PAINTING “MOODS AND FEELINGS” RATHER THAN “THINGS,” A FORMER LANDSCAPER DRAWS UPON HIS BUCOLIC ENVIRONMENT TO CREATE PROVOCATIVE LANDSCAPES
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI
Nature is at the heart of Stan Sperlak’s endeavors: the 35 years he spent in the landscaping business, the art gallery and sculpture garden he created at his 37-acre Cape May County farm, the short films he produces, and the artworks that have garnered him international recognition.
Known for his dramatic landscape paintings, Sperlak is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America, the Maryland Pastel Society, the International Association of Pastel Societies (where he achieved Master Circle status), and has served on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association.
“My works reflect my continuing exploration of the simple and sublime that exists in the landscape,” noted Sperlak. “I enjoy staying in this orbit that brings full circle what pleases me most, and how it strengthens me spiritually. Here, where the forest and fields meet the marsh on the Crow Creek, you can find sanity and inspiration.”
That land is also where he ran his landscaping business with 24 employees and 12 trucks. He began that career at 17 and sold the business five years ago. The property has over three miles of trails and 13 acres of salt marsh adjacent to the 15,000-acre Dennis Creek Wildlife Management Area. His paradise is populated by hundreds of species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and butterflies, all enjoying native trees and shrubs, rare orchids, and wildflowers, many he planted personally. Sperlak renovated his Amish barn into an art gallery and began collecting and building art installations throughout the nature sanctuary. The compound hosts workshops, lectures, small weddings and parties, musicians, and tours.
“I’ve always loved horticulture,” the multi-hyphenate said. “That’s why I have the sculpture garden. Among earth’s beings, humans uniquely create things.” Sperlak began drawing and sketching during childhood, graduating to pastels by age eight. Landscaping provided free time in winter to take up painting. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in his 30s while raising a family. In 1998, he hung his works in his office to see what, if anything, would happen. One soon sold for $325. Two years later he took some pieces to a gallery for framing and was asked to sell them there. That led to street shows and art fairs where he found a following. The lifelong Middle Township native has taught across the United States and abroad in Italy, France, and more.
“I want to help students have the same feelings I do when I paint,” Sperlak said. “There needs to be a destination in a painting. My goal is to make the paper disappear into a light space with incredible depth. It’s all about the texture, feel, patterns, and hidden meanings. You have to love what you are doing, and it has to show.”
At his exhibitions, Sperlak always includes a painting dedicated to a master like Van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, or Degas this way of demonstrating “students can reach back and take big lessons from those who came before.” The artist is also a history buff and recently completed a two-year project: a 35-minute educational documentary titled 300 Years in the Middle, primarily for schools and library fundraisers.
“I would ask people to tell me stories and became a repository of local history,” Sperlak explained. He asked neighbors to post more online. Joining the county museum as a board member gave him access to more fodder. Regional musicians and his son scored six songs for the lm, which he has shown at his farm where a fundraiser for Ukraine war victims was recently held.
Sperlak’s friend and fellow award-winning artist Steve Kuzma, of Ukrainian descent, proposed a pop-up art sale to raise funds for Ukrainian relief. After taking a small percentage for their works, 30 participating artists raised $4,400 for the Ukrainian Federation of America in Philadelphia. One woman donated paintings she found in her attic, with 100% of those proceeds added to the donation. During the show, Kuzma dressed in traditional Ukrainian garb, spoke the language, and played the guitar. “It was educational and timely,” Sperlak said.
While he has reduced participating in gallery shows, he “couldn’t resist the opportunity” to be the sole exhibiting artist at the opening of the new art gallery at the Cape May/Lewes Ferry Terminal, currently undergoing a two year upgrade under new lessee, Exit Zero Hospitality. So many guests attended that he was asked to return. “Our part of New Jersey is built on beautiful views, but in that area there aren’t many opportunities to see Delaware Bay with second floor views and enjoy the amazing sunsets with their incredible colors,” he said of the venue. “I continue to work in a way that lets me understand and express peace, and of course enjoy that time working.”
Sperlak Gallery & Sculpture Garden
521 Route 47 N, Goshen / 609.463.4805 / firstname.lastname@example.org