Artist Crystal Stokes Wins Inaugural Diane Gabriel Award | Visual Art | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Artist Crystal Stokes Wins Inaugural Diane Gabriel Award

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Crystal Stokes accepting the Diane Gabriel Award - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Crystal Stokes accepting the Diane Gabriel Award

Last Thursday, a small crowd assembled on the City Hall Park pavilion behind the BCA Center in Burlington. For many of the people in attendance, most of them masked, it may have been the first public gathering in many months. They came to witness the presentation of the Diane Gabriel Award to its inaugural recipient, Crystal Stokes.

It was a perfect day to be outdoors, to celebrate a beloved artist and to pass on a bittersweet legacy.

"The sun is shining so bright," said Doreen Kraft, executive director of Burlington City Arts, in opening remarks, "the way Diane was with us — in her friendship and her artwork."

Gabriel died unexpectedly in 2017 at age 70. This spring, BCA curator and director of exhibitions Heather Ferrell organized a retrospective of Gabriel's work, a sampling of the hundreds of pieces she left behind. Titled "Pivotal Moments," the show was on view in a second-floor gallery from February 12 to May 15.

BCA also revealed that Gabriel's family had offered to support an annual award in her name. One emerging artist per year will receive a $1,500 stipend and access to BCA's studios. Those were also the terms of BCA's previous Barbara Smail Award — of which Gabriel, coincidentally, was the first recipient.

Portrait by Crystal Stokes - COURTESY OF CRYSTAL STOKES
  • Courtesy of Crystal Stokes
  • Portrait by Crystal Stokes

Stokes, born in Morrisville and now based in Worcester, is just shy of 36. The owner of CS Property Management, she hasn't let business get in the way of making art. Though she's self-taught, Stokes has achieved an uncanny mastery of exacting portraits. What most distinguishes them is that Stokes paints in black, white and the grays in between — "the highest lights and the lowest darks," as she put it. Her close-up images of faces might be half-obscured by deep, intriguing shadow.

"I feel my style is a little outside the box, and I feel Diane's was, too," Stokes said. "As a biracial female, I've had to deal with being either black or white, so being put in a box has never been my favorite."

Stokes was surprised and delighted by the unexpected award. "I'm beyond excited," she said. "I can get to know myself as an artist."

The artist, who works from photos for her portraits, said she intends to make particular use of BCA's photography studio and will probably apply the cash award to "building an art space on the side of my house."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Passages"