Documenting the past is a necessity and the triumphing and continued celebration of an incredible artist is a must, especially when said artist has strong familial ties to Centre County. The exhibit “Berta Golahny: A Singular Vision,” on display through March 12 at the Foxdale Village Retirement Community, is an examination of the life, career and art of the acclaimed painter and teacher.
Born in 1925 in Detroit to immigrant parents, Golahny took to drawing at a young age after watching her father design wrought-iron pieces for Liberty Ironworks, the company he founded in the early 1930s. She eventually settled into painting and the occasional sculpture.
Golahny’s daughter, Amy, a professor of art history at Lycoming College and specialist on Rembrandt, will host a lecture Feb. 24 at the facility to coincide with the exhibit.
She will discuss her mother’s works and will provide a presentation that will take a look at some of the more than 30 original pieces on display at the gallery.
“The exhibit on one hand is a retrospective, very selectively, of certain themes that my mother explored in her art throughout her life,” Amy said. “These themes involve joy, playfulness, love and also tragedy and threat.”
Though State College probably isn’t the first stop on a high-art tour circuit, it still provides wonder to an alert and vibrant community that should be able to appreciate the talents of a master in such an intimate setting.
“This is the kind of art that is at a very high conceptual level that one doesn’t usually see outside of a major museum or a major art gallery,” Amy said.
“Although Berta Golahny had been exhibited widely, especially all over New England, she never did have a show in State College and yet many people knew her and knew of her,” said Emily Kopley, Golahny’s granddaughter and Amy’s daughter.
Like many of her peers, Golahny’s art evolved and matured throughout her career and was reflective of how she felt from an emotional standpoint and the way the world around her was changing, incorporating current events and contemporary milestones onto her canvases.
“In terms of placing her work within the stylistic development of the 20th century, it started out sort of expressionistic and very free and loose,” Amy said. “And after a certain turning point, around 1970, she began to use a harder edge of paint with better-defined lines between forms, so things went from being very painterly to a more crisp delineation of colors against each other.”
Golahny passed away at the age of 80 in 2005 in Newton, Mass. Of course, Golahny’s paintings and creations are typically considered “exhibit A” when discussing the impact she’s had on the art community. The effect and influence that she had on those she taught as an instructor at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in Massachusetts for close to 50 years is everlasting.
“Her greatest impact was through her students,” Kopley said. “Most of these people were not professional artists; they had other jobs, but on the side they loved to paint and so they studied with her. She certainly influenced the lives of many people who loved to paint.”
In addition to painting and teaching, Golahny worked as a printmaker, a challenging skill that she began to develop when she working on her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa.
“She was a painter and a printmaker, and that’s a kind of traditional category that goes back to the Renaissance, but it means she was a painter who paints and makes prints,” Amy said.
“Usually she treated her paintings one way and her prints another way and they don’t always overlap exactly. They may overlap somewhat, but the idea that an artist is adept in both of those disciplines is a little unusual.”
Golahny’s originality and eccentricity are part of why the “A Singular Vision” exhibit and lecture are a must see.
The majestic murals and the firsthand insight that go along with them are unrivaled and allow for a unique experience that is hardly ever duplicated.
“She had a consistency of vision that isn’t trendy or easily recognizable, but it is extremely profound,” Amy said.