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A colorful exhibition: SAMA to host survey of founder’s art

Mirror photo by Linden Markley Michael M. Strueber checks over his selection of watercolor paintings and drawings at his home gallery on July 13 in preparation for Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art’s “Twenty-Five Year Survey” exhibition.

The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Bedford will feature an art exhibition of watercolor paintings and drawings by former director and local artist Michael M. Strueber from July 29 to Oct. 9.

The exhibition, “Twenty-Five Year Survey,” will fill the halls of the Bedford location with over 70 pieces of art curated from the past 25 years of Strueber’s career.

The Hollidaysburg-based artist — the founder and first director of the nonprofit SAMA — is known for his watercolor still-life paintings and natural landscapes. In addition to his traditional work, this exhibition will be the first time his non-objective pieces will be on display for public viewing. For these works, Strueber said he was inspired by other forms of art like American quilt patterns and Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” ballet.

“I try to share my perspective of life as I live it and attempt to cultivate it,” Strueber said.

The SAMA Bedford museum has seven galleries that will be filled by Strueber’s paintings. The artist said he curated his works to reflect the architecture of the Bedford location’s distinct areas, which he helped prepare for its opening in 2018.

Courtesy photo This painting from Strueber’s Tropical Essence Series will be featured at the upcoming exhibit at SAMA-Bedford.

A complementary reception will be held at 5 p.m. July 30 at SAMA Bedford to celebrate the opening of the exhibition. The public will be able to speak with the artist and be the first to witness his exhibition in full. RSVPs can be made at sama-art.org or by calling the museum at 814-589-3020. Admission is free; donations are accepted.

“I’m doing it as a sort of promotion for the Bedford museum,” Strueber said “Just to get people going out to an art preview and having a good time.”

All of the artwork currently on display in the museum, some permanent and some temporary, is being taken down and stored to make room for Strueber’s work.

“It’s go time,” said Christi Draves, the site director of the Bedford museum. “It’s going to be a variety of his work, skill and presence in the community.”

Draves said donations received during the reception and exhibit could support the Bedford location well into next year and she is grateful for local artists like Strueber for their involvement with the future efforts of the museum.

“His presence is huge,” Draves said. “And what he’s able to offer to the community is even bigger.”

Ann Benzel, vice president of the SAMA Board of Trustees, said Strueber represents the power of possibility when it comes to the museum’s future. She has worked alongside him for over 50 years in the development of several Pennsylvania nonprofits like SAMA.

“He really has been the catalyst for what SAMA has been and what it has become today,” Benzel said.

Strueber has been involved with the nonprofit since its founding in 1976 and has seen it expand to include five locations around Central Pennsylvania. According to SAMA’s website, it now hosts over 7,500 pieces of art in its permanent collection and sees about 81,000 visitors each year.

Strueber worked as head of the Fine Arts Department at Saint Francis University before serving as SAMA’s director through 2008. Since then, Strueber has retained a position on the Board of Trustees as director emeritus. He and his wife, Margaret, were awarded SAMA’s Service to the Arts Award in 2016 for their continued support of the museum.

“As museum director, I never had the opportunity of promoting my work,” Strueber said.

Now 77, Strueber said he is glad his income has never relied solely on his painting. His pieces have been featured in over 400 collections in 38 states, several of which will be borrowed for the “Twenty-Five Year Survey.”

The majority of the exhibition’s paintings are courtesy of Allegheny Art Gallery, a personal gallery at Strueber’s Hollidaysburg home. It was once an eight-car garage, but has since been renovated to feature many of Strueber’s paintings and displays his colorful garden through wall-length windows.

When Strueber is not painting, he said he spends as much time as he can gardening and enjoying his 2.5-acre property. The artist said his expertise in painting and gardening grew in tandem.

“Gardening, to me, is like creating one giant painting,” the artist said. “It’s never finished, it’s always evolving.”

His nature-inspired paintings reflect his upbringing near Pittsburgh, as well as his enjoyment of Florida’s more tropical blooms, where he spends the winter months and produces still-life floral paintings.

A former curator of the museum, V. Scott Diamond, composed a written reflection for Strueber’s work. The reflection can be read in full in a brochure from the exhibition.

“As the artist himself will tell you,” Diamond writes, “he is as much a product of the Western Pennsylvania soil as the flowers he portrays.”

He said that this exhibition will be a way to connect his Pennsylvania roots with his artistic inspiration in many parts of the world. Several of his pieces are influenced by the Japanese floral arrangement technique Ikebana.

Draves said the future goals of SAMA Bedford focus on continuing educational programming for the community. She said, with the help from supporters like Strueber, a children’s room will be added to the location to expand art education.

“We want to bring children in,” Draves said, “give them something they may not get out of rural living.”

There are three separate events that will accompany Strueber’s exhibition at SAMA-Bedford. They include an estate tour of his home and gallery, an artist-led tour of the exhibit and a complementary art critique for local artists. Sign up forms for these events can be found on the SAMA website.

Mirror Staff Writer Linden Markley is at 814-946-7520.

Events related to Michael M. Strueber exhibition

— A Home, Garden and Gallery Tour hosted by Margaret and Michael M. Strueber will be held at the Strueber residence in Hollidaysburg at 11:30 a.m., Aug. 20, features a champagne brunch provided after the guided tour. Registration fee is $100 and spaces are limited to the first 24 reservations. RSVP by Aug. 15, 2022.

— Lunch A La Art, a guided museum tour, will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Aug. 31, 2022. A seated lunch break will be provided mid-way through the museum walk through. To attend, register online at sama-art.org or call the museum at 814-589-3020. There is a $15 registration fee and spaces are limited to the 15 reservations. RSVP by Aug. 28.

— Artist Critique session by Michael M. Strueber will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 7. Those taking part can bring up to two pieces of artwork at any time during the scheduled event for a professional critique with Strueber. To attend, register online at sama-art.org or call the museum at 814-589-3020.

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