We all travel on a daily basis. To the coffee shop, to work, to a friend’s house. But the places inside of us can offer an even greater journey, at times much farther and deeper than our physical bodies could ever take us. We are who we are today because of where we have come from and where we hope to go. This new work stems from a desire to reproduce those significant moments in our lives; to meditate on the chief scenes that make us who we are. Each moment, each station, has so much to teach us. Each requires us to pause, to halt, to reflect. We are on a pilgrimage of sorts; finding our way to be good, to be kind, to survive, to endure, to believe, to become who we are meant to be.
En plein air (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃ plɛn‿ɛʁ]) is a French expression which means “in the open air”, and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors, which is also called peinture sur le motif (“painting on the ground”) in French.
I took my painting students to the Park McCullough House in North Bennington, Vermont for an evening of painting outdoors. We painted the retreating light as it bounced off flower gardens, carriage barns, and fields of white horses.
It was good to unplug ourselves from the business of daily life, and soak in the surroundings of this beautiful property. This was a day to be treasured.
Not much in life goes as planned. It is a lesson hard learned but priceless. As I began the second half of my artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center recently, this lesson played out front and center. Artwork that had been planned for months shifted, leaving me feeling disappointed and uncertain, in a place of the unknown, rather than the structured world within my comfort zone. But this is where real growth happens, whether we like it or not. It happens when we take risks, let go of preconceptions, and learn to embrace the world we cannot control. Even though I had spent hours mixing delicious colors of ink for my next print in the studio, those prints were never in fact realized. I spent the week using only one of those colors on a completely unexpected set of prints.
The prints that resulted from this shift are abstractions of the natural world. Last November, I walked with my family through the Natural Bridges State Park in Clarksburg, Massachusetts. While standing there echoing our voices into the natural amphitheater of rock, I was struck by the sublime beauty of the withering milkweed pods and their feathering seeds that took flight in front of us. Not only is the milkweed pod a beautiful form, but it speaks to the cycles of nature – in this case, the pod breaking open to release the seeds that will be carried by the wind to find new life elsewhere. Wind is the vehicle of this exchange – the invisible yet powerful element of nature that assures the dying milkweed that its life will not be in vain, that when one door closes, another opens, and that while we may lament the past, there is always a future. My daughter and I gathered the dried milkweed pods that day and kept them in a glass vase in our dining room – a winter still life reminding us that spring was around the corner.
I am fortunate to be at the Vermont Studio Center for a two-week artist residency, of which one week has already flown by. VSC is located in the town of Johnson, Vermont. Artists from across the United States and abroad convene here for the time and space to make their work, as well as the comraderie of others. When we are not in our studios, we gather for meals at long wooden tables in the dining hall. Over an occasional glass of red wine, I have shared conversations with a video artist from Los Angeles, the Curator of the National Gallery of Art in Nigeria, and a printmaker from outside Boston, among many. My studio is in the Barbara White Building which houses printmakers, painters and photographers.
I have spent the first week of my residency continuing my work on The Eva Project, a series of drawings/prints that celebrate the women in my family beginning with my great grandmother Eva (on left) who traveled to America from Poland in the 19th century. The drawing of my grandmother Sophie is featured on the right. The pastel drawings are a likeness of these women, but are rendered as if they are living statues, modeled from stone or marble, living on forever in my memory. The butterflies, which I researched, represent common species found throughout Poland, and remind me of the journeys each woman has made and of the fleeting quality of life itself.
The Community College of Vermont presents it’s Spring 2012 student art exhibit “Artists of CCV” at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington on Friday May 11 with an opening reception from 5-7 pm. Featured in the show are students’ work from CCV’s Portfolio Development class. This semester marks the first time the class was taught in Bennington. The seven students, Pat Hall, Ashley Bump, Zach Herring, Hollye Johnson, Jolene Dooley, Nathan Jeandell and Chris Dayton spent the semester engaged with the many aspects of an art career under the instruction of teacher and artist, Valerie Carrigan. The course involved scholarship and art school applications, website development, art career research, resume building, artist statements and studio time. Many of the original works displayed will be for sale. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is located at 108 School St. in Bennington, VT. Please contact CCV at (802) 447-2361 for any additional information.
As an artist-in-residence at Bascom Lodge on Mount Greylock this past summer, I was given the gift of time and of views. In addition to a series of pastel drawings, I also recently completed a new artist book based on my time there. This book, created in watercolor, can be viewed from both front and back, offering two distinct vantage points from the mountain top. I would like to credit the pivoting panel structure of this book to Hedi Kyle, a great mentor to me.
The Community College of Vermont, where I teach as an art instructor, was recently invited to participate in the Bennington Museum Festival of Trees. In collaboration with a colleague, Janet Groom, some local enthusiasts, and a classroom of watercolor students, we made it happen. Of course this would be no ordinary holiday tree. Instead of the lovely evergreen, I pulled a sparse tree from my backyard that had been blown over during Hurricane Irene. Students painted and folded paper butterflies which made their way to the branches of our wintry tree. A bowl of smaller paper butterflies was placed next to the tree in the museum, encouraging visitors to write down a hope they might have for the future. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and its devastating effect on area residents, we wanted this tree to lift the spirits of those who saw it. Like the throwing of a coin into a wishing well, those who wrote a message on a paper butterfly were given a chance to voice their hopes for themselves, for others, for the world.
I have come from a long line of remarkable women, beginning with my great-grandmother Eva Pluta, who fled from Poland to America at the age of sixteen. Eva gave birth to my grandmother Sophie. Then came my mother, then my sister and me. I in turn have been blessed with two young children, one of whom is a girl. Her name is Eva Rae; Eva to honor my great-grandmother and Rae in honor of my sister Julie Rae. By giving her this name I hoped to instill in her the strength of the women she has come from.
I have worked these past few years in gathering photographs and beginning small studies in graphite. These drawings represent the beginning of The Eva Project. As the project progresses, the drawings will be translated into mezzotints with accompanying stories, and the voices of these women will live on.