Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Here are the five paintings I created for Art of Action, framed and ready to deliver, on my studio floor last weekend. Sunday the work was boxed and taken to the West Monitor Barn in Richmond, along with the work of the 9 other artists involved in the project. It was amazing to see all the work that had been made, together, for that afternoon. Next it will be broken into groups and sent around the state on tour. First up: Hand Motors in Manchester, starting September 4.

This has been a wonderfully rewarding project. I have loved showing my work at Addison County Field Days (thanks Chris Olson!), working with kids in schools and at the career center forestry program, talking with foresters, loggers and all the other concerned Vermonters who've spoken to me about our woods and the work I'm doing, and, as always, pushing paint around with a brush. Thanks Lyman and Janice.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Today I finished the last painting for my Art of Action work. Then I toned the 3 walnut frames that Dan Ober made for my paintings with Prussian blue, Alizarin crimson, a little burnt umber and a lot of stand oil in turpentine. They look wonderful.

Now I'm pulling together some images to exhibit in the forestry pavillion at the Addison County Field Days!! The fair starts tomorrow morning. It'll be a chance to share some of the ideas I've been working on about forestry in Vermont and what the future holds with a different audience in a different venue.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This past weekend I started the last of the five paintings I am doing for this commission project. It is a small oil, dear to my heart, and I am hoping it will come out as well as I can envision it in my head! When it is finished I will turn my attention to all the WRITING that still needs to happen for this project! Each painting will have text accompanying it to get at the issues I am trying to elucidate in this work. And there is an artists statement to write as well.

Yesterday I was interviewed by Brent Bjorkman of Th Vermont Folklife Center. He is documenting the process of creating all these paintings and photographs by the ten Art of Action Artists. It was a wonderful couple of hours spent reflecting and conversing about art, community our forest landscape and making meaning in our lives. Thank you Brent, for your kind and careful work.

Had an wonderful time participating in VT Family Forests Neighborwood Workshop on Saturday, July 11. 35-45 people were there: loggers, foresters, academics and forest landowners. Best practices for wood harvesting were discussed and observed, and there was expert information about burning wood for maximum benefit and minimum environmental cost. Also discussion about the capacity of the forest in our specific five town region to support wood heat/energy, considering available land and growth potential of the forest. These are critically important issues and there is likely disagreement about how much harvest our forest can sustainably support.

David Brynn, the director of Vermont Family Forests featured a presentation of the first four of five paintings I am creating for the Art of Action during the workshop. It was a special opportunity for me to show the paintings to a group of interested citizens, including some of the people who are IN the paintings! Also a special opportunity because the paintings will be split up soon, and likely not shown together more than once or twice before they are auctioned in summer 2010. My sincere thanks to David, and Vermont Family Forests.

Here are a couple photos of the group in an area being harvested by Bill Torrey. You can see him here explaining it all to us. Photos by Paul Forlenza.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two weeks ago, taking pictures of Geoge unloading wood chips at Middlebury College's plant. The painting was finished Monday night, two days ago.

Mixing colors is fun. Also frustrting at times. Photos by Paul.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Below are photos showing one day's progress on the painting of Middlebury College's biomass power plant. The windows into the plant's boiler were tedious work, but I'm pleased with the results. Many thanks to Jim Lathrop, George, Mike Moser and Ray (I think that was his name!).

A couple weeks ago I spent the evening at the biomass power plant at Middlebury College taking pictures in preparation for the next painting in my series about Vermont's forests. Jim Lathrop of Bristol and Mike Moser at the college worked with me very generously to make this possible. Above you see George, who is unloading a truckload of wood chips at the college. The floor of that "bin" is fifteen feet below grade, so there's a lot more bio mass there than meets the eye.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Here are photos recording three days work on the painting of Bill Torrey in the woods with his forwarder, sharpening his saw.

The first one, at the bottom, was a day spent painting Bill's dog and a few logs. The second one, in the middle, was the next day when I added Bill, his saw and the stump he was using as a workbench. The top one was the next day, when I completed the forwarder and tractor with logs on it. I was able to complete the painting in two more days and it's finished now!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I have been working on this painting for a couple weeks or more, and hope to wrap it up soon. I have loved seeing it evolve and come to life as I patiently apply the paint. I am painting on hardboard (formerly known as Masonite) which is made of wood fiber bound with steam and pressure. More wood! I apply 4 coats of white acrylic gesso as smoothly as possible, sand it, then put on a wash of burnt sienna. That is what make the orange color you see on the unpainted portions of this painting. It gives a warmth to the finished painting.

Over the many hours I've sat before this painting working on it I've thought a lot about the forest, pine trees, maple trees, leaf litter, Mount Mansfield, Bill Torrey and his dog, the work he does, how he sharpens his saw, forwarders, machinery in the woods, what it means to be an environmentalist, what the future might bring to our forests with global warming and continuing development pressure. It's endless. I lose track of time and my thoughts go between the qualities of ultramarine blue and burnt umber and birch trees and golden labrador retrievers! All that psychic energy has to go somewhere...

While I've been working on this painting I have listened a lot to a CD called Vision of Hills by the Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker. I love her music. She talks about the inspiration and beauty of our Vermont hills and makes her music speak about that. I listen while I paint a picture of our Vermont hills and mountains and people working in those hills and feel that the beauty I strive to create is amplified and fed by the beauty of Walker's music. The title track on the CD is my current favorite, though the Craftbury piece is gorgeous, too.

I am nearing completion on the third of the five paintings I am doing for this project. The first painting is of Stephen Taylor and his portable sawmill. Stephen is a neighbor, a thoughtful citizen and a caring woodsman. He does custom logging and milling on a small scale. I have walked in the woods with him and listened to how he nurtures the trees he hopes will grow under his care. Here's a picture of him from the day I visited his milling operation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Last week I visited two elementary schools to talk to kids about our forests, the future of the woods, why it's important and about artmaking related to this. I showed them what I've done so far for the Art of Action commission and we talked about what the forests mean to them and their families. Among the children who had relatives and friends who were loggers, builders, firewood users etc was one little girl who volunteered that her dad works at the post office, where there is a lot of paper, another wood product! Seems to me like they are connecting the dots pretty well!

Kids in both schools were able to tell me lots of things we get from the forest: wood, fuel, paper, oxygen, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, hunting opportunities, recreation, food and biodiversity. The one thing I don't recall anyone mentioning was perhaps the most important: clean water.

We then went on to do drawings and watercolors of plant life I had collected from the Vergennes watershed property. Above is a photo of a group of students observing a watercolor demonstration I gave. They really paid attention! Many thanks to the teachers who arranged the visits: Michaela Granstrom, Nancy Custer Carroll and Devon McLeod. And most of all to the students who were lively, intelligent and appreciative: thank you for welcoming me into your classrooms!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Today I will start a painting of Bradley's forestry students working together in the snowy woods. When I first talked with John Bradley he told me about a watercolor painting he owns that was done by an aunt of his, of the farm his family owned. It was clear that my project had more resonance for him because of his affection for this painting. When I came to meet his class he brought this heirloom watercolor and used it as a way of introducing me and my project to his students. I can only hope that the work I am doing will be treasured the way he values his painting of the family farm. Actually, because of how much our landscape means to us all, I am sure the paintings I am making have a life beyond me. Above is a painting of mine of the back of the town buildings in Addison, Vermont, as the sun was going down.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I am well into the first painting in my series of five for this project. It's a picture of a portable sawmill in operation. It includes some basic Vermont iconography: pickup truck, red barn, mountain ridge. These things are important because they are part of how we define ourselves and part of what we value in living here. These things are part of our past and present, as well as something we want to have in our future. Yeah, probably even pickup trucks! I'm excited and can't wait to get back to work on the painting in the morning!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Here is Paul Cate working in the woods with his forwarder. He jokes that other loggers ask him when this machine is going to "grow up".

Things Paul has said in conversation continue to resonate with me. He is committed to careful quality work in harvesting. As he and other foresters have said to me, it's not about the trees we cut, it's about the ones we leave standing.

As I continue to brew the painting ideas to envisage the future of our forests the idea of sustainability keeps pushing resource extraction out of the picture. It's a paradigm shift that's been underway in the daily lives of people like Paul for quite a while.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

This is John Bradley with a few of his forestry students at Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, VT.
ART of ACTION is a hybrid private commission public art project that I am fortunate to be working on this year. The intention of the project is to inspire the people of Vermont with visual art that addresses issues related to our collective future. To fuel the conversation and brainstorming. To inspire a quality of life that is creatively sustainable. More aspects of the project keep revealing themselves to me as I get deeper into it, because I believe in the power of art to enrich, inspire, motivate and comfort us all.

My part of the project is about the forest that covers the vast majority of this state that I have lived in for 35 years. There's lots to say about why I resonate to the forest, but I'll save that for another time. I have done paintings in and about the forest, alongside other landscape painting, for a long time. Over the past 15 years I've gotten more interested in the grittier side of working with the forest: mills, loggers, equipment, and the work I'm doing for ART of ACTION grows out of that.

This morning Paul Cate called. He is a forester/logger in East Montpelier. I spent an afternoon with him a couple weeks ago to gather material for a painting of current best practices in harvesting trees. It was a sunny afternoon, with plenty of snow still on the ground, which was just what I'd hoped for. The visual qualities of snow are so dramatic, and simplify otherwise complex subjects, like the forest.

Paul had a lot to show me. He uses a 20 horsepower forwarder to get logs out of the woods. This alone is pretty neat to see. It's small, with big tires, and leaves a minimal footprint on the land, for logging equipment. It has an integrated grapple for loading logs onto the back, right in the woods. This saves dragging them over logging roads, where they can do a bit of damage to standing timber, as well as gouge out the roads.

Paul felled a tree with consummate skill, while I photographed the process. A few precise and beautiful cuts, carefully placed wedges, then a tap of his finger, and very slowly the tree started to lean, then fall, exactly where he'd intended it to. By that time the direct light that energizes my painting had left the forest, and we called it a day.

However, since this work is for the ART of ACTION project there was more to see. Paul is a thoughtful citizen of the world and is trying to arrange his life in accord with his convictions. An array of photo voltaic panels sits behind his father's house, and provides electricity for Paul and his wife's home, as well as his dad's. He also has a wood gassification boiler to heat both homes, and plans to heat their hot water with this too. I'm still thinking about these things, and whether they might become subjects for paintings, somehow. It's certainly inspiring. To see someone doing something like that makes it seem more possible for all of us.