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Hillside Salon features local artists

Hannah Cohen/Collegian

Chancellor Robert Holub’s wife, Sabine Holub, welcomed members of the University of Massachusetts community to their on-campus home Tuesday as part of the Chancellor’s family’s ongoing Hillside Salon arts series.

At the Salon, the Holubs treated visitors to an array of local art, including the works of Michale Zide, a landscape photographer, Nancy Winship Milliken, a weaver who shows her local colors by incorporating the intestines of Valley farm animals into her work, and two painters, Randall Diehl, a former New York Times editorial illustrator, and his wife, Nancy Hill, who specializes in painting knick-knacks she has found at flea markets.

The event commenced with a joint cocktail reception and the art presentations, which were followed up by a group discussion with the artists.

During the artists’ presentation, each was allotted about six minutes to present slides of his or her work.

After the reception ended, Hill presented the audience a portfolio of work ranging from some of her earliest paintings to the work she is currently doing. Hill attended Smith College and earned a bachelor’s degree in painting and art education through the University Without Walls program at UMass. She demonstrated her evolution as a painter through each carefully chosen slide she chose to show.

Hill’s early years were devoted largely to painting still life, mostly compositions of trinkets she had picked up at area flea markets. Through these oddball objects, she provided what she feels is a form of social commentary about the nature of possessions. As the years progressed, she realized these paintings had a limited audience and started to drift in a new direction. 

“It’s very classical, it’s sort of an offering,” Hill said about her current work. These days, she spends her time working on her technical painting skills. She creates still life paintings which are strikingly realistic in both lighting and proportion.

The next artist, Randall Diehl, presented a different approach to painting. Since his time as a sketch artist, Diehl has progressed into the world of fine art, and currently works with a group of local artists specializing in depicting accurate, earnest scenes of local life called the Valley Realists. Diehl is a prominent painter and has work hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the prestigious Clark Gallery in nearby Williamstown.

Diehl is known for his ability to bring to life sometimes forgotten brackets of society. He explained that he enjoys painting restaurants and other public places, because he finds beauty in everyday settings.

The least traditional artist of the bunch, Nancy Winship Milliken, a native of Amherst, was next to present. The only sculptor of the group, Milliken uses materials she gathers from local farms to create outdoor exhibits. These materials include sheep’s wool, honey and animal intestines. Milliken’s unconventional materials are a result of what she said is her deep commitment to the environment. She said she never brings toxic chemicals into her studio and prefers to work outside whenever possible. One of the main goals she keeps in mind with her work is to bring people into nature as much as possible; an activity she believes is undervalued in today’s world.

As part of her artistic process, Milliken will leave her sculptures outside in the elements to weather in the hopes of attaining a more natural look. This brings her art even closer to its base form, and cements its root in nature. 

“I embrace imperfection; allowing vulnerability is my steepest learning curve,” she said.

The final artist, Michael Zide, presented his award-winning black and white landscape photography. Zide’s work is prized by some collectors for his ability to selectively frame scenes, capturing in his images what he sees as the ambiance of the scene.

What sets Zide’s photography apart is that he uses film cameras that have large format exposure sheets, he explained.  This allows him to gain multiple exposures of single images, creating a unique perspective.

Currently, Zide is working on a series of photographs focused on apple trees and their vine-tangled extremities. He is doing much of this work locally, which he believes is congruent with his philosophy on his work. 

“I try not to travel far,” he said. “I like to challenge myself by finding beauty in the familiar.”

As the presentations ended, Zide justified his choice to be an artist with a statement that summed up the night well.

“We do what we do because there is nothing we would rather be doing.”

Zachary Weishar can be reached at zweishar@student.umass.edu.

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