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Local Notables: Phil and Judy Sigunick 

click to enlarge DAVID MORRIS CUNNINGHAM
The aesthetically exquisite vistas atop the Shawangunk Ridge that make up the incomparable Sam’s Point Preserve almost seem to demand that, upon inspection, one might find a rookery for superior art. A closer look at the hamlet of Cragsmoor—the sole inhabited aerie atop the ridge—proves that assumption to be well-founded. Cragsmoor actually gained prominence in the late 1800s as an artist colony founded by noted painter E. L. Henry, and longtime denizens Phil and Judy Sigunick are an integral part of continuing that tradition of exceptional creativity. Both husband and wife inhabit their own personal strata of visual art, and the constantly evolving product from their studios represents a spectrum of evocative work.

It was actually Phil’s potter’s wheel that originally brought the two together in the 1970s, a note made more interesting in light of the significant fact that, if there was one word to describe Phil, it would be painter rather than potter. In fact, the wholehearted, 10-year commitment that drove Phil to abandon his painting in pursuit of ceramic mastery informs about the body of work as it does the artist: he is, simply, not the least bit interested in compromise. Phil is an inventor, musician, teacher, father, and multi-faceted artist, all approached with equal and complete passion. (He is also a primary character in Peter S. Beagle’s classic cross-country travelogue, I See By My Outfit, for which he is creating a soon-to-be-published series of illustrations.)

Recently, Phil also served as manager and curator of Wurtsboro’s Red Eft gallery, a highly celebrated compendium of local artists’ work until its closing two years ago—the final show that of Sigunick’s own work. The impact of taking in such an overwhelming retrospective caused Sigunick to begin reconsidering his approach, eventually leading to what he now describes as a personal renaissance. The vitality of his new work is readily apparent; the deftly crafted colors and strokes, from portraiture or landscape, are a study in subtlety and boldness. “Art is an endless struggle, and an endless source of joy,” Phil posits with a wry smile. “I’ve left my comfort zone way behind, and I’m loving it.” A selection of new paintings will be on display at SUNY Ulster’s Muroff Kotler Gallery, from November 30 through December 21, part of the show “About Place.”

According to Phil, he knew Judy was a “clay person” from the moment she walked into the first of his pottery classes; while that assessment is certainly true, it is far from a complete definition. The continuing journey of Judy Judy’s career has afforded her mastery over a range of mediums, each deliberately chosen and manipulated to gather every last mote of energy into her work. Judy’s community involvement is widespread, and her public commissioned creations are on display throughout the region, readily identifiable to the attentive eye. Concrete figures like the imposing rhinoceros at the Rosendale Community Center and the Poorhouse Memorial Rebekah at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz embody a combination of pathos and ferocity that is undeniably Judy’s. As a teacher at Dutchess Community College, as well as at Rosendale’s Women’s Studio Workshop, she shares her singular perspective and skill with generations of other artists. “I want my work to matter,” explains Judy, “and it will only matter if, somehow, there’s some access there to the truth.” Selections of Sigunick’s work are on display at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, and at the Stray Cat Gallery in Bethel. A show of her latest sculptures, a series of captivating mixed-media busts inspired by William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” is currently on display at Broadfoot & Broadfoot Gallery in SoHo.

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