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Touch of a mother Frances Crohn's art resurrected in Wilcox exhibition

When Andrea Francis was 10 years old, her mother decided that simply being a parent wasn't cutting it for her.

"One day she was Mom, and the next day she wasn't there," Francis said. Her mother, the late local artist Frances Crohn, had enrolled in the University at Buffalo's art program, where she later went on to teach and paint for years in the company of artists Harvey Breverman and Seymour Drumlevitch.

After Crohn's death from breast cancer in 2005, Francis decided to mount an exhibition of Crohn's works, which go up in the retrospective "Frances Crohn: Far Away From Home" tonight in the Wilcox Mansion on Delaware Avenue.

"She was a mother who'd had kind of a run at motherhood," Francis said. "She said, you know, it's my turn now. Off she went, and she got into the art department at UB, and there were these big wheels . . . and she just really blew their minds, because she could hold her own. She wasn't just a kitchen dropout who wanted to paint pretty pictures."

During her career, Crohn produced a large body of work, one for which she was widely praised in the 1970s, when her exhibitions were warmly received at home and around the state. In both 1974 and 1978, Crohn's work won first prize at the Cooperstown Art Association's annual exhibition, and a series of local solo exhibitions followed, including one in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's members' gallery. But at some point, Crohn's renown faded. Although she kept producing works in colored pencil for most of the rest of her life, her once-lauded art receded from public view and she later dedicated herself to philanthropy, animal rights and avid gardening outside her longtime Snyder home.

Crohn's childhood in Victoria, British Columbia, had a profound influence on her work, Francis said.

"She was very influenced by what was on the beach: pebbles, stone, old ropes, things that were very organic in nature and interesting to her because they represented transition or decay," Francis said.

Gerald Mead, a local artist and Buffalo State College professor who curated the exhibition, wrote in a statement that the time was "long overdue for a more comprehensive and cohesive examination of her work."

The show, Mead continued, is an attempt to "bring together the artist's highly articulated prismacolor drawings and gestural paintings that forcefully demonstrate her unique virtuosity in both of these media."

Crohn's works -- combinations of geometric shapes and quasi-organic forms -- are often rendered in pastel colors and appear across a variety of media, including acrylic paint on canvas, colored pencil and sculpture.

Along with the exhibition, Francis has written a book about Crohn and made several prints of her work. She plans to donate the profits from the sale of those works to a number of her mother's favorite causes, such as the SPCA, the Humane Society and Physicians Without Borders.

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW

WHAT: "Far Away From Home: A Retrospective of Masterworks by Frances Crohn"

WHEN: Opens tonight at 5 p.m. and runs through May 20

WHERE: Wilcox Mansion, 641 Delaware Ave.

TICKETS: Free

INFO: 655-1464 or www.francescrohn.com

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