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Marguerite Bierman moves into new art studio at Scottish Rite

August 19, 2012
By JOSH BROKAW Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

We are standing inside Marguerite Bierman's newest Williamsport gallery, a modestly sized, high-ceilinged room painted aqua seafoam green on the second floor of the Scottish Rite building. On the walls is recent work, mostly, very fresh work: Serenity comes in waves off these "visual diary entries" documenting Bierman's "nature neighborhoods," scenes taken from around her Cascade Township log cabin, her mother's in-town backyard, seascapes and lakescapes and riversides from Maine and British Columbia and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness in New Mexico.

These are surprising paintings in person: the digital camera and flatscreen monitor don't yet capture three-dimensional texture well. Bierman runs her hands over the heaped-up oil paint she laced with a palette knife as she describes where she painted this one, who she talked to there.

"We were driving near Dallas (Pa.) and there were two acres of foxgloves, which you never see around here," Bierman says. The lady who lived there said, 'They've never been here before, but last year we had a tornado.' "

Article Photos

Bierman is seen with one
of her “plein air” paintings in Portland, Maine.
Bierman recently opened a new studio in the Scottish Rite Building, 348 N. Market St.

"That's two yellow lady slippers on a single stem - that's very rare."

"We were at Monhegan Island (in Maine), and (her husband, Dr. Norman Wengert) bought the last two ponchos on the island, and I was in the pouring rain working with the palette knife to capture this piece of life, this moment where I can live."

Each moment of life means a lot to Bierman. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer last May, operated on in July, and given a two-year window to live.

"I made a goal of going to a September opening in the Adirondacks - to make one last trip," she says. Her friend Phyllis Reynolds, a nutritionist, made up a macrobiotic "picnic," and she and her husband took off for the North.

The Adirondacks led to Monhegan Island, and then the couple returned home.

"Four days later, Norman said, 'Why don't we go to British Columbia - you've always wanted to go.' I told him 'I'm going to take painting supplies along.' He said don't take them, I don't think you can handle it - because they're so heavy."

They made the trip, and Bierman did more work at Ucluelet, B.C., painting the sea from their balcony. Not every painting in that "Rocks Alive" series is colored realistically, and that's not just on a whim.

"Norman [her husband] has developed a methodology that accesses the intuitive awareness we're all capable of receiving - we're all trained in logic but we have forgotten that intuitive part of our selves - he suggests what colors bring a feeling to the forefront, and I'm very receptive to his guidance," she said.

"Light is fragile, not lasting," Bierman says.

"Likewise with flowers; they come to be beautiful to attract pollination. I think about how the cancer changed my life, and I want to be more generous, giving, because you don't know about tomorrow. I wasn't afraid to die, but I was sad to leave my relationships."

Bierman's gallery was once the location of Phillips Supply; it's a well-shelved space (the walls also are doors) that she used as storage for most of the last five years. Lately, she decided to move more work here from a Mulberry Street location, and document her work with help from photographers Terry Wild and Chris Cooley, who also use the floor, along with artist Fred Gilmour and Imagicore Design.

We leave to take a walk; Bierman says she wants to go to the library. We don't walk even a block in an hour, and it's a struggle to keep pace. This petite 57-year-old lady was 30 pounds lighter a few months ago, and now she's taking stairs two at a time, up and down.

"I love the library, it's a temple on a hill," she says, as we step into the noon sun. Bierman gives a history of the library, inside and out. She discourses on patron James Brown, and original architect Edgar Seeley. There's Peter Koch's large glass panels lighting up the landings, work that once adorned the Genetti Hotel's lounge - "It's actually a Vietnam protest piece, you can see the kings playing chess with the lives of men." And there's Joan of Arc, and the Lady of the Lake, and the work of Francis Tipton Hunter, a Williamsport native who was a prolific magazine artist: some women are represented inside, to balance the all-male listing of canonical bards on the Brown Library's front facade.

Here we are in the Brown's foyer and beyond is the Brown's Beaux Arts rotunda, both renovated by Bierman and Wengert in recent years. She spent a decade as a goldsmith at James Myers' shop and years working as a decorative painter in the community.

"I got to beautify the community, I was happy to be behind the scenes doing historical stewardship and adding color," she says. "There's always this collaborative evolution; you can bring out the best in people if you're willing to show respect."

The gazebo inside the rotunda is titled "Respite and Ingenuity;" it was a collaboration with blacksmiths from Spring Mills.

Norman picked the colors for the foyer sight unseen and selected shades that matched the lavender and lime green in the rotunda's original stained glass.

There's no time to see their many other completed decorative projects in the area, which include the YWCA rotunda and First Presbyterian Church.

"We used colors on the churches that have a feeling of awe and appreciation for the worship service," Bierman says, as we stand in the Brown's entrance, which is dark, a relief from the bright sun glancing off the outside marble. "See the lit room beyond: you can use color and architecture to manipulate man's eyes."

From the library, we walk across Third again to the former rectory she shares with her husband that serves as chiropractor's office, studio, and home, all in one. "This is my experiment, my stuff," Bierman says, as she stands in the "Woods Room" under a deer skull chandelier, leaning on her recovery bed, which has a halved beech trunk at its head and foot from their cabin property. There are shining cherry wood doors, she points out real lime plaster - so much of the work done by friends, following visions she and her husband share.

There's more rooms, all done with special, strange touches; print doesn't do them justice.

"I think this could be out on the edge," Bierman says. "I want to make a new definition of myself - I just want to let people know I'm still here."



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