through a mutual friend. His wife, Gerry, would watch the kids while they worked.
“We had a young family,” Karen said. “It was a luxury we could not have afforded at the time.”
Jacqueline always enjoyed art classes at the private school she attended until part way through her junior year.
But when her family moved to Clifton Park from Glenville at the beginning of her junior year, she had to choose whether to commute to the school she had attended since she was young, or try something new.
It was a tough decision. After so many years, her classmates felt like family.
But the deciding factor was Jacqueline’s budding adoration for creating art. Shenendehowa High School offered the opportunity to take multiple art classes each day, instead of the two per week she had been attending previously.
Seeking creative growth, she made the leap. And it paid off: Last August, after completing her junior year at Shenendehowa, Jacqueline competed in Niskayuna’s yearly art contest in Lions Park, as did her mother. Karen took home the first place prize, and Jacqueline took home third. “That was a confidence boost,” Jacqueline said. It was the first time she really shared her art skills with the world outside her family, and the reception was positive.
The art displayed at the library shows snippets of the mother and daughter’s relationship. Jacqueline’s watercolor of an orchid, called “Amethyst Summer,” faces visitors as they walk through the door of the room. She created it after she visited a watercolor exhibit with her mother in Glens Falls, which then inspired a lesson in the medium at home.
Then there’s Karen’s “Portrait of the Unwilling,” a painting of the family’s sweet but notoriously shy and tough-to-photograph cat. Many of the images are of animals, because they play a constant role in the family’s life. Karen grew up on a farm and loves re-creating the photographs she takes herself. The family, which includes husband Neal, still keeps roosters at home.
Karen’s preferences and experiences have trickled into Jacqueline’s consciousness directly and indirectly. Growing up, there were always art supplies around the house, and an art lesson could be provided at a moment’s notice.
“She’s just a great resource. It’s great for me to have this way to learn,” Jacqueline said.
In the fall, Jacqueline will continue to explore art, from photography and animation to drawing and painting, as a fine-arts major at Hudson Valley Community College.
She’ll also keep her mom’s creative influence within reach. She had thought about moving to her own apartment, but decided she’d rather adopt a kitten and commute from home.
Her youngest daughter’s next adventure will leave space for Karen’s art to grow, as well. She’s backed away from art a bit while chauffeuring Jacqueline to and from sports practices and school events, but now, she’ll have more time to herself.
“I’m ready to jump right back in,” she said.