"Mud Season" arrives on the Hill

MANCHESTER - It is a quiet day in March. The birds chirp a new song, and the sun spreads its warmth over the frozen ground. A new spring is near, and with it comes an old visitor: MUD.

Everyone in New England knows the annual "Mud Season." Weather you love it or hate it, it is an undeniable part of life in Vermont, and the theme of the new exhibition at the Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC). Fine art by over 40 artists, all of which is for sale, fills the 10 elegant galleries of the Yester House Mansion. Since the SVAC is a premier venue for landscape art in particular, "Mud Season" seems to be an appropriate theme for the March exhibition.

"I used to hate mud season because it was such a mess, but now I tend to revel in it. With it comes maple sugaring with teams of horses, and lambing," said artist Mary Iselin, who finds endless inspiration from the animals on her farm. "I always say living on a farm is very lucky for an artist, because chores force you outside in the early morning and evening, when light is most enchanting."

Some artists thrive in the extreme conditions living in Vermont can provide.

Walter Pasko, an impressionist painter in the show, said, "it's an exhilarating feeling being in nature in all seasons." Pasko paints almost exclusively en plein air, only applying finishing touches in his studio.

"The great outdoors is truly my studio," he said. "The challenge of capturing the fleeting effects created by changing sunlight and passing weather heightens my desire to work. An otherwise plain motif can become very exciting."

Each artist responded to the theme differently. Some painted scenes immersed in snow, others painted hopeful landscapes of green hills and sunlight. Mallory Rich, a pastel art ist, chose to feature a painting called "The Green Chair," an interior scene of an armchair by a window, with soft natural light filtering in.

"For me, it evokes the anticipation for spring, and the coziness inside in the meantime," said Rich.

"As expected there is no dominant image, but endless variations," said gallery director Chester Kasnowski. A few chose to abandon the theme all together. "Artists will paint what they want to. The theme is just a starting point," said Kasnowski.

Two solo shows by Barbara Harshman and Gerard Natale run alongside the exhibition.

Harshman finds herself attracted to movement, especially substances that ooze and drip, such as syrup and honey. Many pieces in the show portray hands preparing food, such as breaking eggs into a pile of flower. Being a cook herself, she is inspired by recipe photos of hands providing instructions. "I love the motion of hands, they are always changing and bringing life to inanimate objects."

Her work has a bold, iconic style, inspired by artists such as Andy Warhol.

"I like strong linear lines that identify objects clearly," said Harshman. She sets off her subjects with contrasting backgrounds "that make her images really pop," she said.

Harshman works differently than a lot of the artists in the show, especially ones who work en plein air. She seals her studio off from all natural light, as she wants to maintain consistency when she works.

Gerard Natale paints detailed and well composed landscapes of the Berkshires, mostly compiled from plein air studies, photos, sketches, and memories.

"I am always observing nature. I have a catalogue of ideas in my head," said Natale.

He often layers and exaggerates his colors, giving his scenes a romantic twist.

"I like to stretch the truth at times to capture the true beauty of a scene like a gorgeous June day with a sky as blue as I can remember, when everything seems to be in perfect bloom," he said.

As a child, painted backdrops in classic movies such as The Wizard of Oz captivated Natale.

"I would think, I wonder what's over that next hill," he said. "I want to follow that stream and see where it goes. I like the quality of being able to be at a particular place and time again and again."

Natale welcomes this nostalgia in his own work.

"I have returned to painting locations on the same day and time 20 years later," he said. "When the shadows from the hill creeps over the rocks, it's as if I never left."


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