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The first solo artist gallery of Harvard Square has arrived. On Sept. 18, Cambridge painter Susan Miller-Havens opened her collection to the public, titling the event “Now You See It Now You Don’t” as tribute to the ever-changing landscape of the Square and the power of art.
Located at 9 JFK Street, between The Curious George Store and Urban Outfitters, this space has historically housed pop-up shops and short-lived shoe stores, like Mudo and Karhu. But now, the one-room gallery displays upwards of 30 Miller-Havens’ paintings, spanning her career from early surrealist abstracts to her more recent works, which are intimate portraits of two or three people. Painting prices range from around $1,000 to $11,000.
The day before the public opening, the gallery held an invite-only opening for around 70 guests. During this opening, Miller-Havens told her audience that this show is not a retrospective but rather a salon, with no series.
Alexandra Eliopoulos, a student at the School of Education with a background in gallery work, helped organize the event. Since Miller-Havens has a large body of work, her team, Eliopoulos included, decided to create a studio-style gallery in contrast to traditional galleries in which everything is eye-level and uniform. Here, paintings are not arranged in lines on the wall but rather in clusters. Blended temporalities and styles render the space more “approachable,” Eliopoulos said.
Approachability is important to Miller-Havens’ style. According to her website, Miller-Havens is “known as an artist who invites the viewer into the painting through unexpected use of color, absence of background, and inventive cropping of the images.”
On canvas, she also fuses her two careers: one medical, one artistic. For years, Miller-Havens worked as a reconstructive surgical nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital. While working at the clinic, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Art.
“From a very early age I found my reaction to the world around me divided between a fascination with the inner workings of the mind and the aesthetic beauty of nature,” she wrote in her artist’s statement, which she distributed on handouts at the gallery.
In attendance was former Cambridge mayor Alice Wolf, a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, who selected Miller-Havens to paint her mayoral portrait. Since Wolf was the second female mayor of Cambridge, as well as an activist, she said she was looking for a portraitist who could convey shots in action.
“I saw that she painted baseball players, and I said, ‘That’s my girl!’” Wolf said. “I thought she would be able to portray activism. And she did.”
Wolf’s mayoral portrait still hangs in the Cambridge City Council Chamber — which thrills.her husband, Robert Wolf, considering all the portraits surrounding his wife’s are traditional male sitters. By contrast, her portrait depicts her speaking and gesturing with her hands. He said it captures her well.
Shari Tishman, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Research Associate at Harvard Project Zero, met Miller-Havens through the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Arts in Education Program. Tishman admires Miller-Havens’ ability to attend to detail, as well as her dynamic style.
“There is a sense of movement captured, but not arrested,” Tishman said.
For now at least, the Miller-Havens Gallery invites viewers to stop by and browse. With a four-month residency for Miller-Havens, although a first for Cambridge, the gallery will not be here for forever.
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