Ben Beagle/Livingston County News
Jerry Alonzo, a retired Livingston County Court judge, is seen in the workshop of his Genseo home with some wood pieces that he has been working on.
A not-so-secret life for Geneseo artist
Retired county judge, woodworking artist returns to prestigious Rochester-Finger Lakes exhibition
For years, Jerry Alonzo lived two lives.
In one, he was a lawyer and a county court judge, with a particular interest in juvenile law. In the other, he was an artist, studying for a master’s in fine arts at Rochester Institute of Technology.
“I felt I had to keep it a secret,” Alonzo said. “I didn’t think I could be taken serious as a lawyer if I disappeared into the wood shop.”
But after a few years the Geneseo artist realized nobody cared.
“Once that light went on, I realized ‘Oh, this is not my secret,’” Alonzo said. “I’d close a real estate deal on time, then get asked how about my desk? I didn’t need to be hiding. So, I started merging things I do … I found that issues that greatly concerned me within the law — fairness, proportion, access — are themes that I explore in art.”
Alonzo, now retired from his legal career, has for the past decade or so gained renown for his work as an artist. He will share that story July 18 in an illustrated lecture at the Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave., Rochester, where he has an art work included in the just opened 64th Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition.
The lecture is scheduled for 7 p.m. and is the first of three presented by exhibition artists.
Passions enrich each other
This is the sixth time that Alonzo has had work selected for the Rochester-Finger Lakes exhibit — but the first time since 1993.
“I’m so tickled to be accepted,” Alonzo said. “And even more so by being invited to present the lecture.”
Alonzo had originally planned to split his work time between woodworking and the law.
“At one point, they were very separate,” he said. “The art was a glorious escape. The law I was involved in was often family law, which can be draining. When working in the shop with big tools you better be focused on what see and not yesterday’s case.”
Eventually it evolved into three days of art, three days of law.
“My plan for balancing art and law was to negotiate those paths separately, but after a few years they converged,” Alonzo said. “To my surprise, each path enriched the other.”
Alonzo said his work, which uses traditional cabinet-making methods, is “influenced by my surroundings, whether those be courts and ideas of justice, or by my physical surroundings in rural upstate New York.”
“I celebrate the often overlooked things around us, such as that delightful stone underfoot or bird overhead, it being my intent to honor the ordinary,” Alonzo said.
Wood is preferred medium
Alonzo was raised in New Jersey and graduated from Boston College and the University of Denver Law School. He moved to Geneseo with his wife, Kate, in 1974, and opened a law office on Main Street. In 1977, he was elected a village justice, and later served as a Livingston County Court judge for a decade.
He began taking art classes in the 1980s, eventually earning a master’s of fine arts degree in woodworking and furniture design from RIT’s School for American Crafts. He had initially applied to RIT, and while the college responded favorably to Alonzo’s portfolio, the college said he needed 75 1/4 hours of studio art courses. He had zero.
Alonzo turned to SUNY Geneseo where he was able to take some classes — the first formal art studies of his life — and study independently. Within a couple of years he was able to reapply to RIT, where he completed his master’s work in two years. He had his first exhibition, “Jerry Alonzo: Works in Wood,” in SUNY Geneseo’s Lockhart Gallery in 2005, the year he retired from the bench.
Wood was always Alonzo’s preferred medium. It goes back to when he was a child and received a small power saw as “the first gift I can remember,” said Alonzo, who was about 7 years old at the time.
“I remember my dad exclaiming to my mother, ‘Dot what are you doing?’ ” Alonzo recalled. “She said don’t worry, George — a neighbor — will help him out. And that started me on a path of building birdhouses as a boy and other wood projects.”
The projects became bigger and the tools more expensive as he gained experience.
Wood comes from a variety of sources, Alonzo said, noting an old walnut tree provided by Glenn McClure and others, such as a 24-by-24-foot wooden beam from a Toronto factory.
“All sorts of great ideas from reclaimed works,” he said.
“The material, it’s cooperative. You learn which ones will give it up a little bit,” he said.”I find more and more hidden in the wood.”
Some wood can be “ornery,” he said, but the most gorgeous, lively pieces are often found “from the butt down.”
About the exhibition
The Rochester-Finger Lakes show is Rochester’s longest-running juried exhibition. Every two years, the exhibit showcases work by artists from western and central New York. On view are paintings, photographs, prints, ceramics, sculptures, mixed media works, metalwork and furniture.
This year’s exhibition, on view through Sept. 8 in MAG’s Grand Gallery, features 100 works by 81 artists, including 39 who are new to the show. Artists were chosen from a field of 623 entries by 230 artists.
This year’s artists are eligible for seven cash prizes, including the $1,000 Memorial Art Gallery Award, selected by juror Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the $500 Harris Popular Vote Award, chosen by visitors during the first two weeks of the show. One artist will also be selected by the Gallery for the 6th Rochester Biennial, an invitational opening in summer 2014.
Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays, until 9 p.m. Thursdays. Admission is $12 ($8 for seniors, $5 for children ages 6 to 18 and college students with ID). Half-price admission is offered after 5 p.m. Thursdays.
For more information, go to mag.rochester.edu/ or call 276-8900.
Other local artists
In addition to Geneseo artist Jerry Alonzo, four other Livingston County area artists have work included in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester. They are:
Richard Harrington, South Lima
- Harrington has been a full-time artist since 1989. He studied at SUNY Geneseo, earning a bachelor’s degree in studio art and a bachelor’s in business administration in 1982.
- The artist has had paintings included in the “Made in New York” exhibition at the Scwienfurth Museum, Auburn; the Arnot Museum, Elmira; and the Butler Museum in Youngstown, Ohio. His work has been featured in a solo exhibition at the Lockhart Gallery at SUNY Geneseo. He currently has shows in galleries in Jackson, Wyoming, and Raleigh, N.C.
John Kosboth, Honeoye Falls
- Kosboth is a member of Rochester’s Arena Art Group, a more than 50-year-old organization featuring contemporary and abstract art.
Dennis Revitzky, Honeoye Falls
- Revitzky, 65, a retired art teacher, is a painter and printmaker. He previously had work in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition in 1980 and 1981.
- Among his recent shows have been “New York Visions,” a two-artist show at the Livingston Arts Center, Mount Morris, in 2009; and solo shows at the Arts and Cultural Council of Rochester, Gallery C. in Raleigh, N.C., and a career survey at Austin Harvard Gallery, Pittsford. His work has also been selected for juried exhibits from Boston to Arkansas and Braidwood, Australia.
Joe Tarantelli, Honeoye Falls
- This is his first Finger Lakes Exhibition, graduated in May from Rochester Institute of Technology with a master’s of fine arts degree from the college’s fine arts studio program.
- Tarantelli is a graduate assistant at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts studio in 2010.