Exhibit will honor a painter influential in South Jersey

Jim Repenning displays one of his own paintings (right) to one by the late Haddonfield artist Albert E. Sandecki, a mentor to Repenning.
Jim Repenning displays one of his own paintings (right) to one by the late Haddonfield artist Albert E. Sandecki, a mentor to Repenning. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 13, 2014

A painter deeply influenced by Albert E. Sandecki, whose name was once familiar in South Jersey and beyond, is helping organize the first retrospective of the late artist's work.

Opening Sept. 18 at the Markheim Arts Center in Haddonfield, the show "is kind of a farewell," says Jim Repenning, who owns Repenning Fine Arts in Audubon.

Sandecki died last year, at 78, after a long battle with cancer. He made his reputation with moody, oil-on-canvas landscapes of Maine. Bateman's Hill, perhaps his best-known painting, is owned by the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.

"This show is really special for us," says Markheim's executive director Elizabeth Madden.

The exhibit, titled "Local Legacy," will "show his work to so many people who were his students, and to the community," Repenning says.

It also will introduce Sandecki to people like me who have been unaware of the admirable role Sandecki and his family played in promoting art - and art education - in South Jersey.

Sandecki's career blossomed in Haddonfield, where his family's frame shop, adjacent gallery, upstairs classroom, and residence on Tanner Street created an urbane enclave amid the suburban boom of the 1950s and '60s.

"Sanski's," as it was called, was a place where art was appreciated, debated, created, and sold.

"They were my first teachers," visual artist Maureen Drdak says from her home in Ardmore. "I held Albert and his father [Edward] in very high esteem. They encouraged me to expand my vision. They were dedicated to a certain level of quality."

"Ed taught us everything we know," says Cherry Hill art lover Tilly Spetgang. She and her husband, Irwin, were great friends of the family. "We walked in to get something framed, and it was instant rapport," she says. "We watched Albert grow from a kid to a mature artist."

Edward Sandecki built Tanner Village - a quirky, two-story row of stores and apartments on Tanner Street - in the early 1950s on the site of a former gas station.

An art connoisseur and entrepreneur, he salvaged bricks and decorative architectural elements from demolition sites to build a complex where three generations of Sandeckis lived and worked. His son Karl ran an antiques business; his son Albert painted and, with other instructors, taught classes, at Tanner Village.

"I grew up upstairs," says Albert's daughter, Katherine Sandecki, 50, standing behind the counter of her dog-grooming shop, one of a half-dozen small businesses now occupying the complex.

"You'd see the kids walking around with their paint boxes," adds Katherine, an artist who specializes in canine portraits. "Students would go to the library lawn and sketch dandelions and cherry blossoms."

Repenning, 56, grew up in Haddonfield and studied and later worked at Tanner Village. He remembers early-1970s classes as having an old-fashioned rigor, with 10 students at two neat rows of five easels each, all sketching still lifes while classical music played.

"It wasn't hippy-dippy," says Repenning, whose own business is somewhat modeled on the Sandecki operation - without the mandatory midafternoon breaks for family and staff upstairs in the residence.

"We had coffee time," Sandecki's widow, Jean, says by phone from Harborside, Maine. Her husband, she adds, "was a disciplined person. He had high standards."

Like Sandecki, Repenning paints landscapes empty of people.

"What I got from Albert's work was a sense of solitude, of going out into the landscape and being by yourself," he says.

As she helps prepare the paintings for the show, Katherine Sandecki says she can appreciate her father's technique ("it's wonderful to see his brushwork") as well as how he "expressed himself in his paintings."

Doing the restoration work, she adds, "is like hanging out with my dad again."


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