Olivia Consterdine and Lillian Rubie, board members of the Deep Valley Arts Collective, ready the Medium Gallery for a show featuring the art of Adele Pruitt, opening this Friday. (Photo by Chris Pugh – for The Ukiah Daily Journal)
At 99 years young, Adele Pruitt is still going strong – still teaching numerous art classes and still creating and selling her catalog of paintings, which range in style from abstract to realist to hauntingly evocative landscapes.
On First Friday, Jan. 7, the Medium Gallery is displaying a large selection of Pruitt’s paintings. Her exhibition, entitled “Teach, Restore, Paint: The Works of Adele Pruitt,” represents a deep dive into her artistic styles and fluency, according to Chris Pugh, vice-president of the Deep Valley Arts Collective – the non-profit organization that runs the gallery.
“We at Medium are honored that the gallery is being utilized to celebrate one of the arts community’s local heroines,” says Pugh. “We’ve been asked many times by visitors to the gallery if we were aware of her work. How could we not know about Adele?” Pugh smiles. “It is long past time that Adele receive the accolades she clearly deserves from our community. This is a great opportunity to get to see her work and meet her in person on Friday.”
During an era when it was difficult for women to light out on their own and forge their own path, Pruitt attended San Francisco State and the University of the Pacific where she received her master’s degree in Art Education. For the bulk of her adult life, she made her living as a working artist, a teacher and most unusually, as a restorer of paintings and picture frames.Pruitt, a longtime Ukiah resident, became known by the community when she opened the Renaissance Gallery in the 1970s. The shop, located on Seminary Avenue, was the only place for locals to get paintings restored and framed. The gallery also afforded Pruitt the opportunity to teach and paint for herself. She is one of an elite cadre of individuals who can evaluate and restore paintings, which regularly arrive at her studio in various states of disrepair.
“I didn’t start doing restoration until after I moved to the Renaissance Gallery, when I kept getting orders for people needing their paintings cleaned. One of my employees suggested I go to the Academy of Professional Art Conservation and Science in Sonoma to learn to do this myself. That’s what I did,” she explains.
Jayed Scotti is one of Pruitt’s longtime students who has spent two decades working side-by-side with Pruitt – he, focusing on the repair of broken frames, and Pruitt recreating art works damaged by falls, fires and the ravages of time.
“Adele is a very unique artist – capable of many different styles of painting with a unique ability to bring her own sense of individuality to everything she does. She is a wonderful person and a great mentor, and an example of an individual who has been able to continue and expand upon her vocation, throughout her entire life,” Scotti notes. Like many local artists, she is probably most known for her paintings of local landscapes, but Pugh notes the exhibition will feature several dozen of her more adventurous, dynamic pieces including abstracts, seascapes and portraiture, created utilizing a wide variety of media including encaustics, starch, oils and batik.Every inch of her current studio, Pruitt’s Fine Art Restoration, is stacked with works in progress – her own, her students’ work and paintings awaiting repair. For the first time, notes Pugh, a selection of work restored by Pruitt will be on display.
“The processes involved with art restoration and conservation are very important components of the art world,” Pugh notes. “Adele is one of a very small number of people who can bring a damaged painting back to life and also teach the general public how to do it. It is extremely rare to find someone with these skills in a community of our size. It’s great to be able to share some of her restoration work with our community,” he continues.
“A while back, we restored a few pictures that were in a fire. The paintings had been in an attic,” Pruitt notes, holding up a bent canvas that had been painted by the client. Some paintings only need cleaning to bring back their original color values. Others take many months to fully restore. Removing a painting’s varnish and refreshing the painting with a new coat is a time-consuming, painstaking process. Pruitt displays a wooden box holding about a dozen small, glass bottles.
“We take large swabs and dip them in a liquid from this little kit, which contains chemical combinations created from my instructor’s original formulas. When we start to clean a painting, I start with one of these bottles. They vary in strength. Some may remove just the varnish, and some might actually wipe the painting off the map,” she smiles.
“If a painting is torn, or is in really bad condition, we put it on a new canvas, which is called lining,” says Pruitt. A formula of wax and resin is placed on the canvas with a hot iron, which allows the material to penetrate the cracks of the painting.
“Lining encapsulates and consolidates the friable, brittle, unstable paint layers, and adheres all the layers together. It makes the separate layers of a painting one layer,” Scotti explains, creating the conditions for the real restoration work to begin.
Conservationists and restorers vary widely in their beliefs regarding how little or how much restoration should be employed.
“What we do is known as aesthetic restoration. I match things back up as best as I can,” says Pruitt. “My customers want to put their paintings back on the wall and enjoy them,” she smiles.
What makes Pruitt’s skillset so remarkable, notes Scotti, is that when she restores a painting, she has to “become” the artist who originally created the damaged work – painting in their style, with their color palate and imitating their brush strokes. “It’s Adele’s ability to maintain invisibility as an artist, working on other people’s material that demonstrates her impressive artistic prowess – skills that clearly impacted her own personal work.”
“Restoration work requires patience and attention to detail, of which Adele has in abundance. She has an amazing recall of the many components, compounds, and chemicals in paints and involved with restoration,” says Pruitt’s longtime student Polly Palecek.
“We’re not supposed to do anything to a painting that can’t be reversed. Somewhere down the road, someone else might have to work on the painting you’re working on. I create a condition report so that the next person can see and understand what we did,” Pruitt continues.
As an instructor, Pruitt has taught students of all ages and skill levels, and despite the pandemic, she has continued to offer small classes. Over the years, she has taught hundreds of courses. Along with teaching restoration techniques, Pruitt has offered a variety of subjects including Life Drawing, Clouds and Skies, Perspective Drawing, Palate Knife and Brush Work and “Artist’s Choice” classes, attracting students from all over the country.
“Many years ago, I was re-acquainted with Adele at the beginning of my retirement. Since then, Adele has been my gentle, kind teacher and muse. She has suffered through my many, many paintings and many transitions and trials as I experience, experiment, and generally have fun painting,” Palecek notes.
“The highlight of our twice-a-week studio time is lunch, which we consider carefully and never fail to enjoy,” she laughs. “Other highlights are the retellings of Adele’s vast personal experiences. One of her more accomplished works is her biographical painting – her personal history depicting her family, relatives, former homes, cars, and pets.
“Adele’s life has been dedicated to creativity and art. All of this has not only enriched Adele’s personal abilities but has enriched and enhanced the abilities of her many students, for which we are all grateful,” Palecek concludes.
“As with all our shows, we do not charge any artist commissions, so 100 percent of sales will go directly to Adele,” notes Pugh. “As a nonprofit run exclusively by volunteers, we are always grateful for any and all contributions,” he concludes.
Per Mendocino County’s ordinance, all visitors to the gallery are asked to wear masks. The Medium Gallery is located inside the Pear Tree Center at 522 E. Perkins St. in the former Radio Shack store. The gallery is open Fridays from noon to 8 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.
For more information, log on to https://www.deepvalleyarts.org/medium or visit Medium on Facebook.