SOUTH WINDSOR — Perusing artist Don Munson's exhibit at the Wood Memorial Library, viewers might recognize some of the barns and buildings in the paintings and sketches.
Munson, who has a permanent installation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, opens his exhibit "Memories-Architecture and Barns" at the library Friday night.
Inspired by local barns in South Windsor, East Windsor, Broad Brook, Windsor and Enfield, Munson's exhibit of abstract paintings brings a familiar landscape to the library's gallery.
"They're memories," Munson said. "Barns are important to me. I got my first pocket knife in a barn from my grandfather. I learned to shoot a rifle in a barn."
Munson, who grew up on Long Island, relocated to Longmeadow, Mass., several years ago and rediscovered his love of barns.
"I started seeing in the town of Longmeadow that there were all these old barns, and it was just all clicking for me. I eventually moved farther afield to Windsor and East Windsor and South Windsor to look at these barns," Munson said.
David Langone, executive director of the Wood, said the appeal of Munson's work is the local scenery and the comforting familiarity of the scenes.
"His work really ties into the community, and it's engaging to the community because of the area it's done in — Windsor, South Windsor, Broad Brook," Langone said. "The series hits home with the community and evokes some emotions and kind of reflects on some feelings we have on the area."
One familiar scene to South Windsor visitors may be Munson's drawing "Burnham's Garage and Filling Station" — based on the old garage on the corner of Ellington Road and Pleasant Valley Road. But if viewers don't recognize the scene, the library has displayed archived photos of some of Munson's subjects next to his work.
"We chose to have these archival photos next to them, to counterbalance the abstract," Munson said.
Langone said it was decided to juxtapose the paintings with photographs of the buildings they inspired, as well as Munson's field sketches, to give depth to the viewer's experience.
"When they see his field sketches and color choices, they just keep getting into it, deeper and deeper," Langone said. "I can see people when they get in how they really start to get into it. It's nice to see his field sketches to see what he was thinking when he was originally sketching the places he wanted to paint. It demystifies the paintings."
Munson's fascination with architecture goes beyond his memories in barns. As a high school student, he had to choose whether to study architecture at the Pratt Institute or fine arts at Parson's School of Design. Once he decided to attend Parson's, Munson said he expressed interest in combining painting and design as his field of study.
"One of my professors said I'd have to choose, and I said, 'You're wrong. I'm going to do both. I have to do both,'" Munson said. "All of my paintings are important to me, but they all go to line, color and seeing things differently."
Munson's distinctive style, which focuses on firm lines and subtle color, is the product of his passion for architecture, design and painting. He said his unique view as a designer gives his paintings a special life.
"I do the subtleness of light and colors," Munson said. "It's not busy. It quiets your mind. They make you curious. They make you want to discover."
Langone said one of the most captivating things about Munson's paintings is the fact that each barn, no matter how simply painted, tells a story.
"The barns tell stories that we are very interested in," Langone said. "He takes you into his own world with his artwork, and you're able to see the world and, importantly, see the local area through Don's eyes."
Munson said he likes to think his art leaves viewers with questions like why a barn door is open or what is happening beyond the barn's window.
"The barn is telling a story. Windows and doors tell us a lot of things," Munson said. "There's always something fascinating going on. There is literally magic everywhere."
"Memories-Architecture and Barns: The Art of Don Munson" will be on display through Jan. 30. On Friday at 6:30 p.m., the Wood will welcome Munson with a free reception and artist talk at the library.