All in the family: Art show spans three generations

For the MacEwens, artistic talent is like a family heirloom that gets handed down through the generations. That, in fact, is the title of an upcoming art exhibit by the MacEwen family — "Generations" — opening Oct. 5 and showcasing the work of the library's art chairman Ed MacEwen, along with his daughter, Bonnie, and granddaughter, Jesse.

"The exhibit is going to be a very strong, exciting show with a lot of visual variety," said Mr. MacEwen. "I am featuring 10 paintings of Monhegan Island, an artist colony off the coast of Maine. Bonnie is showing her work in a grid of 16 paintings." Jesse, who won second prize in the youth division of the 2011 Wilton Art Council's annual Focus photography show, will be exhibiting 20 of her photographs.

"I think the public will be surprised and pleased to see what this 15-year-old has accomplished," Mr. MacEwen said.

"I can't wait to see it all hanging together," said Bonnie Sailer MacEwen. "It will be a very special event."

The exhibit will feature more than 70 works by the family, and will run through Oct. 30. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the library.

Library patrons may recognize the style, which may be seen in six Wilton Library murals painted over the years by Mr. MacEwen, both individually and with Ms. MacEwen Sailer.

"Bonnie and I have collaborated on three murals in the children's wing," he said. "The first one is titled Blue Tigers Ready for Lunch." It is done in a Caribbean style and hangs on a column as you enter the wing. Another is in the story room. It is a fanciful landscape with more than 80 species of birds, animals and fish. We made it three-dimensional by adding a large tree that has a seat in it for the librarians to sit on when reading to the children. Also, we painted a sky on the ceiling and carved out a section of the rug to represent water."

The third mural is in a nook in which the walls are covered with brightly blooming, giant flowers; and Mr. MacEwen also painted three murals in the basement, which he described as "super graphics depicting the categories of the library's book sales."

Mr. MacEwen has had a solo exhibit of his work at the library before, and a show with his daughter. This will be his first exhibit with both his daughter and granddaughter.

"As I curate the library's art exhibitions each month, people have asked me when I'm going to exhibit my works again," he said. "With my granddaughter Jesse an up-and-coming photographer, and the collaborations I've created now with my daughter Bonnie, it just felt like the right time for all of us to share our work."

Mr. MacEwen, who has exhibited widely in the region, with many of his paintings housed in private collections, described his style by saying, "I paint realistically, landscapes, subjects in and around water, the inside of barns, industrial equipment — most anything that catches my eye. I work in transparent watercolor and occasionally, acrylic. I do include people in my paintings if they are part of a larger vision."

Mr. MacEwen retired from the GTE Corporation in 1996, and lived in Wilton for 26 years before recently moving to Weston. He and his wife, Jan, are founding and still active members of the Wilton Singers and Wilton Riding Club.

Ms. Sailer-MacEwen, an alumna of Wilton High School who lives in Newtown, is an art teacher at Saxe Middle School in New Canaan. She said she works in "a lot of different mediums, but for this show I will have 16 12-inch acrylic paintings displayed. I also do a lot of multi-media work and ceramics — mostly wheel-thrown pieces. I would have to say that the style of my paintings is 'relaxed realism.'"

Jesse, a sophomore at Newtown High School, said she began taking photographs in middle school. Two years ago she participated in Wilton Library's "Wilton Up Close" with photographer Daryl Hawk.

Along with her award in the Focus photography show, she also won first prize in the Newtown Middle School's annual Halloween outdoor sculpture contest, with a collaboration with her friend, Hannah Fitzgerald. Their sculpture consisted of an eight-foot fish sculpture created out of wood, wire and more than 1,000 recycled CDs, she said. The sculpture later hung in the Children's Museum of Connecticut in West Hartford for several months.

"I love art classes," Jesse said. "I look forward to those the most."

How does Ms. MacEwen explain the artistic talent running through the family?

"I do think genes have something to do with it, but I also think if a person has a desire to be an artist, it can be learned," she said. "Maybe it's the early and constant exposure to the arts as a child that fosters the passion."

Her own upbringing was similar to that of her children's, she said. "My childhood was very creative — always creating things. Art supplies were always available with Dad painting pictures during vacations, and us making holiday cards and gifts each year, going beyond the norm on school projects. It was just always about art. And it has been like that at my house with my two girls as they have grown up. Art is just a constant."

The MacEwen family also includes her daughter, Kate, a fifth-grader; and her brother, Mike, who lives in Belmont, Mass., with his wife and their two daughters.

In the future, Jesse hopes to pursue a career in the arts. "I'm hoping to go to art school or even become an actress. I would also love to be a freelance photographer for National Geographic," she said.

Mr. MacEwen said his wife, Jan, has played an important role in nurturing and fostering the creative family atmosphere. "As art chairman at the library, I figure that I've installed more than 6,000 works of art, and Jan has been very supportive of the time I spend at the library. In fact, she has chaired the library's annual book sales and now heads up the basement crew that sorts and prices the books every week all year long. Her commitment to the library is incredible. We are both in the library about five days each week. As far as my paintings go, she is my best critic and figures out titles for all my paintings."

What is the role of art in our lives?

"Art is a mirror of society," Mr. MacEwen said. "Artistic expression can mirror every human emotion plus move people to act, to love and to enjoy and understand beauty. Art has brought me satisfaction on many levels, especially seeing my daughter and my grandchildren succeed."

As for the upcoming "Generations" show, he said, "I am really excited about this exhibition. It may not be our last. I'm waiting for Kate Sailer to produce some great stuff for a future show, plus who knows what my other two grandchildren may produce in the coming years."