“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
The influx of professional artists to the quiet solitude of Washington County appears to be an emerging trend. According to Susan Sanderson, volunteer director for the Open Studios Tour of Washington County, “There are over 50 fine artists within the 846 miles of the county…that’s a fine artist every 15 to 17 miles.” And, these are not your typical artists. They are professional artists with deep resumes that tell a story of a lifetime of extraordinary achievement and acclaim. Most have international collectors and routinely exhibit throughout the major cities of the United States and abroad. Several have pieces on exhibit in top museum collections around the world.
When you begin to take a closer look at these artists, who call the Battenkill River Valley their home, you start to see a pattern emerge beyond their deep resumes and collected bodies of work. You begin to see a desire for a lifestyle conducive to creating art far from the urban environments where the majority of their collectors are located.
It’s not particularly surprising when you consider our modern lifestyles filled with social media, impossible schedules and commitments beyond anyone’s contemplation even ten years ago. Is it any wonder that some of the important artists of our time are seeking the tranquil landscapes of Washington County to live and create? Many of the world’s greatest artistic works and inspired inventions originated in the midst of solitude. Perhaps the very nature of creating art requires some level of isolation.
When you look at the renowned artists communities of Canyon Road in Santa Fe or Marfa, Texas, they seemed to have evolved in a historically traditional manner, emerging as well organized and somewhat planned communities for artists to congregate and study together. Even closer to home, The Lake George Golden Heart Farm, which drew important artists from Manhattan study with Thomas and Wilhelmina Weber Furlong during the American modernist movement of the 1920-30s, was to congregate and study together.
Washington County seems to have evolved in a more organic fashion with artists answering the call for solitude and inspiration from the pastoral farm lands rather than the need for group thought. Most work quietly in studio spaces that range from turn-of-the century factories to old barns or sheds nestled into the countryside. Their work is collected throughout the world yet is rarely seen locally, with the exception of the bi-annual Open Studios Tour of Washington County.
Every two years, the public is treated to a driving studio tour where 14 artists open their workspaces for the weekend to talk with art enthusiasts about their work. The Open Studios Tour was founded in 2007 by Serena Kovalosky and Brenda Mann as a cultural tourism initiative for the county. Today, under the leadership of Susan Sanderson, the tour is planning its sixth season scheduled for 2017. Past tours have attracted as many as 400 visitors to the Washington County area, to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of these remarkable artists’ lifestyles and the rare opportunity to collect their work. According to Sanderson, “In just two days, the participating artists on the tour can generate over $70,000 in sales.”
We caught up with a few of these artists over the past week to learn more about their work and how the rural lifestyle of the Battenkill River Valley has influenced their creativity.
“I find that spending oceans of time alone deepens my concentration.”
Leslie Parke looked for a studio space in Washington County after finishing her graduate work at Bennington College in Vermont. She found a studio on Main Street in Cambridge, but after the furnace blew up and ruined her work, she moved across the street to VARAK Park. “My studio spans the top floor of a 19th century seed packaging plant that closed down. Some businessmen bought the building and I ended up being their first tenant, “explained Parke. She eventually relocated her residence to Shushan so she could be closer to her Cambridge studio.
Parke’s bio reflects the importance of her work with corporate and private collectors…not only here in the United States…but abroad in Sweden, France and Germany. Parke is a recipient of the Esther and Adolph Gottlieb Grant for Individual Support, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest grant as artist- in-residence at the Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny, France, and the George Sugarman Foundation Grant, among others.
Her exhibits include the Williams College Museum of Art, the Museum of the Southwest, Midland, Texas, the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Parke has a BA and MA from Bennington College.
When asked about her choice of locations to call home, Parke explained, “Rural life suits me. I like knowing everyone in town and being able to drive through the country observing the landscape in changing weather conditions. It has influenced my work a lot. The challenge has been to allow those influences in without succumbing to the clichés of rural landscape painting. I find that spending oceans of time alone deepens my concentration. I used to go to the diner every day for lunch, just to have some company, but now I don’t even do that.”
According to Parke, there are two main influences in her work. “One is that most of it is deeply steeped in art history. Whether it is obvious or just an underlying principle, the work is almost always in response to other art work. The other big influence is observing nature.”
Parke has been working on a series of paintings that began with a single work in 2008 of an almond tree that she saw while an artist in residence in Vallauris, France. Since then she completed a series of lithographs of the same subject, then a series of digital prints, and is now making large paintings of the same subject. “Instead of painting in a traditional representational way, I am working very experimentally with the paint in order to create a highly textured surface that reflects the light in such a way that the painting appears completely differently, depending on the changing light in the room,” noted Parke.
Parke is currently working in Vallauris where she will have an exhibition at the end of her stay. In September, she has a show at the Soprafina Gallery in Boston, and in October she will exhibit her large scale photographs at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont. To learn more about Leslie Parke’s work, visit her website at www.leslieparke.com.
“The environment always has an effect on your life and how you think…you can’t help but be influenced by it.”
Don Wynn, born in Brooklyn, New York, spent many childhood vacations exploring the Adirondacks with his family, especially the Indian Lake area. The wildness of the Adirondacks was always a draw for Wynn, and in 1971 he left the City to make his home in Blue Mountain Lake where he remained until 2012. The long, harsh winters of the northern region finally took its toll on Wynn. He and his wife decided to relocate south to the more moderate winters of Washington County. As Wynn explained it, “The three to four hours a day spent shoveling snow during the winter is no longer how I want to spend my time.” It wasn’t long before they located their ideal home and studio amid the quiet pastoral vistas of Cambridge.
When asked if the change of environment from New York City, to the Adirondacks and now the rural farmlands of Washington County impacted his work, Wynn explained “the environment always has an effect on your life and how you think…you can’t help but be influenced by it.”
Reading Wynn’s bio, one can’t help but be struck by the depth of his resume and a lifetime of achievements that began when he earned a BFA from Pratt Institute and then an MFA from Indiana University. He has been a Visiting Artist at many universities and institutions, including Yale University and the Art Institute of Chicago, and has received awards from the Elizabeth T. Greenshields Memorial Foundation, Montreal; the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown; and the New York State CAPS Program.
Wynn’s active and diverse exhibition career began with the first of numerous New York City solo shows in 1964. In 1970, his work first received international recognition in the Whitney Museum’s landmark Twenty-Two Realists exhibition. In 1978, he was the first living artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Adirondack Museum. In 1995, the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired one of his oils for its Twentieth Century Collection (the first Adirondack resident artist so honored since Rockwell Kent). Wynn was included in the recent Vermont group exhibitions Picasso to Warhol: Paintings from the Sixties and Seventies, at the Elizabeth C. Wilson Museum, Manchester, and in As Others See Us, at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, in company with Alice Neel and Chuck Close, among others. His work was recently exhibited in New York City at D. Wigmore Fine Art, and in 2010, his work was included in the National Academy of Design’s 185th Annual Invitational Exhibition of Contemporary American Art, in New York City. He has been reviewed in The New York Times, Art News, Arts, The New Yorker, Art International, and many other publications and is included in all major fine arts reference volumes in the United States and abroad, including Who’s Who in American Art.
Wynn’s work was originally classified as New Realism at the start of his career, but many reviewers have since noted that his paintings are distinct from this movement. Rather than being literal depictions of subjects, they are interpretive, at times presenting myths in secular guise, often in a subliminal or allusive way. Wynn’s formal means include the use of highly developed, complicated surfaces, which are critical to achieving the final visual and psychological result.
Over the last year or so, Wynn’s subject matter has focused mainly on portrait work. Rather than churning out a high volume of paintings these days, he focuses on completing four to six pieces a year.
Wynn’s work is generated from memories of people and places. Rather than being literal depictions of subjects, they are interpretive, at times presenting myths in secular guise, often in a subliminal or allusive way. Wynn’s formal means include the use of highly developed, complicated surfaces, which are critical to achieving the final visual and psychological result. To learn more about Wynn, visit him online at www.donwynn.com.
“The landscape is very different from the typical Adirondacks. You can drive out in the county and it will look like the farmlands of England… look in another direction and you see the mountains of Vermont…or the Adirondacks.”
Will Moses grew up in Washington County and currently lives and works in the 200 year-old farmhouse where his great-grandmother, Grandma Moses, began her career. “The landscape is very different from the typical Adirondacks. You can drive out in the county and it will look like the farmlands of England… look in another direction and you see the mountains of Vermont…or the Adirondacks.” noted Moses. The other thing that makes Washington County attractive to professional artists is that it is almost a mid-point for travel. According to Moses, it is about four hours to New York City, four hours to Boston, or four hours to Montreal. Also, you are about an hour away from Albany if you need to fly out.
As a fourth generation member of the renowned Moses family, painting is a natural tradition for Moses, who began oil painting when he was four years old. Encouraged by his grandfather, Forrest K. Moses, a well-known folk painter in his own right, he was allowed to experiment freely with paints. “My grandfather really encouraged all of us to paint and to spend time with him in the studio. He had such great patience with his grandchildren,” recalled Moses.
According to Moses, his grandfather always said that he painted from a man’s perspective featuring outdoor activities, blacksmith shops and farming; while Grandma Moses painted with pastels and softer scenes that were oriented to heart and home. Stimulated by his grandfather’s confident approach, he developed his own unique style that, while reminiscent of his much celebrated grandmother’s primitive work, it is more complex and sophisticated. When asked about how his legendary grandparents influenced his own work, he explained, “I try to look at the best of both and hit somewhere in between. You can easily tell the difference in our styles when you set all three works next to each other.”
Moses is a self-taught artist, like his grandmother and grandfather before him. He believes that good art always seems to have a subtle hook to it whether it is color, lighting or composition. While his work has evolved over the years in terms of color and detail, he admitted that he used to joke that his ultimate inspiration came from “having a mortgage and three kids to support.”
“When I paint, I don’t look at it from my perspective, but from the perspective of viewers and what might appeal to them in terms of a story,” explained Moses. The one thing that is very gratifying to him is that children love his paintings. “They get it…the chickens and cows…plus the color is very welcoming to kids. The scenes are usually happy, wholesome lifestyles that tell a story of the way life is supposed to be,” added Moses.
People who collect Moses’ work tend to be people who are grounded in traditional values. They come from an economically wide spectrum of the population, from Joe blue-collar to the guy working on Madison Avenue. His collectors all seem to have that well-grounded, long-term perspective and wholesome values.
Today, Moses is focused on his original work reflecting the quiet beauty of this tiny community nestled close to the Vermont border. While genre of art has changed its name over the years…from primitive to folk art and most recently to outsider art…the Moses legacy of vivid, delightful miniature worlds continues to delight and enrich the lives of collectors throughout the United States, Canada and Japan.
To learn more about Will Moses and his Mt. Nebo Gallery filled with original art, prints, serigraphs, etchings and beautifully illustrated children’s books, visit them online at www.willmoses.com.
Medium: Oil, acrylic
“The beauty of Washington County does affect my work in subtle ways with its gentle vertical landscape ….”
Anne Sutherland is a mostly self-taught artist with an 18 year career as a professional artist. In addition to her artistic abilities, Sutherland is an accomplished entrepreneur with a successful career that led her to Glens Falls, Lake George and the Saratoga Area during the 1970’s, then to Nantucket in 1996, and ultimately back to this region to retire. According to Sutherland the decision to relocate to Greenwich, NY was an easy one for her and her husband. “The beauty of Washington County with its strong arts community…a historic home in town with a carriage house/barn/future studio…and the inspiring landscape was the perfect place to retire…to be close to family and just paint.”
When asked if living in Washington County influenced her work, Sutherland responded, “The beauty of Washington County does affect my work in subtle ways with its gentle vertical landscape verses the horizontal landscape of Nantucket. While taking a ride around the area, I’m surprised by the bold shapes or farm animals, and big structures like barns against a gentle backdrop of hills. And those bold shapes, the surprises, will probably show up in my work.”
Color has always been the most interesting part of painting for Sutherland. “Washington County offers a new palette of greens to work around. Though I don’t paint landscapes all the time, the visual information around me has subtle influences,” noted Sutherland. Painting snow is another area of interest for Sutherland. “After all the years away from snow, I’m interested in understanding how to use the “color” white. It’s a tricky color because it’s often a tool for making something lighter or brighter. I’ve stayed away from white for much of my work. I’m now ready to dive into an exploration of white,” explained Sutherland.
Sutherland has recently been working with a new technique to express more freedom with color and composition. “I use acrylic paint as a ground; a warm combination of yellow ochre and burnt sienna. I draw the composition from memory using a thin mixture of acrylic paint on paper. Then I transfer that image to the canvas. I find it gives me a segue to abstraction which allows for easier editing and forces my intuition to work harder,” explained Sutherland.
Her paintings are an exploration of technique, color and composition. As she explains it, “Using color and composition with a familiar framework begin a conversation as I gently leave the subject behind in favor of deeper, meaningful abstracted message. It is my hope the viewer connects with more than the subject itself but rather it’s intuitive, expressive message.”
Sutherland is painting primarily for group shows this year at Old Spouter Gallery Nantucket and locally at Tilting at Windmills Gallery in Manchester Center, Vt. Silverwood Gallery in Bolton Landing will also be showing some of her Lake George paintings. “Now that my studio is done, I’ll be painting more and plan to have enough work for a one-person show in the future, “concluded Sutherland.
More information about Anne Sutherland’s work can be found online at annesutherlandart.com.
While the personal stories of how these artists came to live and work in Washington County are unique, we found several common threads among all artists that emerged as a result of our conversations.
One is the appreciation of how the Washington County landscape, dotted with small family farms and tranquil vistas, has influenced their creative perspective. Another is the artists’ inherent need for a certain amount of solitude and intense focus in creating their work. And finally, the journey for the artists that relocated to the region was one of a personal quest for a lifestyle change rather than the desire to become a part of a group movement, as was the case with artists communities of the past.
When you consider the number and caliber of professional artists relocating to the area, there is something quite extraordinary happening in Washington County. What is it about the quiet rural communities of the Battenkill River Valley that they find so appealing? Do they understand the value of a clear and focused mind…and that taking time for solitude enables their creative mind to wander a bit…resulting in better art? Or, is it simply the need to turn off the hectic, noisy world in order to get into their creative zone that compels them. Perhaps Pablo Picasso summed it up the best when he suggested that, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
Washington County Open Studios Tour Map