The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place)

Jan Sawka was a world renowned artist with artwork held in collections of 60 museums. Originally from Poland, his life took on unexpected direction when he was exiled from his country during the Cold War. He landed in New York and eventually made his home in High Falls, where he continued to make art from 1985 until his death in 2012.

Currently, the Dorsky Museum has a one-person thematic exhibit of Sawka’s work, The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place), curated by the artists’ daughter, Hanna Maria Sawka and Dr. Frank Boyer. The artworks clearly show Sawka’s love for his new country and especially the Hudson Valley. This is seen in the large four-panel painting depicting the Ashokan Reservoir, a place that reminded Sawka of his home country. Hanna Sawka, the artist’s daughter, commented: “This was a favorite place for my parents to take walks. The Hudson Valley was a place tied to my father’s memories.”

Sawka, his wife and daughter would travel for summer vacations to Asbury, New Jersey. Sawka felt the urban decline of Asbury Park reminded him of the conditions in Soviet-dominated Poland. The painting, “Asbury Notebook,” contains a multitude of small sketches and paintings that describe one detail about the place. Together, the images create a symphony of visuals.

Sawka-Asbury-Notebook-HR-1536x970-2
Jan Sawka, Asbury Notebook, 1981 Acrylic, graphite, mixed media on Masonite Courtesy Jan and Michael Solow

An entire gallery space is devoted to Sawka’s series, “Post-Cards,” which includes 36 drypoint prints of places around the world that were meaningful to the artist. What is especially exciting about this exhibit is a recent discovery of a letter from Sawka to Elena Millie, who was the Fine Prints Curator at the Library of Congress, where he described the inspiration and memories that he associated for each print in the “Post-Cards” series. Visitors will find these descriptions available in the gallery to guide their exploration.

Sawka-Postcard #32
Jan Sawka, Post-Card #32 (from the series “Post-Cards”), 1987-89, printed 1990, collection Samuel  Dorsky Museum of Art, gift of the Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs

Each of the artworks was created using drypoint, which is a scratching tool to create line on thick sheets of Plexiglas. Hanna Sawka provided this memory of visiting her father’s studio: “The persistent sound of a steel needle scratching Plexiglas is a part of my earliest childhood, it was a sound that I would hear well into adulthood.”

Artists scribe lines into the Plexiglas to create the imagery for a finished print. Lines that are deep and thick will print darker when put through the printing press. Hanna Sawka explained, “The length and the rhythm of the scratches would change with the length of the lines or hatchings. It was not a quiet scratch, but a determined, loud sound as my father scratched hard to create lines deep enough to hold ink for the printing process.” The exhibit includes a glass vitrine that contains two Plexiglas plates for the printing process as well as Jan Sawka’s drypoint scribing tool.


This article was originally published in the Hudson Valley News Weekend, February 26, 2020

Special Events: Planned symposiums were canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic. An online symposium is planned for Saturday, May 2, 2020. https://www.newpaltz.edu/museum/programs/specialevents.html

Symposium: Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place): A two-day symposium co-hosted by The Dorsky Museum and The Kosciuszko Foundation in New York City including panels of scholars who will help illuminate aspects of Jan Sawka’s practice, his biography, and the social and historic context of his art. Speakers will include Peter Schwenger, Tom Wolf, Beth Wilson, the exhibition curators and others.

YouTube video exhibition views of Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place) Curated by Hanna Maria Sawka and Dr. Frank Boyer at The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art.

View the catalogue:

Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place) is up through July 12, 2020.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art is located at State University of New York at New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive (75 S. Manheim Boulevard for GPS), New Paltz, NY.

Call or email to check gallery hours: 845.257.3844 | sdma@newpaltz.edu

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Featured image: The Letter #3, 1979 Acrylic, watercolor, ink, varnish on board. Courtesy Jean Feiwel | Gallery photo by Linda Marston-Reid

 

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