Exhibit brings art of William Berry to campus

By Erika Moreno/Delta Staff Writer

The Middle East is often in the news today, but what we see and hear now is a world away from what artist and photographer William Berry saw when he visited the region in 1965.

A collection of Berry’s photos and paintings is now on display in the Morris Gallery of Contemporary Art on the campus of Missouri Valley College.

Sara Fletcher, assistant professor of studio art, is also the director of the Morris Gallery. Fletcher was brought the idea of showing the exhibit by Matt Rahner, the previous director.

The idea was originally conceived by Valerie Wedel, who collaborated with William Berry, and is the owner of the pictures and paintings. Wedel had already presented this show at Orr Street Studios prior to her contacting Rahner. Wedel had good installation shots from that show and Fletcher imagined the show working well at Missouri Valley College. 

Wedel worked with Janet Berry, William Berry’s wife. She worked with Berry on selective works. She would show Berry something related to creating the exhibit and she would have different input in it or suggestions. However Berry would be very supportive of Wedel and what she wanted to make the show like.

“She really gave me a lot of free rein to do what I wanted and so it was wonderful because it was a lot of freedom,” Wedel said.

In the gallery there was a binder full of photography and paintings that William Berry had done. However, since he passed away many years ago, his wife helped a lot by writing a lot of the text that was attached to paintings and photographs. 

Various amounts of art that’s in William Berry’s On Site Insights: An Artist Documents Daily Life in 1965 Middle East exhibit, consists of paintings and photography that is in the moment. In the exhibit you will see a lot of things that were repeated. He transitioned photographs into paintings, while they were the exact same thing. The only difference is that he might have put some objects closer as well as people. 

Berry had a roommate who was from Jordan. So when he went to visit, he most definitely let the people affect his work in a positive manner. A lot of the pieces that were in the exhibit had people in them. Wedel feels that he let the people inspire his work from when he went to visit, Jordan. 

“I think he was interested in what people were doing in their daily lives and I think he found a connection to that,” Wedel said.

Berry was drawn to poorer communities and not seeing the tourist related sites. Wedel said she feels like Mr. Berry could relate to that from growing up in a very modest background, he might have felt a connection from working in the oilfields in Texas. 

Wedel was hired when she was a graduate student in college. Berry hired her to to keep him company since he was so ill. She would read Casanova Memorie, Newspapers, New York Magazines. 

At the time when Mr.Berry was doing all of this exploring with these photography and art from Jordan and places in the Middle East, their weren’t a lot of pictures in color, most were in black and white. 

Wedel has been working on this exhibit for a long time.

“When I first started working with the works, I thought ‘oh it would be nice to exhibit these,’” she said.

Wedel and Janet Berry exhibited this in Columbia last year. However, she started working on this exhibit a few years before that. Putting the show together though was a couple of years ago. However, she had been working with these images and archiving them as early as 2007.

Wedel came to Missouri Valley College to give students a taste of what Mr. Berry had been working on throughout the years.

“It’s been an honor because I used to teach here and actually I didn’t initiate setting up this gallery space but I helped set up the gallery, and so it’s been a great pleasure,” she said. 

Mr. Berry got a scholarship which permitted him to travel in the Middle East and he had Middle Eastern roommates in college. 

“I think what’s most important is people,” Janet Berry said.

He used daily life as what students made the observation that it was in the moment. 

Mr. Berry was associated with journalism and was awarded the Dorothy Thomspon fellowship in journalism award. Which permitted him to take an extended time in  the Middle East. 

“My husband was both a painter, photographer, draftsman, and a designer,” Berry said.

He was the first designer for Texas Monthly Magazine, which that year won the award from the Columbia School of Journalism in New York for the best New Regional Magazine.

Mr. Berry was also a teacher and an author. He wrote a textbook titled “Drawing the Human Form” and he also put together two textbooks on the teaching of art for children.

Mr. Berry illustrated for magazines, children’s books, he did a lot of different things involving education before he went into teaching.

“He was very selective in what he chose to depict and how he chose to depict it,” Berry said.

The ability to select artistic license to start with a big scene and compress it into something small was an interest that Mr. Berry had. He was very precise in what he saw and what he did.
An art major, Aleksandra Rikic attended the artist talk and had a lot to say about what she thought about the gallery. She said the exhibit was something unique that she hasn’t seen something close to.

“As far as putting a show like this where and artist draws inspiration from the photographs but the original thought was the photograph itself, I think it’s a unique perspective and I think a lot of art students can find inspiration in all of these paintings, photos, and drawings that are presented here,” she said.

Rikic was recently working on a poster and she was inspired by Basquiate. However she then went into the exhibit and she noticed that some of Mr.Berry’s paintings are in some kind of correlation with Basquiate work. 

Rikic is very appreciative that Fletcher brought the exhibit because she believes that it can be a wide variety of inspiration for everyone. 

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