Sitting for the Princeton Arts Society Portrait Group
By Richard Morchoe
It’s rare that a man or woman has the rapt attention of a dozen people who cannot tear their eyes away. Every facial expression is observed with laser-like interest. Posture and bearing are noted by the congregation.
Are these people adoring a rock star or some reality show poseur? It was no icon of popular culture that day. In truth, I was not in any sense being worshipped.
My friend, Janice Rayner, is a member of the Princeton Arts Society’s Portrait Group. The members take turns providing guests who will sit for a few hours to be painted. As someone with no artistic talent, my rationale was: If you can’t make art, be art.
The sessions take place on Tuesdays, and instructions were to arrive promptly at 9:15 a.m. Janice was adamant that being on time was de rigueur because if the model didn’t show, she would have to serve. Timely arrival would do wonders for her anxiety.
When I arrived, the assembly was busily employed setting up chairs and easels and brushes. The members were bantering in a friendly manner until Janice, more or less the day’s bailiff, told me to take the chair.
The throne was not at all uncomfortable, but neither was it so pleasant that one was tempted to slouch. It is important to hold a pose. None of the artists, however, demanded absolute rigidity. After 20 minutes, Janice announced a break. There was a five-minute window of liberty to stand and stretch and walk around.
Then, Janice called us all back to the task at hand. Settling down a bit, I started to notice the artists at work. Bruce Dean was directly in front of me. Occasionally, he would hold up his brush to get some perspective. Diane Moore, next to him, had her work on her lap, and her eyes would move from there to me and back again. Everyone’s concentration level was high.
Another break and back to work, well for everyone else. The next 20 minutes seemed a bit longer. It was mitigated by the streaming of classical music from an online radio station.
The next break was special, not merely because it was longer. The Princeton Art Society’s Portrait Group does not promote the starving artist trope. Janice, as officer of the day, was also charged with providing sustenance.
She laid out a lovely table with cheeses, sausage, dip, chips, crackers, salsa and other items. While munching, I looked at the works in progress. It was heartening to see the partial results, considering the raw material.
After the repast, it was back in the chair for another two sittings. As time wound down, there was a request from some of the artists to better hold the pose. Windows lined the back wall and kept the space bright. It was easy to find a focal point outside.
At 12:30 p.m., Janice pronounced me free to go. First, I had to see the results. There was no lack of diversity among the work. Of course, we only see ourselves in mirrors and photos and have no idea how the rest of the world perceives us. It is worthwhile to get other perspectives.
How does one get bitten by the portrait bug? In Janice’s case, a friend had asked her husband to sit. He gave the lovely portrait to her. The same friend later asked Janice to take the chair. Inspired, she joined the group then and there.
If you’re thinking of letting your inner artist free, The Princeton Arts Portrait Group is an affable society meeting in a pleasant venue. Be warned: if every member shows up on a Tuesday, it can be a bit crowded.
To learn more about the group, email firstname.lastname@example.org and leave a message for Janice Rayner, Jean Murphy or Linda Johnson.
Portrait A: Rosalie Lazarus and Merry Pratt at Princeton Arts Society Portrait Group. Photo by Bruce Dean.
Portrait B: Diane Moore and Joanne Quinn at Princeton Arts Society Portrait Group. Photo by Bruce Dean.
Portrait C: Portrait of the author, who sat for a portrait. Photo by Bruce Dean.