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(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)January 10, 2002

(Mahwah) – Works by Willie Birch and Winfred Rembert are featured in two exhibitions at Ramapo College of New Jersey, the first and second of three exhibitions in the College’s spring semester African American Series. Opening Wednesday, January 30 in the Kresge Gallery with a reception at 5 p.m. and artists’ talks at 6 p.m., the exhibits continue through March 1. Rembert, whose works are dyed on tooled and carved leather, will demonstrate his leather tooling techniques the night of the opening reception.

Willie Birch is a trained artist (he earned an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore) and educator who lives in New Orleans. “Mr. Birch’s work is, at heart, a storytelling art carried out with immense visual expertise,” wrote Roberta Smith in a review in The New York Times. She continued, “It can portray important figures and events, past and present, like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. It can also meticulously record the daily events of urban life, both mundane and tragic.”

The Ramapo show concentrates on his large realistic and very beautiful drawings of black people in New Orleans settings. “They are portraits of ordinary people, each painted with extraordinary affection. Birch has a special feeling for faces and hands and for the way in which a body holds taut, relaxes, or preens and in the process reveals who that person is,” noted Michael Brenson in New York magazine. The Ramapo exhibit also will include a few papier maché sculptures and mixed media works on paper that are less realistic in terms of detail and less gentle, with themes related to race and politics and titles such as “Moseley-Braun Speaks at Supreme Court Ginsberg Hearings” or “A Stool for Barbara Jordan.”

The subject of a recent exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery, Winfred Rembert is a self-taught folk artist who lives in New Haven, CT. One of his works, “Praying and Singing in the Cotton Field,” is featured in the centerfold of the current issue of Folk Art magazine. The artist is scheduled to speak at the new Museum of American Folk Art in New York City in the spring.

Rembert paints with dyes on leather he had tooled and carved. “Winfred’s works on leather, although made with the same techniques he used when he made wallets for a living, feature compositions which are often infused with a kind of classical beauty,” says Sydney Jenkins, curator of the exhibit and gallery director at Ramapo College. Rembert’s work is always figurative with themes that come from his memories of growing up in Georgia. He portrays people whom he knows as well as race issues, the quiet dignity of family members, and sometimes, political figures or celebrities.

Included in the Ramapo show are two pieces from his series of chain gang works, which feature the artist himself when he worked on a prison chain gang. “Almost Me” shows a lynched young black man and refers to a real-life incident when Winfred was kidnapped by the Ku Klux Klan.

Ramapo College’s Kresge Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information of the Birch and Rembert exhibits, call Gallery Director Sydney Jenkins, (201) 684-7147.

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Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The College is ranked #1 among New Jersey public institutions by College Choice, and is recognized as a top college by U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s, Princeton Review and Money magazine, among others. Ramapo College is also distinguished as a Career Development College of Distinction by CollegesofDistinction.com, boasts the best campus housing in New Jersey on Niche.com, and is designated a “Military Friendly College” in Victoria Media’s Guide to Military Friendly Schools.

Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, Educational Technology, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education.

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