It was really by chance that Paula Rubin-Wexler of Braddock Heights, who since childhood had wanted to become a painter, actually became one.
Rubin-Wexler will exhibit 30 of her plein air paintings as part of her first Frederick-based solo exhibit, “A Sense of Place,” at the Artique Gallery on Market Street from Saturday to Oct. 26. An opening reception is scheduled for Saturday at the venue, located beneath the VOLT restaurant.
Plein air (pronounced “plenn air”) is a French term for “in the open air” and refers to painting outdoors in natural light.
“She captures the simple graphic image [without a lot of detail], and the color is right,” says gallery co-owner Nancy Pascale, who invited Rubin-Wexler to show her work.
“She captures the moment,” says Pascale about Rubin-Wexler’s paintings of sunsets, mountains, fields and the coast of Maine.
But the road to becoming a plein air painter was circuitous and long, according to Rubin-Wexler.
As a child growing up in New York, her mother introduced her to the Metropolitan Museum, where she fell in love with the Impressionist paintings of Renoir and Cézanne.
“I just enjoyed looking at them over and over,” she says. “They had a romantic feel to them, and I loved the coloring.”
Color is something she also learned from her mother, who was known for her exceptional taste.
“She had such a good sense of fashion,” says the painter about her mother, who once was a personal shopper at a New York store started by Henri Bendel, who brought Coco Chanel’s designs from France to the United states.
Rubin-Wexler says her mother helped actress Rosalind Russell and the Duchess of Windsor choose what to buy in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Years later, when Rubin-Wexler was working as a hard-driving advertising agency executive in Washington, D.C., she found herself envying the people in the creative department.
“I was so jealous of the artists that worked for me because they got to do art,” she says about not having the time to paint.
Then about 10 years ago she caught a story on the “CBS Sunday Morning Show” about Maryland artist Walt Bartman.
A Braddock Heights resident, Bartman was an art teacher at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda who also had founded and taught classes at the Yellow Barn Studio in Bethesda’s Glen Echo Park.
Rubin-Wexler lived close to the riverfront park at the time, and she happened to be walking her dogs there about a week after the program aired, when she spotted Bartman.
“‘Oh my God I thought he lived in Wisconsin where do I sign for classes?’” she remembers exclaiming to herself.
“I was meant to see Walt on TV,” she says now. “My jaw dropped I couldn’t get over it.”
She signed up for Bartman’s classes at the Yellow Barn, learning to paint live models and also plein air scenes, which she enjoyed more.
“I prefer painting outdoors,” she says. “I like spending the day outside. ... I like painting farms and big skies and barns.
“You have the freedom to be a kid again,” she says about setting up her easel on the top of a mountain or in an open field.
“You don’t have to think, just be in the moment,” Rubin-Wexler says. While painting, she does not attempt to paint exactly what she sees in any realistic way, but instead tries to capture the emotions that she is feeling.
“I want people looking at the painting to experience what I experienced,” she says.