Meet Featured Artist Gary Bergel

Gary Bergel

by Annette Verna

Gary Bergel considers himself a multi-disciplinary artist.  He creates photographic art, assemblages, paintings, and installations by finding beauty in the ordinary of every day.  If you’ve visited the Berkeley Art Works, you are familiar with the range of his work.

For Gary, opportunities abound in daily life.  “I always carry my iPhone with me.  Sometimes what I capture is autobiographical.  It is somehow related to my life in the moment.”  Photography can also be a tool for seeing and sketching ideas for later expressions in acrylic paint.  “What I create is a result of my daily experiences.”  He keeps four questions at the forefront of his life to help him create:  Who am I? Where did I come from? What can I learn? How is what I do important to me?  “My art adjusts to my spiritual condition and I am committed to stay in a state of listening, looking, and learning,” Gary says.

Gary grew up in the Lakeshore area of Wisconsin.  He began experimenting with art materials in grade school.  He was educated by Franciscans, who also encouraged his creativity.  Gary credits his passion for pastoral beauty and the environment, and being present to the here and now, to that time in his life.  His high school science teacher, who also ran the photography club, encouraged his passion for film photography and gave Gary the use of his darkroom.  Through his camera work, Gary kindled an appreciation for the smaller details of life.

Gary operated a photo studio during his mid-teen years, shooting portraits and weddings, which helped finance his education at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison.  There, he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education, Biology major with Natural Science and Art minors.  He completed Senior Thesis research in Lichenology and Chemical Taxonomy with noted botanist Dr. John W. Thomson (1913-2009).  His passion for art led to a Master of Arts degree in Mixed Media also from UW.  “I studied under the renowned ceramic artist Don Reitz (1929-2014), the noted private press artist Walter Hamady (1940-2019), and was a classmate of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.”  The Master’s degree program provided mentoring by visiting artists from New York and elsewhere, such as Abstract Expressionist pioneer Milton Resnik (1917-2004), and American Realist painter Jack Beal (1931-2013).  “It was a great cross-pollinating time.  For my MA degree show I mounted an ‘environment’, referred to today as an ‘installation’.”

As part of the Humanities faculty at Western Michigan University (WMU), Kalamazoo, Gary founded Space Gallery, curated exhibits, and taught Arts and Ideas courses, which integrated lectures by visiting artists.  He engaged in Postgraduate Study in the WMU art department with Lithographer/Painter Curtis Rhodes.  WMU Ford Foundation grants allowed him to explore experimental printmaking, photography, and mixed media installation.

Gary is always ready to capture the happenings and beauty surrounding him.  “Working from a personal blend of Eastern and Western aesthetics, I endeavor to express and reflect the way nature encompasses and speaks of beauty, spirituality, truth and divinity,” he says.  “I’ve always been interested in the life of the Spirit, intrigued by contemplative prayer, and became dedicated to social justice work.  I was fortunate to spend a good number of years doing neighborhood reconciliation and ecumenical work.”  Leaving WMU, he became more involved in trans-denominational networks and worked in community development in Native American communities as well as internationally.  His travels fuel his artwork.

Gary has been instrumental in creating opportunities for art to grow in our region.  A member of the Berkeley Arts Council’s Artists at the Works co-op since 2013, he has served two years on the Board of Directors and is a wise advisor in our governance.  He sequences the hanging of our exhibits, which brings a consistent voice to all of our visual presentations.  In April this year, he designed and created a window display in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which presented thought-provoking highlights of the modern environmental movement.  This past February, he curated a show of local tattoo artists to bring more attention to the medium and to these artists as members of our business community.  Tattoo and Beyond featured tattoo designs and artwork in other media.  In January, he helped his friend and fellow co-op member Doug Kinnett, coordinate monthly art critique sessions (put on hold temporarily due to Coronavirus restrictions).  Through his volunteer work in the Healing Arts Center at the Martinsburg Veterans Administration Medical Center he curated the Veteran’s Vernacular exhibition at the Berkeley Art Works in observance of the Armistice Day 100th Anniversary in November, 2018.

In the wider community, he was a founding board member of the Washington Street Artists’ Cooperative in Charles Town, WV.  He has taught Visual Arts, Creativity, Color and Design and Introductory Digital Photography classes as an adjunct faculty member at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, WV.  He is part of the Shenandoah Arts Council Artists’ Advisory Board in Winchester, VA.  His efforts with the Veteran’s Vernacular exhibit influenced the Shenandoah Arts Council and the Delaplaine Art Center in Frederick, MD to also exhibit work by regional veterans.

Gary has received a number of awards, and has works in private, university, and regional museum collections.  He has juried for a number of exhibitions, including the Vizzi Awards at the James Rumsey Technical Institute (Martinsburg, WV), and for a Black and White exhibition at the Shenandoah Arts Council.  Recently, he juried into the 2018 Cumberland Valley Artists and Photographers Exhibition at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (Hagerstown, MD) and a juried group exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (Winchester, VA).  Gary exhibits at The Bridge Gallery (Shepherdstown, WV) and you can always visit his Web site, https://garybergel.com.

Gary and his wife Susan make their home near Charles Town, WV.  They have raised ten children; “all are unique and wonderfully creative,” said Gary.  Their activities range from photography to carpentry, surf and skate board design, engineering, dog breeding and training, blogging, teaching piano, and more.  Susan is an award-winning canary breeder.

Come to the Berkeley Art Works anytime this month to see Gary’s work featured in our front window!  You can also see some of his recent photography on the Berkeley Arts Council Web site at https://berkeleyartswv.org/artists-at-the-works-galleries/.  And of course, you can always come into the gallery on Fridays and Saturdays between 11am and 3pm to see what else is up in the co-op.

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