The Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Gallery will soon be filled with the works by two recently deceased Benicia artists who were valuable beacons to the community, not only as artists but also as educators. The exhibit will be titled “Recollection: A Gathering of Work by Katrina Van Male and Bonnie Weidel.”
Exhibit curator Kathryn Weller Renfrow said the library gallery committee wanted to honor the works of these two artists.
“Both of these artists were teachers of young people in Benicia, and I was the director of Arts Benicia for 15 years, so I knew both of them pretty well and I knew a lot of their students some of whom grew up to become artists,” she said. “They’re very indebted to these two people.”
Weidel studied visual arts at the University of California, Berkeley and later picked up her masters degree in early childhood education at Sonoma State University. She taught private art classes to elementary schoolers and toddlers, founded Benicia Community Arts in 1980 and organized the Art in the Park event for many years. She also had a studio in the Arsenal and served as a member of Benicia Unified School District’s Governing Board from 2007 to 2011. Weidel died in April 2014 at the age of 84.
Van Male graduated from the University of Denver and moved to Benicia in the late ‘60s. Van Male began doing sketches, wood prints and painting before moving on to clay. She mentored a lot of young Benicia artists with her unique approach to ceramics.
“Katrina gave ceramic sculpture classes in her studio for many years,” Renfrow said. “Katrina was very brave and taught ceramics as an art medium rather than just making bowls. She tried to impart the idea of creating sculptures out of clay.”
Van Male’s sculptures were inspired by indigenous cultures like the Inuit, and she often incorporated bones, sticks, shells and other natural materials. Some pieces were a few inches, while others were 6 feet tall.
“The large pieces are difficult to move and install, so we won’t have them in this show,” Renfrow said.
Van Male was also both a student and an instructor at Solano Community College, where she taught ceramics. Van Male died in August 2015 at the age of 80.
Renfrow said both artists have left a treasurable imprint on the community.
“I’ve already shown people some of their work, and so many people knew them as teachers to their kids or as students themselves,” she said. “They didn’t really look at the work these two made. They were focused on what their kids were learning, not what their teachers were creating.”
“Everyone’s full of gratitude for what they contributed to the community as teachers and what they’re leaving us as artists,” Renfrow added.
“Recollection” will be on display from Saturday, April 2 to Sunday, May 8 at the library, located on 150 East L St. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays and noon to 6 p.m., Fridays through Sundays. A reception will be held 2 to 4:30 p.m., Sunday, April 2. For more information, call the library at (707) 746-4343.
"Lady with Big Collar" by Bonnie Weidel
"Untitled" by Katrina Van Male