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Two Exhibitions Showcase Modern Masters from the Hudson Valley

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NEW PALTZ -- The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz presents a retrospective of important work from two masters in 20th century sculpture and draftsmanship, Raoul Hague and Andrée Ruellan. The Hague exhibition also includes photographs by Robert Frank.

That two-month show, "Reaminating Matter: Raoul Hague's Sculptures and Robert Frank's Photographs" has been organized by art critic and curator David Levi Strauss. It runs October 12, 2002 through December 12, 2002, and features seven major works by internationally acclaimed wood sculptor Raoul Hague, who devoted more than 40 years to coaxing powerful, compelling forms from massive tree trunks. Frank's images balance the show. The photographer was a longtime friend of Hague's who made portraits of the artist and his work. And in the Dorsky show the two are shown together through additional photographs by Brian Graham.

Levi Strauss, noting the "exquisite torsion and balance" Hague achieved in these sculptures, says "One of the signal pleasures of spending time with Hague's work is the way it causes us to slow down and look." To the curator's mind, Hague's pieces are experienced viscerally, with one's whole body.

Hague, whose work is included in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., among other major venues, sometimes spent half a year using chainsaws and chisels to free the figures he saw within a single 600-pound tree trunk. Rarely did he use drawings, preferring instead to allow what he considered the spirit inside the wood itself to come forward. "What is so striking about these works," said New York Times art critic Michael Brenson, "is the sense that [Hague] does not so much carve as listen. When he gets it right the sculptures seem to have revealed themselves."

Hague's early works have been noted for their sinuous, gestural, human-like form, though they became more abstract as the artist aged. The raw material, trunks of felled or dying trees, came from forests around Hague's home in the Catskill Mountains, where he worked for decades without mainstream recognition. More concerned with creating a body of work than with promoting it, the artist did not mount a solo show until his fifties. Now, however, nine years after his death at age 88, Hague's sculptures enjoy international fame.

Robert Frank recognized the intrigue in these works early, and in 1978 he and the photographer Lee Friedlander collaborated on a book, "The Sculptures of Raoul Hague," published by Eakins Press in a limited edition of five. The Dorsky show includes a selection of the Eakins prints from Hague's personal copy of the book, as well as other works from Frank's collection. David Levi Strauss believes the photographer captured the essence of Hague's tree trunk sculptures as no one else. Through his work, viewers experience Frank circling a 1964 sculpture with his camera - "not displaying it but regarding it," just one might in a gallery, Levi Strauss wrote.

Accompanying the exhibition is "Andrée Ruellan: Selected Drawings 1920 - 1970." Ruellan, a neighbor of Hague's from the Woodstock arts community, burst onto the international art scene in 1920s Paris and is herself a living record of cultural history in the 20th century.

The 97-year-old presented her first show of paintings at the Galerie Sacre du Printemps in 1925, when she counted James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and the poet Hart Crane among her peers. Her first American exhibition was in 1928 at the Weyhe Gallery in New York City. Known for her drawings of black American life in 1930s North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia, Ruellan focused on a population often ignored by other artists at the time.

Much of her work now sits in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York City, though Ruellan, like Hague, preferred working in quiet contemplation at home in the town of Shady, New York. Though their media differ, Hague and Ruellan are both members of the modernist school of art that emerged from the Art Students League in New York City during the 1920s. Both were employed by President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. And both finally settled in the Catskill region.

A 36-page illustrated catalogue, "Reanimating Matter: the Sculpture of Raoul Hague and the Photographs of Robert Frank," with an essay by David Levi Strauss, accompanies the exhibition.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum is open on Wednesdays from 1 to 8 p.m., and Thursday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. To contact the museum by phone, call 845-257-3844. Its Web site,, contains comprehensive information including driving directions.

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Editors: Contact Neil Trager, Director, Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, 845-257-3846. Image are available at: and Frank3-10-02.html