At first glance, Ted Wetherbee’s large-format painting appears to show a multi-ethnic crowd in revelry. A woman in a white jumpsuit is dancing in front of a crowd – some 40 people strong – that includes a painter, a fiddler, a horn player and folk musician playing guitar. There may even be a businessman cradling reports.
But look closer and note the piece’s title – “Our Revels Now Are Ended” – which provides the first clue that all may not be as it seems. The revelers have looks that are more pained than joyous. And interspersed within the crowd is a small white-haired man in a gray suit who – appearing at least eight times – wears the same stern expression.
Wetherbee’s painting was exhibited in February at the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts’ annual Members Exhibit where it earned him the council’s Paula Henry Peace Prize. The painting is also featured in “As I See It: The Paintings of Ted Wetherbee,” a coffee table book debuting Saturday that chronicles the 87-year-old artist’s significant body of work from young adulthood to the present.
“As I See It” is one of two books that will be released by the Arts Council for Wyoming County. The other, “Our Farms, Our Families,” features art created by 10 artists to celebrate Wyoming County’s farming community. Both books were produced by the ACWC and will be available for purchase at the book release event, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the ACWC Gallery, 31 South Main St., Perry.
The event will feature a string duet performance, a dance piece, book signings with the artists, and canvas tote bags available for purchase that features art created by the 10 artists. A tote bag will be free with the purchase of any book.
The event will be presented in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines that include social distancing and face masks. Each attendee will be required to complete a COVID-19-related questionnaire.
No refreshments will be served and individuals are strongly encouraged to RSVP before Sept. 26 so that the arts council may honor the state’s attendance percentage capacity mandate and to minimize wait time outside the building.
The “Our Farms, Our Families” project was made possible by a state Council on the Arts grant awarded by the Regional Economic Development Council to the ACWC to produce an innovative art and agriculture multimedia program in Wyoming County.
The dance production, “Work of Your Hands,” was made possible with funds from Tompkins Bank of Castile and the Wyoming Foundation.
Wetherbee has frequently shown at the ACWC Gallery, including “Our Revels Now Are Ended,” which won Best of Show at the ACWC’s Members Exhibit in 2019.
“It’s thought-provoking,” said Suzanne Blackburn of Nunda, a member of the Genesee Valley Citizens for Peace, which presented the peace award during a Feb. 21 reception at the GVCA gallery in Mount Morris. “If you don’t stop and look, you may see one thing, and someone who lingers may see something else.”
Henry, an artist, was a member of both Citizens for Peace and the GVCA.
The award honors Henry’s works and values and is presented to the artist whose piece in the GVCA Members Exhibit most reflects the theme of world peace.
Wetherbee said he likes to make people think about what they see and interpret it through their own perspectives. His works often explore the human form and how an artist views the world around him.
“Like everyone here, we all have a take on the world,” he said in a pre-pandemic interview at the GVCA gallery. “I find that a lot on the faces I see.”
So, for his paintings, he said, “I like to include a little bit of everything, whatever is on my mind at the time.”
But don’t expect detailed explanations about the inspiration behind his works. He said he prefers to “let the paintings speak for themselves.”
Increasingly, though, he acknowledged that some might see the paintings as a social commentary.
“Whatever turns me on, I paint,” he said. “I try to stay away from political aspects. I find it is hard now, though. It’s thrown at us every day.”
A Connecticut native, Wetherbee’s family moved to Buffalo in 1939 where he developed an early love of drawing – comic book heroes such as Superman and Batman. He moved to New York City after graduating high school and attend Brooklyn Museum Art School under the tutelage of Isaac Sayer, a noted social realist. But the Korean War intervened and Wetherbee was drafted, serving in the infantry.
He later studied at the American Art School in New York City with Robert Phillip, a painter and etcher, and Raphael Soyer, another social realist. But Wetherbee again put art aside after moving back to Buffalo with his family and working on the railroad for more than 30 years.
Following his retirement in 1993, Wetherbee moved to Bennington and eventually resumed painting. He said he gradually gained more confidence to express his own ideas and thoughts about what he saw around him. His first exhibition at the ACWC was in 2007.
“It is obvious that I am not a technician,” he has often said, “but it is my hope that there is a little art in my work that people will relate to and enjoy.”