A mid-century master: The art of Nicolas A. Apgar


BRATTLEBORO — To commemorate the career of consummate artist and beloved teacher Nicolas A. Apgar (1918 - 2011), the Catherine Dianich Gallery will open a retrospective of his work on Friday, Dec. 7, during Gallery Walk with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

"The Dianich Gallery is particularly pleased to host a comprehensive exhibition of Nicolas Apgar's work," Dianich said. "The show is an emblematic view into Mid-Century Modernism. Because Apgar was quite conversant with this period, the viewer has an opportunity to see an in-depth exploration of the period and how it looks from the viewpoint of a well established artist."

As noted in the "Artist Statement," Apgar transposed his inner thoughts to canvas. He intended his art to reflect his emotions. At the same time, he left room for viewers to help create the work, using their own perceptions.

Apgar's idyllic early childhood deeply influenced his later approach to color in his paintings. He was born on Dec. 8, in Gaillon, a small town in Normandy, France. As a child he roamed the nearby hills and explored the ruins of Chateau de Gaillon. The quality of light in Normandy, he often said, was "like living inside an opal."

Following the death of his mother in 1923 and the remarriage of his father two years later, Apgar's family moved to the United States when he was nine, eventually settling in Albany, N.Y. He showed an early interest in drawing, taking Saturday classes for over a decade at the Albany Institute of History and Art. It was there he studied with Fletcher Martin.

After graduating from Albany High School in 1937, Apgar worked in a local woolen mill. With a mentor's guidance, he earned a scholarship to Syracuse University's College of Fine Arts in 1939. For reasons known only to him, he withdrew during his junior year and began working as a medical illustrator for the New York State Health Department. Continuing to develop his skill as an artist, he gained recognition for the quality of his work, especially his eye for color.

"Because the Dianich Gallery had shown Nick's work before," Jonathan said, "we realized it was the perfect venue for honoring all that he accomplished over nearly seven decades as an artist."

From 1945 to 1958, Apgar had one-man shows at Skidmore College, Albany Institute of History and Art, and the New York State Teachers College at both Oneonta and Albany. In addition, he received two John G. Myers Awards, and painting awards at Cooperstown and Utica.

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In 1955, Apgar returned to Syracuse University to finish his degree. Now with a wife and two children to support, he worked full-time as a supervising medical illustrator at the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center and taught drawing at the Syracuse University College of Fine Arts. He also illustrated numerous medical books and articles.

At Syracuse University, Apgar studied with Josef Albers, Louis Bosa, and Jean Charlot. Apgar was particularly interested in the fresco techniques of Charlot and the color theory of Albers. Apgar completed a large fresco of the Four Humours (destroyed years later when the building was demolished) in the amphitheatre of the SUNY Upstate Medical Center, and had works selected for inclusion in two volumes by Albers, Interaction of Color (Yale University Press, 1963) and Search vs. ReSearch (Yale University Press, 1969).

Apgar was awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (magna cum laude) in 1959, and a Master of Fine Arts Degree in 1961. To earn the MFA, Apgar had to demonstrate mastery in multiple media: oils, watercolor, pastels, gouache, and tempera; printmaking techniques (drypoint, copper plate etching, engraving, lithography, linoleum cut, woodcut,); drawing (pencil, charcoal, ink, and silverpoint); sculpture in clay and metal; and fresco. In addition, he had to demonstrate an intermediate proficiency level in two languages; he chose Italian because of the art of the Italian Renaissance, and Russian because of the Cyrillic alphabet's visual interest.

With his MFA completed, Apgar pursued his love of teaching, a passion he had developed at the Albany Institute and at Syracuse University. At the age of 44, he relocated with his family in 1962 to Richmond, Virginia, to begin a new career, joining the faculty of the Communication Arts and Design Department of Richmond Professional Institute, now Virginia Commonwealth University, from which he retired as a full professor after 32 years.

National shows in which Apgar's work was exhibited include Birmingham, Al.; Pittsfield, Mass.; Jackson, Miss.; Philadelphia, Penn.; Youngstown, Ohio; and Norfolk, Va. His works are in the collections of various educational institutions, including the University of Virginia Law School; the Albany Institute of History and Art; Landmark College in Putney; the T. C. Williams School of Law of the University of Richmond; the Washington and Lee University School of Law; and in numerous private collections.

In 2004, Apgar moved to Brattleboro to be closer to his daughter, Nancy A. Olson. He had a one-man show of new work, curated by Catherine Dianich, at Amy's Bakery Arts Cafe in 2006.

The Dianich Gallery is located at 139 Main St. in the Hooker-Dunham building, down the alley and through the glass doors. The exhibit, which is co-curated by Catherine Dianich Gruver and Dan Sherry, will run through Jan. 26. Open Saturday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m., or by appointment.

For more information, call 802-380-1607, email dianichgallery@gmail.com, or visit catherinedianichgallery.com.



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