In the North Dakota farm community of Abner Hershberger's youth, painting was not on the horizon.
People plowed flat acres; harvested wheat, barley, oats, and corn; attended the Mennonite church; endured long winters.
"It discouraged the arts. It was somewhat suspicious of the arts," he said.
But Hershberger, 71, did learn to paint; representationally at first, and in the 1960s, abstractly. An exhibit of his interpretations of North Dakotan fields opens tomorrow and continues until Jan. 13 at 20 North Gallery in downtown Toledo.
"Middle American Riches" also includes the paintings of Andrei Rabodzeenko of Chicago.
"I felt like I had traversed most of what I painted in a very actual way," said Hershberger, who lives in Goshen, Ind., and is retired art department chair at Goshen College. "I either plowed that land or disked it."
He explores space, giving it geometric and overlapping shapes that could have been made with a ruler and drawing compass, but still suggests cultivated land. Colors are perfect combinations of purples and gold, green and blues, red and orange; streaked with hints of grain.
"It has to do more about how we experience space as we fly over the land," he said. "How we in the 20th and 21st centuries experience the landscape is frequently from the air."
He'll also exhibit three sculptures, including a fanciful tribute to field stakes, used as site lines. "It was an attempt to celebrate that lonely stick out in the middle of the section of land with a T-shirt on it," he said.
Sharing space at the small gallery on North St. Clair Street, facing Fifth Third Field, are two distinct styles by Andrei Rabodzeenko. Gallery director Peggy Grant introduced Rabodzeenko to Hershberger in the spring, when both were in Toledo, and the joint show grew from there. Both men will attend tomorrow night's opening reception at the gallery.
Rabodzeenko, 44, will show about 18 pieces, including four new works that pay homage to the Old Masters of the European Renaissance - Bosch, Brueghel, Durer, Botticelli. This new work depicts figures, creatures, and objects against gold backgrounds and reminiscent of religious icons and altarpieces. In one, gnome-like fellows, seated in a little boat, drink and sing merrily, watched by a young man, draped in red and holding a shovel.
At a time when artists aim to carve out their own aesthetic, some techniques used by the masters - ways of mixing paint and maximizing the impact of layering paint, for example - are at risk of being forgotten, said Jenny Rayport Rabodzeenko, a Perrysburg native who is married to the artist. A 1980 graduate of Maumee Valley Country Day School, she met him about 15 years ago when she was studying in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Also displayed will be his signature work: subtle colors and suggestive symbols infused with surreal, naive, and dreamlike qualities. He arranges limited arrays of objects: human heads and bodies, barking dogs, knives, furniture, and a series of small, obscure shapes and designs.
Rabodzeenko calls his works "automatic drawings,'' to emphasize the unconscious he ransacks for each one.
Gallery director Grant, who represents Rabodzeenko, has previously shown his work in Toledo. His big metal sculpture, "Ark," reminiscent of a crescent moon leaning against a bicycle, was recently purchased by the village of Ottawa Hills. It's installed in the park at the junction of Bancroft Street and Secor and Indian roads.
"Middle American Riches" opens with a reception tomorrow, 6 to 9 p.m., and continues through Jan. 13. Gallery hours, which should be confirmed by telephone in advance of a visit, are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sun. 20 North Gallery is at 20 North St. Clair St. Information: 419-241-2400.
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