Art Notes: Paintings and Drawings of a Working Landscape

  • "Bristol Sawmill," a painting by Lincoln, Vt., artist Kathleen Kolb is part of a series of works she has made about the Northern Forest and the people who work in it. A selection of her paintings and drawings is on view at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, accompanied by wall text reported and written by southern Vermont poet Verandah Porche.

  • "Grappling Logs at Dawn," an oil painting by Kathleen Kolb, of Lincoln, Vt.

  • "Taut Hitch, Lincoln," a charcoal drawing by artist Kathleen Kolb.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trying to count the number of paintings, watercolors and photographs inspired by Vermont’s agricultural landscape — the cows, hillsides and barns — would be like trying to count grasshoppers in a meadow.

But, the Northern Forest as an industry has never attracted quite the same kind of attention from artists, at least not since the days of the New Deal and the WPA, which hired artists to paint scenes that often included portraits of people working at jobs specific to a given region.

Why art that shows people working has fallen out of favor is something of a mystery, given the amount of time people devote both to their work, and to talking about it.

Abstraction ran it out of town, although the late George Tooker, who lived for years in Hartland, was notable for his portraits of people holding down jobs, albeit out of a certain grim obligation, not dedication.

Now, “Shedding Light on the Working Forest,” a traveling exhibition now on view at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, refocuses public attention on both the role the Northern Forest plays in the Vermont economy and psyche, and the people who have relied on it for work for generations.

The Northern Forest is the umbrella term for the wide swath of forest that runs from the Adirondacks in New York through Vermont and New Hampshire before culminating in the huge tracts of forest in northern Maine.

After the turn of the 20th century, by which point many of these forests had been cleared to make way for agriculture, the forest slowly began to reassert itself as farming began to decline. Vermont is now approximately 75 percent forested, as compared to 25 percent in the early 1900s.

The show pairs the paintings and drawings of Kathleen Kolb, who lives in Lincoln, Vt., with the poems of Verandah Porche, of Guilford, Vt. The hospital is the last stop on a tour that has included venues in Vermont, the Adirondacks, Maine, and Connecticut. The show on view at the hospital is a truncated version of the earlier touring exhibition.

“It’s a very obvious thing to see pictures of the farm landscape and agricultural landscape; everybody does that, and yet that’s a smaller piece of the landscape. There’s another 75 percent of the landscape out there,” Kolb said in a phone interview.

Kolb’s paintings, watercolors and drawings depict men and machines at work, logging and skidding, as well as the sawmills where the logs go after being harvested.

“I saw potential there because it was unmined territory,” she said.

When Porche first saw some of Kolb’s paintings as a group, it struck her immediately that they needed a voice.

“We’re utterly dependent on the forest, from your favorite book to your kitchen table to toilet paper,” Porche said in a phone interview. “But most people are ignorant about who does it, and where these people are.”

So she interviewed some of the men whom Kolb had painted, to get a sense of their histories and their feelings about their industry. “You tell me what I need to know to understand these paintings,” she told them. She then distilled the interviews into soliloquies that are placed next to the paintings.

Kolb works in a realist style that catches the hard light of a Northern New England winter, and the spine of forest land against the mountains.

“I love the look of snow as a backdrop to the drama of people and machines. I love the colors of the shadows in the snow,” Kolb wrote in an email.

Kolb’s first work to focus on the timber industry was Bristol Sawmill, a large-scale watercolor that shows the sawmill from a high vantage point, so that you are looking down on it, as if you were driving past a self-contained city plunked down in the middle of nowhere. Painted in 1995, it was included in a show at the National Academy of Design in New York.

The show has had a positive response from people who work in the timber industry, partially because they are unused to seeing their world depicted, Kolb said.

One woman who saw the show contacted Kolb to see whether she could buy a copy of one of the prints in the show to give to her husband, who worked in the business and had never shown any previous interest in art.

Part of the point of the exhibition is to increase appreciation and knowledge of the Northern Forest, and the people who depend on it for their livelihood.

Using art with text to shed light on a subject about which the public knows little is a way to bring people from different spheres together, Kolb said.

“There are many different art worlds: the academy is one, the high-end commercial is one, and there’s this one. There are lots of ways in which art interweaves with us all,” she said.

The show is on view in the Endoscopy Hallway Gallery, Level 4, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, through June.

There will be a public reception for “Shedding Light on the Northern Forest,” as well as for the other exhibitions on view at the hospital, today from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the fourth-floor East Mall Lounge.

Also on view at the hospital are: the annual employee and volunteer art show; paintings by Helen Shulman and Annette Jaret; photographs by Ron Levenson and oils and watercolors by Patricia Sweet-MacDonald.

Openings and Receptions

Recently opened at BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt. are two notable exhibitions that you won’t want to miss: an exhibition of prints, sculpture and relief by the late Hugh Townley, and an exhibition of photographs by Rosamond Purcell, the Boston writer and photographer.

Purcell, whose work has been seen in National Geographic, among other publications, was a co-author on three books with the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. She photographs the kinds of curiosities that you’re more likely to find in a natural history museum, a kunstkammer or White River’s own Main Street Museum: dead birds and animals, skulls, shell and rock collections and things that can’t be readily categorized.

Purcell’s work is on view through July 29, while Townley’s show is up through Sept. 10.

BigTown artistic director Anni MacKay is opening a second branch of the gallery on May 13 in Vergennes, (next to the Vergennes Laundry, a small café/bakery/restaurant) with the exhibition “The Baker’s Dozen,” which includes works from artists who have shown regularly in Rochester.

The Aidron Duckworth Museum in Meriden opens for the season with the exhibition “geraldautenpower,” a show of drawings and projects by Gerald Auten that examine the concept of “power.” Auten is the director of exhibitions for the Dartmouth College Department of Studio Art, as well as a senior lecturer. The show is up through June 4.

Also opening at the museum is the show “Healing Arts: Painting & Poetry,” by Aidron Duckworth, which focuses on the themes of health, illness and self-care. There will be a public reception for both exhibits from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

There will be a reception today from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Atrium of the Claremont Opera House for “Springtime in Paris,” a charity auction to be held on Saturday, May 6 that includes art work by students from the New England Classical Academy in Claremont, and pieces donated by sculptor Ernest Montenegro, printmaker Nancy Wightman, the estate of watercolor/oil painter Mildred Davison, woodworker Stanley Dole, mixed media artist Angie Follensbee-Hall and sculptor Randy Adams.

Tickets for the “Springtime in Paris” Art Exhibit and Charity Auction are $15 and are on sale at Claremont Opera House, claremontoperahouse.com, the Cornish General Store and the New England Classical Academy office during school hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

To see some of the artwork available for auction go to the classical academy’s Facebook page.

“These Green Mountains,” an exhibition of work by Vermont artists and artisans, opens with a reception Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Chandler Gallery in Randolph. The show runs through June 17. The gallery is open from 12 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and during Chandler performances.


Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media, including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.

ArtisTree Gallery, South Pomfret. “MUD,” a show in which artists play variations on the theme of mud season, runs through May 6.

Center for the Arts, New London. The center shows work by Penny Koburger at the New London Inn, and pastels and oils by Gwen Nagel at the Lake Sunapee Bank on Main Street. In celebration of Youth Art Month, work by students from New London Elementary School also is on view at the Whipple Gallery in New London. All three shows end Saturday.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. Lyme artist Matt Brown exhibits “Woodblock Prints: Parts and Process” in the Betty Grant Gallery through May 31.

Hood Downtown, “World Processor,” an exhibition of illuminated globes by Ingo Gunther, runs through May 28. In a related exhibition,“Mining Big Data: Luis Delgado-Qualtrough and Amy Balkin” in the Strauss Gallery, Hopkins Center, ends Sunday.

Hopkins Center, Hanover. Paintings by still-life artist Susan Walp are on view in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery. The show ends Sunday.

Howe Library, Hanover. Boston artist Tatiana Yanovskaya-Sink, who also spends time in the summer in the Sunapee area, exhibits paintings in the library’s Ledyard Gallery through Wednesday.

Kilton Library, West Lebanon. A selection of work from Mount Lebanon School students will be on view through May.

Long River Gallery and Gifts, White River Junction. Lyme artist Stephanie Reininger exhibits “Spring’s Flowers and Colors” through May 5. For more information go to tinyurl.com/firstfridaylongriver.

Norwich Public Library. “Odanaksis: Plein Air Paintings,” an exhibition of work by artists Anne Webster Grant, Gail M. Barton, Helen Elder, Susan Rump, Linda Landry, Jo Tate and Becky Cook continues through May 26. See a related exhibition at the Zollikofer Gallery at the Hotel Coolidge (see below).

Osher at Dartmouth, Hanover. An exhibition of work by Lyme artist and illustrator Meg McLean ends today. The gallery is at the Osher office at 7 Lebanon St., Hanover. Office hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:30 to 4:30 p.m., Fridays from 8:30 to 1 p.m.

Philip Read Memorial Library, Plainfield. Prints by Barnard artist Sabra Field are on view through July 1.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. The works of printmaker Lois Beatty and sculptor and wood worker Ria Blaas are on view, in addition to the jewelry of Stacy Hopkins.

SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual celebration of three-dimensional art generally ends when foliage season does, but 80 percent of the show is still on view. “Grounding,” a show of site-specific work curated by sculptors Jay Mead and Edythe Wright, is on view at the King Farm. For more information, go to sculpturefest.org.

Tunbridge Public Library. “Adventures in Weaving,” a show by Braintree, Vt. artist Susan Rockwell runs through May 19.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. “Collaborations,” a show of prints by Vicky Tomayko and Bert Yarborough, ends Sunday.

White River Gallery at BALE, South Royalton. “Expansions,” a show of paintings by Jasper Tomkins, ends Sunday.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. “The Spirit of Odanaksis,” an exhibition of work by members of a group Upper Valley plein air painters, is on view through May 10.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.