A Bridge from Isolation

Sunflower Road X

"Sunflower Road X" by Ilse Schreiber-Noll

Beacon exhibit hopes to inspire ‘turn of the heart’

Last year Ilse Schreiber-Noll mounted an exhibit at the Beacon Artist Union gallery of her woodcuts — this year, for an encore that opens Dec. 12, she will have not only woodcuts but mixed media, an installation and handmade books.

She says she chose the show’s title, Bridging Solitude, because she sees her work as “an invisible bridge constructed in times of isolation and loneliness. Amid war and peace, wildfires, state violence and a pandemic, this imaginary structure creates a dialogue between my inner experiences and the world.” 

In addition, she invited H.D. Gölzenleuchter, a woodcut artist from Germany, to display six of his works. “The installation belongs in a huge space, but we’ll figure it out,” she says.

Ilse Scheiber-Noll in her studio

Ilse Scheiber-Noll in her studio (Photos provided)

Schreiber-Noll, who lives in Croton, prefers to work in a combination of forms, each informing the others. “I do love to have a painting and then make a book related to the painting and add other media, then mix them together,” she explains. 

Her 2019 show included only woodcuts because it was dedicated to Antonio Frasconi, a Uruguayan-American woodcut artist who instructed her at SUNY Purchase, where she received a master of fine arts degree after moving to the U.S. from her native Germany. 

“He taught a class called The Art of the Book,” she says. “I took painting, but my heart was in printmaking. But then suddenly it changed, because I felt stifled by only doing one thing.” 

Her artistic career has unfolded in the same way. “I could never stay with one style,” she says. “First I did paintings on sad things like war, hunger and the destroyed environment. For several years, I used to paint realistically, but then it became more abstract. Now, I do a lot of environmental paintings.

“At one point, I found my paintings too restrained, so I tried to paint like Jackson Pollack — I went out and bought cheap house paint and a linen drop cloth and I started dripping. It gave me a wonderful feeling of freedom. I switched to making paintings not enclosed, not on canvases. Now I take a paintbrush and paint on the wood. I try to draw directly and loosely, because you should use the beauty of the wood and not get tangled up in the details.” 

Loss_open double page

Inside the book Loss

Schreiber-Noll is known for her handmade books. She initially worked with poets and musicians such as Joseph Brodsky, John Cage, Galway Kinnell and Octavio Paz, incorporating woodcuts with the text. “Everybody loved them,” she says. “But they became so valuable, nobody could turn the pages, and they had to go into a case.”

The books she makes now, “I want people to open, especially books about political issues. If you can’t turn the pages, why bother?” On the densely painted pages, Schreiber-Noll adds wire, wood and photos meant to evoke the book’s subject. “Sewing it together is a great pleasure,” she says.

When confined to her home earlier this year because of the pandemic restrictions, Schreiber-Noll created “spontaneous small gouaches, drawings, plus postcard-sized woodcuts. It’s been incredible, actually. The images I did were very light. I’m not only thinking COVID, COVID, endlessly.” Yet, once she could return to the studio, she “felt very much the need to comment.” 

“I didn’t feel like making too many Trump statements,” she says. “I looked rather on the conditions he created — hunger is one of them, and the immigration issues. The [border] wall and the separation of children from parents moved me. I feel helpless except for my art — if one person understands my message and gets a little turn in her heart, that’s what I’d like to accomplish. Everything I do is to make us feel empathy to something happening in the world.”

Bridging Solitude continues through Jan. 3. The Bau Gallery, at 506 Main St., is open from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. See baugallery.org. 

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