Forbes Library

The Forbes Library is a handsome structure abutting the Smith College Campus at 20 West St. in Northampton. It’s stately and grand and at one time it was known as “the castle on the hill.” The grounds are perfectly manicured and the circular drive allows for easy entrance and exit.

The second floor of the library is dedicated to arts and music, and the Hosmer Gallery sits between the second floor stacks and the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Museum. The Hosmer is well apportioned and is dedicated to providing local artists opportunities to show their work to the public.

It’s a welcome juxtaposition; a plush and grand institution hosting the art of unknown or lesser known artists is refreshing. But it’s been part of Forbes Library’s cultural mission for over 100 years, and for that the community should be quite thankful.

The gallery is approximately 900 square feet and artists are usually shown in groups of three or more. It’s a great idea given the volume of full and part-time artists in the Valley, and it’s a great opportunity to see what individual artists have been devoting themselves to in their often discrete silos.

On display until the end of June is a joint exhibition by Dara Herman Zierlein and Pamela Acosta. A painter and illustrator respectively, Zierlien’s and Acosta’s works are a good fit even though there’s a polarity of intention.

Acosta aspires to illustrate children’s books; Zierlein’s works are political and much heavier. It makes, however, for an interesting show and the differences, although striking, are complementary.

Dara Herman Zierlein, an internationally published artist, is a graduate of Pratt Institute and teaches art in public school. She says of her art, “my topics of interest are often personal, involving my role and struggles as a woman in American culture… [and]… my political paintings touch topics such as equal rights, women’s rights, gender identity, environmental catastrophes and the consequences of plastic pollution on the environment.”

It’s Zierlein’s ecological narrative that speaks most loudly in this collection of paintings at the Hosmer. She paints seas littered with plastic bottles, balloons, tires, and trinkets.

Balloons Bite, Dara Herman Zierlein

Her large watercolors on paper are vibrant, dense, and leave little mystery as to what message she is conveying. In one piece called Balloons Bite, Zierlein features an albatross flying amidst a swarm of mylar balloons. It carries a deflated balloon in his bill, and the surrounding balloons have phrases like “Happy Birthday” and “Congratulations.” The viewer can’t help but ponder the triteness of these momentos given the length of time it takes for them to degrade.

In another piece called And Even the Oceans, schools of fish swim around a pile of black tires that rest in the center of the painting. Zeirlein is a passionate environmentalist and her work is a dedication to her cause.

“I am hoping my paintings bring about awareness and change in social and human behaviour.” She encourages each of us to “make the change to a plastic free life as soon as you can.”

On the lighter side, Northampton artist Pamela Acosta illustrates more of what might be rather than what is. Her works are airy and given to flight and escape. In certain works her lines are reminiscent of James Thurber’s fluid and carefully careless scrawls.

Pamela Acosta

Acosta says she “hopes to write and illustrate books for children,” and the characters in her illustrations have a connection to one another. She says she has been “concentrating on creating cohesive … narratives” for those different characters.

These characters feel transparent and weightless. Acosta, almost without exception in this show, uses a window as a possible means of escape. In one illustration, of which there is no visible title, a woman’s corporeal form splits in two as a spirit-like being floats to the open window. And although the body sits on a sofa, clouds hover over a grass which is adjacent to a wood plank floor.

The inseparability of the indoor and outdoor is mirrored in the woman herself, and Acosta’s interest in revealing the unseen can be detected in a different series of works in the show. In those other pieces, her subjects remove masks to reveal something new, something unknown to others.

A face, she seems to say, is just a mask; once it is removed, there is a freedom that is inherently connected to the rest of the world.

Paintings by Dara Herman Zierlein and Drawings by Pamela Acosta, June 2-29, 2018. Reception on Wednesday June 27, 6-8 p.m. Hosmer Gallery at the Forbes Library, 20 West St., Northampton.

Gina Beavers can be reached at