By Jessica Vento
The exhibit includes works created both before and after John Sears’ 1985 near-fatal bicycling accident, which left him with a traumatic brain injury. One highlight will be works from his Sketchbook Series, a collection of still-life drawings and paintings centered on the sketchbook that was always at his side and significant objects in his life. The series has not been shown in 30 years. Also, life drawings and self-portraits done both before and after his injury, are on display.
“The works selected for this exhibit both illustrate and symbolize John’s core belief in art and in life: Contrast is the key,” said Anne Sears, director of External Affairs at Westminster Choir College and his widow. “He emphasized to his students the importance of contrast in art. He also recognized that life is inevitably filled with contrasting experiences, such as happy and sad, or good and bad. He even named his boat Contrast, so it seemed appropriate to name this exhibit for this concept that meant so much to him.”
In conjunction with the exhibit, the Art Gallery will host a panel discussion focusing on creativity in the face of challenge on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. Gallery director Harry I. Naar; artist Cynthia Groya; psychology professor John Suler; and Anne Sears will discuss what drives people to create despite physical, emotional or economic challenges, and ways to support the creative spirit that lies in all people.
John Sears was an integral part of the art community in Bucks County, Pa. from 1970, when he moved to Newtown, Pa. from Chicago, until his death in April 2009.
“John overcame every imaginable, unbearable obstacle to create art,” Groya said. “He was only able to do that because he was most fortunate to be married to Anne, who lived every agony with him and did everything in her power to empower John and his art.”
His work has been included in exhibits throughout the United States, and has received awards including: the Patron’s Prize for Graphics at the Phillips Mill Art Exhibition; first prize for works on canvas in Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital’s 2003 Art Ability International Exhibition for Artists with Disabilities; and honorable mention at the University Medical Center at Princeton’s 2003 and 2007 Art First exhibition. His art is in both public and private collections, including those of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, Pittsburgh National Bank, Mobil Oil, Pittsburgh Copper Corporation and Moss Rehabilitation Hospital.
A graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Northern Illinois University, where he earned a master’s degree in art education, John Sears was also a dedicated art educator. For 17 years he taught drawing and painting at the George School in Newtown, and in 1983 he was recognized by the Rhode Island School of Design as one of the nation’s outstanding secondary art educators.
“John was a cyclone of unabashed enthusiasm – and when I stepped into his room in the mornings, I stepped into an expansive world of brilliant light and frenetic creativity,” said Jay Dunitz, a former student of John Sears’, in the art gallery program. “With a twinkle in his eyes, he’d deliver it all right to us. His ebullient, sometimes seemingly reckless energy, was utterly contagious. Sears’ love of life and passion inspired me – and did so in a way that nothing else at George School had.”
His 1985 accident left him with partial paralysis, speech disorders and double vision, as well as cognitive disability. Over the following 24 years, he struggled to continue his work as an artist, learning to compensate for the challenges his disability presented. In the Art Gallery catalog, John Sears is quoted as “not being able to live his life without making art.”
“Making art has been a central part of my life since I was a child,” he said in the catalog. “After my accident, when the doctors told me that I might not be able to make art again, I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine living without being able to create. Using as much will and determination as I could muster, I kept on trying, so that I could again work in my studio.”
The exhibit has been open since Sept. 19 and will be shown through Oct.13.
The Art Gallery is located in the Bart Luedeke Center. It is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Printed in the 9/25/13 edition.