Local artists explore multi-media in small scale pieces.
This piece first appeared in The Vermont Standard.
Woodstock artist Judith Taylor thrives on searching out peculiar and whimsical linkages. She loves the fun of envisioning the face of a sheep dog in the knots and imperfections of a length of split firewood, or the curiosity of discovering the complex dark hollows and crevices of a Georgia O’Keefe landscape in a common, fractured wasps’ nest. “Very often, I see connections,” she says, “sometimes they are visual, sometimes they are ideas, and it is wonderful to collect them.” So it isn’t at all surprising that Taylor conceived twenty extraordinary image pairings for her recent creation, Concentration, a lighthearted and enchanting game that is one of many small and affordable art pieces in ArtisTree Gallery’s current show, Fine Works in Miniature.
The gallery and gathering place, which was formed late last summer to bring more art experiences to the Woodstock area, has become a magnet for local artists and a haven for expressions of their wide-ranging talents. In the monthly exhibits of the non-profit’s inaugural year, dozens of artists from Vermont and New England shared their original and particular perspectives with renderings in paints and pencils, but also in many far less conventional forms. ArtisTree has attracted printmakers, alternative process photographers, and sculptors working in a variety of materials; the breadth of multi-media artists has been testament to the abundant kinds of constructions that can spring from imagination. The enterprise’s substantial and growing contribution to the local art community was acknowledged this past September when readers of The Complete Hoot, an Upper Valley art and events magazine, chose ArtisTree as the area’s “Best New Offering” from a slate of nominees that included the Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction and the Nutcracker Project in Lebanon.
“All our reaching out is bearing fruit,” says Gallery Director Adrian Tans, “the whole thing is so much fun.” Tans isn’t content to simply duplicate the successes of year one, he’s looking, always, to stretch out. For the Fine Works in Miniature show, for instance, he engaged a dozen or so artists to create clocks. Each was supplied with an internal movement apparatus and a set of high strength hands, then left to fashion anything to house them. A silky cherry desk clock embellished with smoothed glass and a wall-mounted device faced with a crackle-y rendering of Woodstock’s Middle Bridge are among the resulting entries. All will the clocks will be individually sold via a silent auction that runs through Saturday, December 10.
The other works of the twenty plus artists in the show include a collection of tiny ceramic chairs and settees, silvery napkin rings, small paintings and collages, little art books, and gnarly, gleaming trees formed from twisted wires.
The proclivity that sometimes compels artist Taylor to see surprising connections between disparate objects provided her with abundant ideas for her Concentration entry. The shape of her childhood skate key, for example, reminded her of the bulbous figure of the Paleolithic-era fetish known as the Venus of Willendorf, unearthed over 100 years ago from the silt near the Danube River. Likewise, sample swatches tacked up on Taylor’s living room wall by a house painter called to mind a Mark Rothko work. She fashioned photographs and likenesses of her favorite image pairs into cards; players spread out them face down and find the matches through trial and error. “I wanted the deck to be really kind of magical,” she says, so she backed the cards with a photograph of a fabric art piece she’d made of satiny remnants, and then edged them with gold crayon. From her collection of cigar boxes, she found a perfect fit; she labeled the box using an antique lettering tool she found at a yard sale.
Cynthia Emerlye is another artist for whom intuition is a prevailing force. The Pomfret resident doesn’t use models or patterns to create her drawings, paintings, and kirigami cuttings or to embellish her wearable art.
“It just comes out,” she says of her work, “I like to explore.”
Two of her entries in Fine Works In Miniature, scratchboard “paintings,” are signature works. The medium is white clayboard painted over in black, Emerlye etched out intricate images with carving tools that removed the dark top layer and exposed the light clay beneath. Her floral-themed pieces are edged with geometric-detail borders, the images they surround are fantasy compositions of detailed blooms, berries, and leaves with flowing ribbons or cords winding in and around them. “It just doesn’t feel right if it isn’t bound together like that,” she says.
Dreams and discussion of dreams has always been important in Emerlye’s family, because she comes from “counselor kind of people,” she says. It is fitting, then, that the symbol she uses to identify work as hers, in lieu of an ordinary signature, was inspired by a dream. “I saw a man dancing and where he danced it left this trail of light with six points,” she says, “I thought that would make a great signature representing my six children, who are my greatest creative venture.” Some of Emerlye’s other work, cut snowflakes, greeting cards, and line drawn “coloring pages,” are available at Arjuna in Woodstock village.
Classes in sculpture and painting and allied arts were part of the curriculum when Quechee architect Charles Egbert studied for his profession at Cornell University back in the 1950’s. His mother was an artist; her influence had him making linoleum block prints and textile designs as a boy. “It’s a huge urge,” he says of his desire to model and weld and construct art, “It is hard to imagine life without creating something.”
Egbert’s four small sculptures in Fine Works in Miniature represent two very different methods of working. His three metal pieces are meticulously pre-planned. “They are exploring what can be done with a plane,” he says. In Windows and Doors, for example, he’s taken the elements that “epitomize what’s nice about architecture” and folded them around so that they aren’t in any “conspicuously architectural relationship with each other.” Egbert starts his metal sculptures by making cardboard models, which he reworks until they are exactly right. Then he uses the pieces as a template to create a pattern that he in turn applies to sheet copper, which he cuts with a simple mechanical jigsaw.
In the last couple of years, Egbert has been working mostly on wood sculptures, which, he says “are quite a different kettle of fish.” He starts with shapes and pieces that he likes and assembles them without a clear notion, at first, of what he’d like the final product to look like. The cherry, pine, hemlock, and masonite Partial Eclipse started with a semi-circle and the rectangle it was cut from. Egbert worked with those shapes and small blocks of wood to develop a series of preliminary arrangements until he found a pleasing combination. The piece’s center-room placement in the gallery at ArtisTree allows viewers to walk around the sculpture and see what Egbert sees; the two semi-circles in tandem from one perspective, one completely obliterating the other from another view point, and neither visible from yet another position.
In early January, ArtisTree will debut a special, week-long photography exhibit. Students in Carla Kimball’s class Telling Our Stories Through New Eyes will display images, in combination with short poems, to form narratives. Kimball and ArtisTree offered the seven-session class gratis to community members in the wake of tropical storm Irene. Its focus is discovering, through exercises and discussions, the characteristics that make memorable images. “It is a fun class,” says Kimball, “because it also becomes a support group.”
Some current session students have worked at capturing the emotional impact of Irene by taking on perspectives outside of themselves, seeing the devastation from the view point of something unexpected, say, a rock, or the raging river. Other students will tell alternative stories through favorite photographs. Kimball plans to teach the class again, at ArtisTree, beginning in mid January, although this round they’ll have to assess a reasonable fee. “I like to take people out and turn them around,” she says, “and have them see what’s right in front of them, see what feels really interesting, and capture that photographically.”