Will Barnet certainly deserves a different type of birthday present.
Not only is he one of the most famous and respected American artists, but he is still working after turning 100 in May.
So to celebrate, galleries across the country have honored Barnet's centennial anniversary with exhibits of his work, spanning his unique 80-year career. And Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto has followed suit.
Artist Will Barnet's 100th birthday is honored in a new SAMA-Loretto exhibit.
An exhibit, titled "Will Barnet, American Master: An Exhibition in Honor of the Artist's 100th Birthday" and heavily featuring the artist's graphic work, will be on display through Oct. 15. The exhibit is being held in conjunction with SAMA-Loretto's year-long 35th anniversary celebration.
As an artist whose work hangs in places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Academy Museum, Barnet is just as humbled that SAMA-Loretto would help celebrate his birthday. He said he has a "certain familiarity" with Altoona, having visited friends in the area before.
"I feel honored to have [my work] moving around to different parts of the country," Barnet said in a phone interview from his summer home in Maine, "and to small communities, where people can really enjoy it."
If you go
What: "Will Barnet, American Master: An Exhibition in Honor of the Artist's 100th Birthday"
When: Through Oct. 15
Where: Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto, St. Francis University campus
Details: Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday: and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. The museum is closed Sundays, Mondays and holidays.
Graphic work and printmaking was "a big part of my life," said Barnet, having worked with the medium since the 1930s. He was the appointed printer for 45 years at the Art Student's League of New York, where he is also an alumnus and once served as an instructor.
"It's a different side of my work," Barnet said of the show, adding that it encompasses various colors, mediums and forms of graphic expression. "It's nice, and it's not often you have the opportunity to see the originals."
Scott Dimond, curator for visual arts at SAMA-Loretto, said the exhibit is composed of a number of Barnet's works that were given the the gallery, and a few lent by Barnet's dealer and through his gallery in New York. Dimond add-ed that he thought it'd be a "nice tribute" to Barnet as one of the few artists his age still bringing canvases to life.
Dimond said Barnet's large prints, silk screens and lithographs look real, even from across the room. He added that even if you know nothing about art, it is a very "calming, uplifting experience" to be in a room surrounded by his work.
"He knows printmaking like few other artists," Dimond said.
Barnet has an array of artistic knowledge after seeing and living through multiple periods in the history of American art. The ever-evolving trends also affected Barnet, as his style shifted from expressionism to abstract to figurative. But Dimond said one thing that remained static about Barnet's work over the years is its approachability.
"He's not into the mystery of his art," Dimond said. "He's very knowledgeable, but it doesn't come across as mysterious or complex. One of his gifts is being able to do complex things that read very simply on the surface."
Patrick McGrady, the Charles V. Hallman curator at the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University Park, can attest to the fact that Barnet himself is approachable, after their interactions when preparing an exhibit of Barnet's work in 2003.
"During my first visit to him, we spent the first half hour talking about baseball," McGrady said, adding that Barnet is still a Yankees fan after leaving his Massachusetts homestead for New York at age 19. "He has a great sense of humor, and we talked about so many things. He's just a fascinating guy."
Along with a favorable attitude toward humanity himself, Barnet said the Loretto exhibit reflects a similar sentiment.
"I think country folks like shows with a certain human element in them," he said. "These works, they show humanity in different places and moments in history."
And since the Depression, Barnet has been there to record history through his art. McGrady said he's not surprised Barnet continues to work at his age.
"[He] can no more stop thinking about art as much as [he] can stop breathing or eating," he said.
Even past the day Barnet paints his last stroke or takes his last breath, McGrady said his name will always live on.
"He's one of those few people you can put in that category of great American artist," McGrady said. "I think history will prove this out long after he's passed away, and he'll continue to be discussed at the highest levels in regard to American art."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.