Articles in the San Antonio Express News

S.A., Pittsburgh inspire Gallery Nord paintings

By Dan R. Goddard
Web Posted: 02/23/2009 12:00 CST

Donna Simon responds to the shifting lights and patterns of the San Antonio River Walk in her latest abstract paintings, while Sandy Whitby recalls the soot-covered buildings of her native Pittsburgh.

Simon’s “River Walls/River Lights” and Whitby’s “Alchemy” are on view through Saturday at Gallery Nord.

Since retiring as an art teacher at Brackenridge High School, Simon has been leading tours of local artists’ studios and galleries organized through her Web site, Seeing Art San Antonio. But she’s also found time to return to painting in these large-scale works inspired by her early morning power walks on the River Walk Annex in the King William neighborhood.

“It’s the best part of the day for me,” Simon said. “I enjoy looking at the variety of textures and patinas on the river walls. I also like the sunlight reflecting off the water onto the walls. I think I notice things that most people would overlook.”

She builds up layers and layers of paint on works such as “River Walls,” which have vague suggestions of geometric forms such as triangles and columns. Pink, yellow and orange are some of the light-hearted colors in “River Light,” which contains squiggly, energetic lines mimicking the interplay of sunlight and stone. Upbeat and uplifting, Simon’s lively, colorful paintings are more about how she feels on her morning walk rather than depicting the usual realistic river vistas.


Artist, tour guide offer an appreciation of art

Dan R. Goddard
Express-News Staff Writer
Web Posted: 03/24/2007 06:55 PM CDT

On a sunny Tuesday morning in his spic-and-span studio, 36-year-old artist Stuart Allen explained his plans for a giant cloth installation across the ceiling of the Great Hall at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

“I liked to sail while I was growing up, but then when I got to college, I couldn’t afford a sailboat anymore, so I started making kites,” Allen told a small group of intent visitors. “This has really informed my thinking about sculpture and the play of light and gravity.

“I’m doing these large fabric panels that will deal with the light in the Great Hall at the museum. I want people to be aware of the changing light during the day and to modulate the character of the light. As the light shines through these fabric panels stretched across the ceiling, you’ll be able to see the slight changing color of the light through the course of a day. The white cloth is the same that’s used for sails.”

On the wall of his studio, Allen had a few of the angular panels to show how the light shined through. He’s planning to create the full-scale installation in time for Contemporary Art Month in July at the museum. It will feature several rows of the twisting cloth panels strung above the main lobby of the museum.

Allen gave his behind-the-scenes preview to a group led by Donna Simon, a retired Brackenridge High School art teacher. Simon has founded a new business leading tours of exhibits and artists’ studios in San Antonio, which she promotes on her Web site at

“This is my dream job,” Simon said. “It’s a great way for me to share my enthusiasm about art, and to help people who want to know more about the art and artists in San Antonio. I like to teach and explain art to people who don’t really understand it. I want them to become supportive in an intelligent way. We have an enormous supply of talent in San Antonio, but what we need to build is a community of collectors.”

Simon has been leading her tours for more than a year. She usually has anywhere from six to 20 people at a time, and she’s attracted a coterie of loyal followers, mostly by word of mouth.

Former County Court-at-Law Judge Bonnie Reed, also known as a theater performer, started taking the tours to learn more about the vocabulary of visual art.

“I had a friend whose daughter is an artist in New York and she wanted me to tell a local gallery about her work,” Reed said. “I soon realized that I didn’t know the lingo; I didn’t know how to describe it. I mentioned it to Donna, and she said, ‘Take my art tour.’ It’s been fascinating, and I never thought my husband would be so interested, but he is. We have a great time on the tours. Now when I go to a gallery, I feel like I know what’s going on, and I know these people — these are the artists who live in San Antonio. It makes me proud to live here.”

Allen, who has a degree in architecture from the University of Kansas, built his studio in his backyard overlooking a swimming pool. With sliding glass doors and windows along a high ceiling, it is a clean, well-lighted space with a small loft area where he has his office and computers.

He studied sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute and has lived in California and Mexico. He made his San Antonio debut with a show of his kite sculptures at San Antonio College in 2005. He’s also a noted photographer whose work has been featured at Houston’s Fotofest. And he has a photography business specializing in reproducing artworks for artists and museums.

Some of his recent, almost monochromatic images are made from just a few pixels plucked from larger photographs of landscapes and sky.

“It’s a reductive process,” Allen said. “I take simple things and try to make them simpler, which usually reveals that they’re more complex than you might think.”

Allen’s work is conceptual and highly refined, but somewhat difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend. However, Simon’s group seemed to have a much better understanding of the artist’s work after listening to him talk and asking him questions for about an hour while he showed examples and photographs of his work.

“The tours have really opened my eyes to art that I may not have appreciated before,” tour member Marilynn Berkowitz said. “Having the artist explain his process is a great way to learn more about contemporary art. I really appreciate the intellectual effort that artists put into their work. People tend to dismiss contemporary art that they can’t understand, but learning about it is a great mind-expanding experience.”

Simon’s tour began earlier in the morning with a visit to StoneMetal Press, which was featuring giant, steamroller prints by one of New Orleans’ most influential artists, John C. Scott. The group heard an introduction by Wardell Picquet, a New Orleans artist and student of Scott’s who has resettled in San Antonio.

Besides explaining Scott’s innovative techniques for making prints, Picquet told a harrowing story about wading through chest-deep floodwaters in New Orleans to his girlfriend’s house, where he found a note saying she had left for San Antonio.

Coincidentally, the tour included another New Orleans transplant, Paula Horner, who was a docent at the New Orleans Museum of Art and now volunteers for the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville. Horner, who lives in Boerne, said she helped 11 families move to San Antonio after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

“The New Orleans museum had a John Scott retrospective last year, so it’s great to see his work in San Antonio,” Horner said. “These tours have been a wonderful way to get to know the San Antonio art scene. I really enjoy hearing the artists talk about the philosophy behind their art.”

Simon books her tours through the Inspire Fine Art Center. She schedules tours on two Tuesday mornings each month, each usually combining a visit to an exhibit and an artist’s studio. Cost for the two monthly tours is $50 to $60. Individual tours and group tours also can be arranged. Usually, participants are responsible for their own transportation. Simon provides maps and meeting times.

Previous tours have included Bettie Ward’s “Threaded Drawings” at the Southwest School of Art & Craft, “Lost and Found” at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center and the San Antonio Potters Guild show at Parchman Stremmel Galleries. Studio visits have featured artists such as Andy Benavides, Danville Chadbourne, Marilyn Lanfear, Alberto Mijangos, Katie Pell and Gary Sweeney.

In April, Simon plans tours of the Amy Jones show at the Bihl Haus, Gallery Nord with photographer Jarosia Poncar and sculptor Roger Columbik, sculptor Donna Dobberfuhl’s downtown studio and a tour of the Hill Country studios of Twyla Arthur, Pam Ameduri and Leticia Huerta.