How you gonna keep em down in Provence after they’ve seen Cape May?

Stan Sperlak’s Rising’ at Cape May

3 minute read
'Crescendo': Is that sun rising or setting?
'Crescendo': Is that sun rising or setting?
Some of us are wedded to the typography of our birthplace. For a Philadelphian like me, it took time before I adjusted to a different landscape.

I can't place the exact moment when I noticed that I was becoming a unit with the terrain down by the coastline of southern New Jersey. It was a gradual transition. But one day, as I drove beside the backwaters and boggy marshes of Cape May County, something ticked in me.

Was it my body humming with the soothing effects of the grasses lisping in the cloudy morning beneath a grey menacing sky? Was it the waters rising, bogging out the stretches of muddy sand? Or the race of the birds beneath the horizon as I gazed at the tunnels of rivers leading to the ocean? Or the staring bleakness of the hollowed clumps of trees and white soil?

Don't know, but from that moment onward I no longer waxed nostalgic when a change of season reminded me of Pennsylvania's autumnal air or, in winter the grey interlockings of tree limbs in a Quaker forest. As spring approaches, my heart no longer yearns for the aroma of mountain laurel. The smell of cut grass in the summertime no longer finds me pining for the hills of Berks County.

Dazzled at 16

The artist Stan Sperlak moved to Cape May County when he was 16. His biography claims he can't remember a time when he wasn't in love with the infinite marshes and unbounded sunrises and sets of his surroundings.

In his current show, at the Soma Gallery Cape May, Sperlak pays homage to his environment in more than 50 pastels.

OK, sunrises and sets are the most popular depictions down on the peninsula (next to lighthouses). So what's new in Denmark?

Well, Sperlak concentrates his endeavors in the heather-lands near his barn in Goshen, a farm community far from the shoreline and its tourists.

Neither hills nor mountains

The landscape he depicts is flat and unadorned, devoid of hills or mountains. Although the title of his show is "Rising," Sperlak dares you to tell the difference between his sunrises and sunsets.

What's more, as if trying to prove some point about nature repeating herself, he portrays bucolic depictions of southern France and begs a viewer to distinguish between these and Goshen Township in his pastels.

Those pastel colors serve Sperlak's purpose well on canvas. The vividness of pastel pinks and magentas contrast sharply with his underlit tones of its grays and blacks, creating an ephemeral air in the landscapes.

Yes, of course, I can tell the difference between a sunset and sunrise. Everyone can if you carefully observe these pictures. And really, there's a major distinction between the unfettered light in Provençal hillsides and the two-tone beams gracing South Jersey's backwoods bogs. But, hey, I'm new to this territory.

Perhaps, in time, I'll begin to appreciate all of Mother Earth for every bit of her renewal and awakening vistas, regardless of its geography. Sperlak has. I have much to learn.

What, When, Where

“Risingâ€: paintings by Stan Sperlak. Through October 14, 2012 at Soma NewArt Gallery, 31 Perry Street (Carpenters Square Mall), Cape May, N.J. (609) 898-7488 or

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