Now Faced with Her Biggest Challenge Ever
By Anna Kivlan/Daily News staff
Daily News Transcript / Posted Mar 27, 2008
Art has always played a critical role in making Hebrew SeniorLife's facilities feel like home, and as the aesthetic director of the new facility off West Street, Natalie Wolf wants the work of Dedham artists and students to figure prominently. "We would love to have the work of Dedham artists," said Wolf, a future resident of the healthcare and senior residential complex, which will eventually house 800 seniors. "We're looking for ways to become part of Dedham's community."
A volunteer and Hebrew SeniorLife trustee for more than 30 years, Wolf is a kind of "curator" for the nonprofit's facilities. Now faced with her biggest challenge ever, Wolf is charged with finding 1,000 pieces of art to imbue NewBridge on the Charles with a unique sense of place. The facility is expected to open in the fall of 2009. So far, Wolf has found about 300 paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs made by artists from as near as Boston and as far away as India. But she is always on the lookout for pieces by young artists, students, and locals near her future home in Dedham. "I'm interested in working with the Dedham schools," said Wolf.
Local art is key to developing an identity for NewBridge and its residents, said Len Fishman, president of Boston-based Hebrew SeniorLife.
"We don't want it to be generic, to have it feel like it could be anywhere. Unfortunately a lot of places are interchangeable, but the design concept behind NewBridge on the Charles is to take advantage of the site."
Recruiting local artists dovetails with the architecture and color scheme of the facility, which is designed to "take advantage of the site and bring the landscape into the building," said Fishman. "It's important to us that artists who live in the community be represented," he said. Finding original art - not reproductions - for Hebrew SeniorLife's facilities has always been important, said Fishman, and Wolf has a keen eye for what is contemporary and sometimes edgy.
The walls of the membership office, one of the only finished buildings at the Dedham site, are filled with painting, sculpture and photography that draw on the traditions of abstract expressionism and other nonrepresentational art forms. "Natalie ... has a strong sense of integrity," said Fishman. "She buys things that not everyone has always liked." When Wolf was hanging paintings in one of Hebrew SeniorLife's Brookline facilities, residents complained about some of the "modernist" selections. But the paintings piqued their interest, and soon they were asking Wolf to lead tours and share what she knew about the art. "This is another great feature of Natalie," said Fishman. "She knows the artists individually and can tell you about them."
Wolf estimates that she spends about 25 hours a week dedicated to the pursuit of original, affordable art. But even when she is not technically working, she is always on the prowl. "I see people in the street and ask them about art," she said. According to her colleagues, Wolf's love of beauty alone is what qualifies her to be the facility's curator. A judge at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's New England Spring Flower Show, Wolf has singlehandedly made art a part of Hebrew SeniorLife, said Director of Marketing and Communications Ruth Stark. "While she's not formally trained, she just has a great eye," Stark said. "She loves beauty and is deeply committed to original art," said Fishman.
"Most people confronted with putting art in a community that needs a lot of it, on a tight budget, would default to posters and prints, and it would end up looking like other places," said Fishman. "Because artists know and love her, she is able to stretch our nonprofit dollars as far as anyone could."
Daily News staff writer Anna Kivlan can be reached at 781-433-8336 or akivlan@cnc.