Sam’s Pizzeria and Cafe is nestled in the 200 block on Main Street in downtown Northampton. Like its owner, Sam Harbey, the eatery is down to earth and friendly.
“We’ve been here for 11 years in the same spot,” Harbey says sitting in one of the glossy wood benches that skirt the restaurant. “I like belonging to a community — being in a community place.” And with that, Harbey spots another Sam — a beautiful, lean greyhound, who gracefully prances through the open doors for a handful of chopped chicken and a good dose of affection.
Besides serving up some of tastiest pizza in Northampton, Harbey also uses Sam’s as a venue for artists, both fledgling and professional. On a Thursday afternoon the sound of live music carries through the cafe. Rite of Swing guitarists, Mark Applegate and Peter Wietzman, perform for a light after-lunch crowd. The musical backdrop makes it feel like a low-key evening event, but providing music for his diners is nothing new.
“These guys play here 3 or 4 times a week,” Harbey says cheerfully. “But on Fridays, we’ve got the longest running open mic night in town. We get 16, 17 performers on any given Friday.”
Harbey also likes to make the dining experience at Sam’s a multi-faceted artistic experience, and as the guitarists provide the afternoon’s soundtrack, he looks around the walls and smiles. “They’re great, aren’t they?” He’s referring to the artwork. And he’s right; they are great.
On Sam’s walls is a collection of works by artist Lauren L. Anderson. It is her debut exhibit in the Pioneer Valley.
Anderson’s personal background is as eclectic as her artwork, and after reading her bio, her show title Connecting Moments is certainly appropriate. “I’ve lived in Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Kentucky, and Iowa.” And she says her college minor in physics and Ph.D in African American History have informed her artwork. Physics inspired her love of soldering iron and history taught her power of storytelling.
Anderson’s pieces range from wild three-dimensional collages to comparatively tiny watercolor compositions which, ironically, steal the show. The small works create a smart stylistic balance which is necessary to make order out of a showcase of competing media.
The larger pieces are whimsical, quirky, densely layered collages that contain metal, wood, and other materials. Anderson describes the process: “I start with a collage of random shiny and/or textured materials. I then paint over that with a dark thin wash. After it’s dried, I stand back and let shapes wash over me.”
Painted liberally with rich acrylic colors, the wash sometimes creates interesting nuances that provide added depth. These collages take shape and emerge as abstractions but without the mystery. The subjects are clear; it’s the process and technique that provide the mystery.
But it’s Anderson’s watercolors that steal the show. Watercolor is a difficult medium to master, and although Anderson is self-taught, she is clearly a natural capable of creating depth and shade. This collection is small and quiet but speaks volumes. Anderson says her watercolors are inspired by people and things she’s seen during her “travels across the country who have captured my imagination and heart.” It shows; there’s a very personal quality to these framed and matted pieces.
In Upper East Side, Anderson portrays the enduring love of an elderly couple down a New York City street. The stoop of the man’s shoulders is particularly poignant; revealing the couple’s stage in life. He carries his female companion’s colorful floral purse as they stroll about the Upper East Side arm in arm.
Anderson also has a large collection of utilitarian art pieces she calls What a Gay Day Coat Racks. They’re simple planks of wood with mounted hooks for hanging items.
The designs are tongue-in-cheek celebrations of queer lifestyles. One coat rack pictures a wood-burned drawing of two old-fashioned female ice skaters; it reads, “What a gay day to skate with your mate.” Funny, inventive, and useful, these coat racks are a cheerful addition to Connecting, and takes the whimsy to another level. Anderson starts with pine or cedar plank and adds knobs and hooks “to create a functional piece of art to bring a bit of gaiety and LGBT strength to your daily routine.”
Luckily, there’s nothing routine about Anderson’s show. It’s a pleasant journey through her travels and is housed at a venue whose goldenrod walls and cinnamon colored ceilings provide the perfect frame.
Lauren L. Anderson’s Connecting Moments can be seen at Sam’s Pizzeria and Cafe until March 19. Sam’s is located at 231 Main St., in Northampton. Sam’s is open everyday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m and til 3 a.m Fridays and Saturdays. Contact Lauren L. Anderson at LLAnderson859@gmail.com.
Gina Beavers can be reached at email@example.com.