If you’ve not heard of Reynold Weidenaar, perhaps you can be forgiven, but if you miss this retrospective exhibition of the Grand Rapids native’s oil paintings, prints, and watercolors, you’re only cheating yourself.
Three local cultural organizations–Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), Calvin College, and Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD)–have joined forces to orchestrate this extensive exhibition that celebrates the 100th anniversary of Weidenaar’s birth. Along with GRAM’s retrospective are exhibitions at KCAD at Ferris State University and Calvin College’s Center Art Gallery. KCAD provides an overview of the artist’s work in drawing and watercolor. Calvin’s exhibition investigates the artist’s working methods, including several states of individual prints.
The 100th birthday celebration began in spring of 2015 with Through the Eyes of Weidenaar, an exhibition at the Grand Rapids Public Museum which focused on his self-styled role of community chronicler. Nationally recognized, Weidenaar (1915-1985) had a noteworthy career, and he is one of West Michigan’s most talented and renowned artists. He studied at the Kendall School of Design, Grand Rapids and the Kansas City Art Institute. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1944 and traveled through Mexico creating gorgeous images in mezzotint.
With roots in 20th-century American Regionalism–a movement dedicated to representing rural and small town life–Weidenaar’s work is timeless, depicting West Michigan through a historical context and singularly personal perspective. His deep familiarity with the region’s places and people allowed him to mine a wealth of subject matter.
Restlessly creative and ambitious, Weidenaar continually worked to hone his skills and master new artistic techniques. Known for his technical virtuosity as draftsman and printmaker, he became successful in the 1940s exhibiting and selling his etchings. He began creating mezzotint prints in the 1950s, even though the technique was not widely practiced at the time. Especially well received, his work in mezzotint fostered a resurgence of awareness and appreciation of this distinctive method of printmaking.
In 1954 he took up watercolor painting, and in only ten years, he had created 1,300 watercolors of West Michigan subjects–enchanting landscapes and industrial scenes that pulsed with life. After mastering etching, mezzotint, and watercolor, Weidenaar began to paint in oil and explored the processes of the Flemish and Dutch Old Masters.
When scrutinizing Weidenaar’s work, take notice of the intricate detail with which he created his works. His works can be very dramatic, at times satirical–or eerie with a mystical quality–but they are always intriguing and never dull. There’s much more than meets the eye: Familiar West Michigan cityscapes and landscapes will be apparent, and you’ll want to get up close to appreciate the idiosyncratic and sometimes off-color (so to speak) sense of humor depicted in his work.
Don’t just take our word for it; experience it for yourself. Go forth, and discover the wonders of Weidenaar.