WSG Gallery's "The World Turns With and Without People" and "Silence and Breezes" explore nature and, sometimes, humans


Cathryn Amidei, Permission to Exit IV

Cathryn Amidei, Permission to Exit IV, handwoven with cotton, rayon, and polyester threads

The artists at WSG Gallery are experts at creating impressive responses to themed prompts. For March's exhibit, Silences and Breezes, WSG artists created selections that range from action paintings influenced by music to calming and atmospheric representations of the natural world. April's theme is The World Turns With and Without People, but like March's show, many of the selected works seem to buzz with anticipation for warm weather.

WSG Gallery continues exhibiting virtually on its website—where past shows can also be seen—and in the 117 Gallery at Ann Arbor Art Center, which is where The World Turns With and Without People will be through May 3. 


Sara Adlerstein’s oil painting on masonite, Eternal Love, is filled with both atmosphere and action: a colorful and lively abstraction, with bright yellow and blue asymmetrical forms clashing at the center of the muted cream background. Like many of her works, the composition is influenced by studies of microscopic marine life. 

Typically, the Midwest is not seen as a region filled with stunning landscapes, but WSG artist Valerie Mann continually challenges this assumption. In March’s show, Mann displayed Midwest Landscape Series, West on 18, a watercolor on paper. The painting explores the Midwestern landscape and its ever-shifting beauty, with Mann saying:

This piece captures a late sunset in western Indiana, but could be a lot of places in the Midwest. When I am shooting reference photos of our Midwest landscape, I know I am seeing something fleeting that changes from minute to minute. Watching the light change and the colors change is a sacred experience for me. Hearing the day quiet down and feeling the evening envelop me feels like walking into an ancient cathedral when I instinctively quiet my voice and look up in awe.

Nora Venturelli, Midsummer Greens

Nora Venturelli, Midsummer Greens, oil on canvas, 12"x12"

Nora Venturelli contributes two en plein air paintings, Midsummer Greens and Shed With a View, which she describes as, “Reflecting on the theme of this show Silence and Breezes compelled me to share these two paintings. There is nothing like painting outdoors, submerged in nature, to experience both.” Each piece is a lush, vibrant depiction of the unidentified landscapes that simultaneously feel familiar and long gone—summer is soon to come yet it is fleeting and ephemeral. 

Incorporating movement and music, Ted Ramsay’s Brahms and Visual Symphony — Mendelssohn are inspired by Ramsay’s responses to classical music:

Music has always been with me as I worked in my studio. The emotional power and excitement was both relaxing and challenging to my mind and body. I thought to myself, why not try to capture in my paintings, that personal emotional energy that the music provided. So the Visual Symphony Series began and the power of the sound and its emotional energy became the subject of my work. 

In Brahms, the blues, yellows, and greens create a busy amalgam of color and texture that almost appear to be vibrant feathers, with abrupt strokes. Visual Symphony — Mendelssohn uses a more expansive and moodier palette. 

Francesc Burgos, vase named Isamu

Francesc Burgos, vase named Isamu, ceramic


The natural world is again a vital source of inspiration for April's exhibit. WSG artists reimagine humanity and nature through varying lenses, some focusing on the world with people and others focusing on the world without people. 

Sculptural works by Francesc Burgos challenge traditional expectations, particularly in vase named Isamu. Isamu is a nonfunctional vessel, appearing from one angle as a fully formed vase and from another as a hollow structure supported by two “legs.” His small platter/bowl (, is a functional centerpiece, though it should absolutely not be used for food. 

Barbara Brown’s What is the future of the hand? "is a mixed-media piece that includes stitching on hand-painted canvas, found objects.” Using brass rods and thread to connect 12 panels, Brown’s work suggests that the future of the hand is tied to tactile creation. In Cities II, she again employs wire-edged binding to combine digital prints of film footage and text by Marianne White into a 22-panel book. 

Valerie Mann’s intricate and vibrant sculptural work Variations Within a Species is based on her observations from the collection of finches at the University of Michigan’s Natural History Museum. Made from repurposed wire, vintage sewing notions, and fabrics, plus discarded or broken toys, the hanging sculpture casts a range of shadows, similar to those in Flight Patterns from March’s exhibit. In Flight Patterns, Mann’s inspiration is clearly traced to the frantic form of the hummingbird, executed in sculptural form using steel, Plexiglas, silver leaf, and found objects. The resulting installation is a monochromatic work that suggests movement and shadow. In Variations Within a Species, the same effect of movement is achieved through cast shadow, but the finches are bursting with color. Using an eclectic blend of found and repurposed objects, the piece is bursting with energy and visual interest. Mann was also inspired by “the variations of color and markings within one species. ... We don’t often get to see birds still and lying in front of us. But in that situation, there is time to really study differences and similarities.” Her second sculptural work in the show, Domestic Bliss Sketches 4, is based on a combination of past sculptures: colors and abstract shapes dominate, while circular forms create a constellation of implied shadows. 

Valerie Mann, Variations on Domestic Bliss Sketches 4

Valerie Mann, Variations on Domestic Bliss Sketches 4, watercolor, collage, 18"x14"

Landscape again plays a prominent role in the exhibit, with artists Karin Wagner CoronMichelle A. HegyiConnie CronewettLynda Cole, and Nora Venturelli all contributing representational works executed in a variety of media including painting, pastel, printed digital art, and photography. Elizabeth Schwartz’s abstracted oil paintings offer depictions of natural phenomena: an underwater landscape in Deep Dive and a canvas doused in vibrant shades of yellow in Light and Motion, No. 2.  

While many approached the theme without people, still other artists asked what the world is like with people? What is the world like with people over the past year—during a global pandemic? Takeshi Takahara asks that question in Social Distancing, an intaglio and woodcut printed on Japanese paper, which represents a single human figure in the center of a yellow-orange backdrop, reaching toward the sky. The isolated subject appears drawn in charcoal, the edges ill-defined as if fading away. 

Looking at socialization in an entirely different light is Adrienne Kaplan’s beach series, in which she looks at people—crowds on beaches, to be exact. Their busyness and bright colors recall a carefree summer, one without the concerns of social distancing present in Takahara’s intaglio. Another approach to the world with people is seen in Cathryn Amidei’s textile works, which investigate the human figure in cropped compositions. Amidei’s figures appear in muted palettes. In both Permission to Exit IV and Fight or Flight, the only part of the body we see is a partial view of the subject’s legs. Amidei also connotes a sinister, lurking danger in both the color choices and the works’ titles. 

Elizabeth Smith is an AADL staff member and is interested in art history and visual culture.

"The World Turns With or Without People" can be viewed online, or in person at Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery from March 30 to May 3. "Silences and Breezes" can be viewed online.