Now at the Gleason: Tangible & Tactile and Carlisle Reads – 200 Years Ago

by Karina Coombs

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An original library circulation ledger is part of the “Carlisle Reads — 200 Years Ago” display now on the second floor of Gleason Library. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Gleason Library’s latest Art at the Gleason show, “Tangible & Tactile,” has opened and features the painted and fiber art works of three area artists: Tarja Cockell, Priscilla Levesque and Nancy Tobey. While the artists use different mediums in their pieces, the shared result is imagery that begs to be explored. Tilt your head in one direction and then another and watch the colors and textures change. Step to the side and it changes again. Step in close and see even more. Also on display is a fascinating display of how and what Carlisleans read,  two centuries ago.

Scandinavian design

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“Blue Shimmer” by Tarja Cockell.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

Contemporary fiber artist Tarja Cockell majored in weaving and textile design in her home country of Finland. While she began as a weaver and produces vivid interior rugs and scarves (the latter is included in her collection) she also incorporates paint, applique and stitching to create more complex and layered wall art pieces. In recent years she has turned her attention to weaving more three dimensional and textural pieces. 

Cockell credits her Scandinavian roots with providing her design aesthetic of simplicity and nowhere is this more evident than the three dimensional weave located near the first floor circulation desk. “What is your point of view?” encourages the viewer to move around to look at different perspectives and was woven all in one piece on a double beam loom. Cockell then uses a glue-like medium that stiffens the panels and gives them their cylindrical shape. “Blue Shimmer” located in the main stairwell,  is another example of her new work and is made from hand woven, warp painted linen, woven with coated copper and contains over 700 threads.

Framed pieces that can be found throughout the library incorporate more complex and representational imagery according to Cockell, who creates them by manipulating individual layers that appear to blend into a single layer. She begins with the top or transparent layer, painting and weaving it as she goes. An under layer contains painted or stitched elements or applique. To understand how the artist created “In the Horizon,” look at the unframed “Ginko Leaf” and note the transparent panel that allows the background to seep through and create depth. 

To see more of Cockell’s work, visit her website: Cockell will also be participating in the CraftBoston Holiday Show at the Hynes Convention Center, December 2-4.

Creating optical illusions

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“Monday at the Thrift” by Priscilla Levesque.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

Priscilla Levesque uses the pointillist technique in watercolor and casein to create landscape and still-life paintings that evoke the 19th century artists that inspire her, such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. A lifelong artist, Levesque received a BFA from University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has continued to study painting through experimentation and with instructors such as Carlisle’s Maris Platais. 

For most of her career, Levesque has painted in watercolors, but began incorporating casein (a precursor to acrylics and in use since the time of the Egyptians) and pointillism several years ago with stunning results. Pointillism is a painting technique that uses patterns of tiny colored dots to create a larger image. Levesque begins her paintings with a drawing and then begins blocking the piece using solid colors before adding the dots that create the optical effect she is looking for.

Viewers will see a number of familiar scenes when looking at Levesque’s work with several of them focusing on local landscapes. “Old graveyard in Carlisle” is her interpretation of the Old Burial Ground and “Greenhouse” is from Jones Farm on Route 27 in Chelmsford. Having lived on Cape Cod, Levesque incorporates that imagery in her show as well. “Chelsea Girl” is of the Sandwich Marina and one of her favorite pieces. Note the space where the boat meets the sea in its reflection and you get a sense of the optical illusion created by pointillism.

In creating her work, Levesque prefers painting on location to capture light and shadow in ways that a photograph cannot and looks for locations where she can work uninterrupted. (She has even mastered painting in her car during bad weather). Another favorite of Levesque’s, “Monday at the Thrift” allowed such time since the Tyngsboro shop is closed on that day. While she explained that artists typically do not want negative or light space near the edge of a painting (which could draw your eyes outward), the lightness of the building with its cool greens and grays and pops of yellow and red keeps it in focus. Levesque also likes to play with background colors, blending from medium tones to darker. 

Levesque’s paintings can be found at the Cataumet Arts Center in Cataumet as well as the Cape Gallery Framer in Falmouth. To see more of Levesque’s paintings, visit her website: and her Facebook page: 

Luminosity, color and texture

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Geology #4- “Blue”. Encaustic and oil. A sample from Nancy Tobey’s newest work, which focuses on breaking down landscapes to their smallest element in this case, a rock.
(Photo by Karina Coombs

It was a long commute that brought Nancy Tobey into the world of art, deciding to give up her job to pursue a creative endeavor with the support of her husband. In 1996, wanting to combine her love of glass and miniatures, Tobey looked into making glass beads despite others telling her it was not possible. One catalog later she had the supplies needed to begin experimenting and discovered she had the talent at precisely the time the market for beads was beginning to grow. “Making little worlds inside of beads” became her life and moneymaker for nearly 20 years.

Wanting to create art that required more physicality, Tobey turned to painting ten years ago and discovered encaustic, an ancient art form that uses hot beeswax mixed with pigment. Not only was Tobey able to continue using heat in her art, she was also able to continue creating worlds using tools and brushes to scrape and move the medium, building and exposing layers as she went. Tobey discovered that she enjoyed the process of building imagery, and painting took over from glass.

Tobey’s love of color and texture is evident throughout her collection of abstracts. “Kaboom!,” located on the second floor, is inspired by the artist’s adult appreciation for graffiti and public art and pops with vibrant colors using the elements of wax and oil. “Red Door and Bicycle” is part of a series of doors that she worked on, consisting of nearly 60 smaller paintings that represented her journey as an artist and the doors that were opened to her along the way. Tobey describes it as her most representational work.

Tobey’s newest work brings her love of miniatures into her paintings. For her Geology series, Tobey turned her attention to a rock as the smallest element that would be found in a landscape. She then tweaked the color. Geology #1 – “Orange” lets the viewer explore layers and colors that spring up from the canvas as you view it from different angles. Geology #4 - “Blue” lets the viewer get lost in a sea of pigments, shapes and layers. Both images are shown individually at Gleason, but are part of a larger collection of images that ultimately forms a grid.

Tobey’s paintings and her glasswork can be viewed at her website: All three artists have studios at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, which holds Open Studios on the first Saturday of each month. Join the artists on October 1 and 2 between 12-5 p.m. for ARToberfest, Western Avenue’s second annual art event. For more information visit:

A reception will be held at Gleason for the artists on Friday, November 18 from 7 to 9 pm. Live jazz music will be performed by Ellen Cogen and John Mason, and light refreshments will be served. “Tangible & Tactile” will run until January 2, 2017.

200 years of Carlisle libraries

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Meeting Minutes from the Agricultural Library, a subscription library that purchased and loaned books of interest to Carlisle’s farmng community.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)
A Fable for Critics, a book donated to the Carlisle Free Public Library in 1876 by Bronson Alcott.
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

Also on display at Gleason, separate from the art show, is a collection of artifacts put together by reference librarian Janet Hentschel. It highlights Carlisle’s rich history of public library patronage dating back to Carlisle’s first subscription library. While in the process of cleaning, preserving and documenting the dozens of books that make up the library’s historical collection (in addition to the personal artifacts found within their pages such as ribbons, bookmarks and pressed flowers), Hentschel came up with the idea to display the town’s literary history. 

The town’s first subscription library was The Carlysle Library Society, founded in 1797 by Reverend Paul Litchfield of the First Religious Society. Dozens of residents paid an annual fee of $1.50 to join and each book checked out was 20 cents. Because books were very expensive at the time, Hentschel explained that subscription libraries, while still considered public, were “…a way for literary people to pool their resources.” 

Hentschel pointed out the Society’s Article 11, detailing how books were vetted at the time. “No book shall be admitted into the Library the object of which is to establish Deism or to endeavor to weaken the evidences of divine Revelation, neither shall any be admitted in which a vindication of the doctrine that all men shall finally be saved is attempted, nor any which directly tends to injure the morals of youth.”

The Society lasted for 47 years with two other subscription libraries following: The Amanda Reynolds Library and The Agricultural Library, the latter pooling its financial resources to acquire books useful to farmers. In 1872 Mrs. Lydia Patten worked to form the Carlisle Free Public Library, collecting money and books, and persuading the Town to contribute funds. Books were stored at private homes before moving to Wheat Tavern in Carlisle Center. When the Gleason Library opened in 1896, the collection was moved there permanently.

The second floor display includes an original circulation ledger, minutes from a meeting of The Agricultural Library and books from the later subscription libraries as well as those donated to the Carlisle Free Public Library, including one donated nd inscribed by Concord’s Bronson Alcott.    ∆