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In Concord, relishing an MFA curator’s great taste in drawings and prints

Jesseca Ferguson's "Lunar Landscape."Courtesy Concord Center for the Visual Arts

CONCORD — In 1966, the Museum of Fine Arts hired Clifford S. Ackley to work with Old Master prints and drawings. He’s still there — now, as curator of prints and drawings — and his catholic attentions range from Rembrandt to Jasper Johns to the 15 local artists in “Observation & Imagination: Works on Paper” at Concord Center for the Visual Arts.

Ackley has always supported Boston-area artists; everyone here now has work in the MFA’s collection, largely due to his eye and interest. The works in “Observation & Imagination” reveal his fascination with intricate processes and the primacy of good technique. Most of these artists are not of the younger breed, who tend to employ several methods from a giant toolkit to get their messages across. In this show, concepts are often a product of technique.


Catherine Kernan's "Time and Again #25."Courtesy Concord Center for the Visual Arts

In Catherine Kernan’s shimmering, panoramic woodcut, “Time and Again #25,” light and shadow streak over pond water, glinting gold on bottle green and deep black. Like Kernan (who has a show up now at Soprafina Gallery), Sandra Allen accentuates light’s fleeting dance in “Echelon,” an epic close-up of a palm tree’s striped trunk. Dark stripes reflect the sun; pale ones fall into shadow. Taking the time to see and understand light’s evanescence, and to render it, is a kind of prayer.

Sandra Allen's "Echelon."STEWART CLEMENTS/Courtesy Concord Center for the Visual Arts

Jesseca Ferguson shuttles through time in the cyanotype diptych “Lunar Landscape.” Her 19th-century photographic process depicts illustrations from an old atlas of the moon, Flash Gordon-era space fantasy. The negative and positive indigo images hit a sweet spot between nocturne and nostalgia.

In “Target,” collage artist John O’Reilly pastes an illustration of an ancient Greek nude into a paper blackbird from a target shooting set. Tilting lines in the background make the work spin, turning the idealized male figure into the center of an agitated bull’s-eye.


John O’Reilly's “Target.” Courtesy Concord Center for the Visual Arts

This show does not clamor or declare, nor is it heady. Rather, it celebrates the intimacy and immediacy of making marks on paper and the quality of attention it takes to create art, and with that, the quietude of an inner life. May we all experience that more often.


At Concord Center for the Visual Arts, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, through Dec. 20. 978-369-2578,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at