Celebrating Diversity | The Pastel Society of America Annual Exhibition

As a species, humans are basically tribal animals. We take comfort, find strength, and receive validation by associating with other like-minded individuals. This basic human desire to belong has led artists to form art-related societies throughout history. Many of these societies are broad in scope, while others are more specific to a certain art medium, artistic ideology or fashion of painting.

In 1972, seeing the need for a society devoted to the promotion and support of pastel as a fine art medium, Flora B. Giffuni founded the Pastel Society of America (PSA) in New York City. As of today, it is the oldest existing pastel society in America and largely responsible for the popularity pastel enjoys today. PSA’s office is housed in the historic National Arts Club in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, once the home of Samuel J. Tilden, former governor of New York State. Adjacent to the office is the PSA School for Pastels. The Grand Gallery of the National Arts Club hosts the society’s annual exhibition, which takes place every September. Pastel paintings from across the country and abroad were featured in this year’s event and $35,000 in awards were presented. It marked the fortieth anniversary of the exhibition and was aptly titled “Enduring Brilliance.”

Richard McKinley led a special gallery tour of “Enduring Brilliance,” the Annual Exhibition of the Pastel Society of America, where he pointed out the tremendous diversity of pastels. Photo courtesy of artist Brenda Mattson.

This year, I was honored to return to New York City prior to the awards reception to instruct a three-day workshop for the PSA School. It was focused on underpainting techniques for landscape pastel painting. On the final day of the workshop, I was to lead a gallery tour during the opening reception for the weekend festivities. With so many masterpieces by so many professional artists, I worried about what comments I could possibly make. When I arrived at the Club, before the workshop, I visited the exhibit. Seeing the paintings in person did little to alleviate my concern. On the second day of the workshop, I decided to invite the workshop participants to stay after class for an informal walk-around and viewing of the paintings. As we began our tour around the gallery, it became clear to me what the theme should be for the next night’s public tour: the diversity of pastel. Every genre of subject matter was represented in a diversity of styles and techniques. Painting sizes varied from small to large. Some paintings were easy to associate to the legendary artists that had produced them. Others I did not know, but their names will surely become the pastel legends of tomorrow.

When it came time for the hour-long tour on Friday night, I tried to be informative and entertaining to the large crowd assembled. I hoped that they left with an appreciation of how far pastel has come as a medium in the loving/diverse hands of the artists and societies that adore it. Here’s to the next 40 years of Enduring Brilliance! And congratulations to Anne Hevener, editor of Pastel Journal, on receiving the 2012 Friend of Pastel Award at the Sunday night reception. For everything Anne does for all of us artists working in pastel, a heartfelt HURRAH!

Visit the PSA website at www.pastelsocietyofamerica.org. If you frequent Facebook, join the Pastel Society of America group now numbering over 600 members. It’s a great way to be part of the pastel community at-large.



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