The recently opened Montpelier Cultural Center in Laurel is coming to life as artists and craftsmen move into studios. On any day, artists can be seen at work and the interested visitor is usually welcomed with a smile.

Last week it was a particular pleasure to view the February show of watercolors by Irene Sylvester in one of the center's galleries and to find the artist afterwards painting in a nearby studio. Her show includes two types of watercolors, those which are representational and a series of abstractions entitled "Shousi." As Sylvester explained, "shousi" is the Japanese word for subtle, which she used to refer to the infinitely varied shapes and colors she discovered when she looked at a dried leaf under a microscope.

This discovery was the stimulus for many of her watercolors which combine organic forms in delicate shades of brown and orange to form larger irregular designs. The more magnified the leaf structure the more it resembles gigantic rocks, pointing to an underlying unity in all natural forms. In the best works, Sylvester creates a world of quiet strength which seems both personal and timeless.

Sylvester achieves interest in her more representational works through expressive use of color. The background, for example, in "Miracle of Spring" is a delicately shaded world of greens and golds which embody the fresh innocence of the young girl portrayed.

For information on gallery hours call 490-2329. That number may also be used for details on the Monday night series of films and slide program from the National Gallery of Art which the center has just initiated. The series, which is free to the public, includes a program of African art this Monday at 7 p.m. and French modern and American painting on Feb. 25.