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Art Notes: Norwich Resident Photographs the Cold, Still Wild Arctic Landscape

  • Stephen Gorman on the sea ice, 450 miles above the Arctic Circle, Baffin Bay, Nunavut, Canadian Arctic

  • "Last Days of the Great Ice, Disko Bay, Greenland"

  • "Auyuittuq No More, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canadian Arctic"



Valley News Staff Writers
Thursday, June 22, 2017

Stephen Gorman has always felt drawn to wild places. The less hospitable, the better.

“Most of these places are in really forbidding, hostile environments,” the Norwich-based photographer said in an interview at his home last week, itself located deep down the back roads. Though the Inuit people have built a life in the Arctic, it remains, in Gorman’s eyes, “the wildest place left on the planet.”

He has been making sojourns above the Arctic Circle for nearly 40 years, since he was a sophomore in college. Now 58, he seeks to capture not only its wildness, but also the lives and stories of the indigenous people for whom this formidable icescape is their ancestral home.

A selection of photographs from Gorman’s travels — largely to the Arctic, but also to landscapes closer to home — are up at the Geisel School of Medicine’s Williamson Translational Research Building, on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center campus in Lebanon, where Gorman will discuss his work at a special showing tonight at 5:30. Because the display is located in a semi-private workspace area, the special showing is meant as an opportunity for viewers to engage more freely with the exhibit; outside of the showing, organizers ask that visitors observe the photos quietly and in small numbers, out of respect for those working nearby.

Gorman’s photographs of stark glaciers and twilit seas might sound as if they’d be at odds with the crisp, clinical environment of a research hospital. But that’s exactly why they’re there: to provide a reminder, no matter how briefly noted, of where we come from, said Marianne Barthel, the arts program coordinator at DHMC.

“There’s a lot of research out there that supports the benefits of having the natural world incorporated into the work environment as much as possible,” Barthel said. “It’s based on what’s called biophilia.”

Biophilia, a term coined by the Harvard biologist and author E.O. Wilson and the late Yale social ecologist Stephen Kellert in their seminal 1993 book, The Biophilia Hypothesis, literally translates to “love of life.”

It’s based on the idea that human beings depend on nature for more than survival — we also need it to help us find meaning in life. As Kellert writes in his introduction to The Biophilia Hypothesis, cultivating a connection with nature fulfills our “human craving for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction.” In severing our ties to the wild, he argues, we also disconnect from a major part of ourselves.

Kellert, as it turns out, was Gorman’s mentor at Yale, where Gorman studied biophilia as part of his master’s degree in environmental studies. Studying this concept in depth confirmed for Gorman what he’d always believed to be true: “A daily connection with nature, even in representative forms such as nature and photography, improves people’s lives measurably,” he said. “It benefits their health, their mental well being, their productivity. It lowers stress levels and increases positive outlook.”

He returned from his most recent trip up north in May. During the three-week dogsled expedition in Greenland, he stayed with the Thule Inuit, 78 degrees north of the equator. The Inuit are among the northernmost people on the planet, and people who Gorman said make up one of the few cultures that practice a truly biophilic lifestyle in the 21st century.

“These people are our last connection to our own human ancestry,” he said. “Ninety percent of that history was living as hunter-gatherers. Only very recently did we turn to agriculture and settled lives.”

He believes that Western society can learn much from the harmony the Thule have struck with their natural landscape.

“They’re not interested in transforming their environment in order to benefit them,” Gorman said. “From their perspective, the environment is perfect the way it is. From their perspective, they’re already living in paradise on earth. They’re perfectly adapted to it. And there’s no reason for anything to have to change.”

But these changes have already begun in earnest.

In more recent trips to the Arctic, Gorman has been stunned by the disappearing icescape. In the summer of 2012, when he traveled up to the 80th parallel, “we saw not one bit of ice,” he said. On that same trip, he saw an emaciated polar bear, stranded on a rocky islet without food, close its eyes and not reopen them.

And, because the icescape is the foundation of their way of life, the Inuit face tremendous loss of culture in years to come, despite the adaptations they’ve made by incorporating modern tools, such as rifles and weather forecasts, into the hunt.

Gorman’s photography is his answer to what he sees as an ever-widening chasm between Western society and the wild. The presentation of those images is almost as striking as their contents: The photographs are large, spanning several feet in dimension, and frameless, so the border between workplace and water/land/sky is almost seamless.

Each photograph also rests behind a sheath of glass. And so, depending on how you focus your eyes, you can see your own ghostly form superimposed onto the gaping blue mouth of an ice cave (Arctic Dreams), or the gilded crests of waves within a fjord (Blue and Gold Reflections).

In this way, two seemingly disparate cultures coexist in a shared space: one that embraces and pursues technological progress, and one that is wary of modernity’s impact on tradition and collective memory.

In Laundry Day in Saattut, taken in Greenland, a laden clothesline hangs along the edge of the water, icebergs floating by in the background. In Iceberg Over Qeqertarsuaq, a vast blue body of ice looms over a tiny village, also in Greenland, where a few pickup trucks and a yellow tractor sit among a cluster of simple houses, built among exposed ancient stone.

Most of the photographs in the exhibit, though, are landscapes. These range from the icescapes that Gorman loves so deeply, to the grassy wetlands of outer Cape Cod, and the blazing autumn forests of Vermont.

Though these scenes, unpeopled and pristine, do have a serene quality to them, they also convey a certain urgency, a sense of needing to be seen. In the ominously titled Last Days of the Great Ice, taken in Greenland’s Disko Bay, the black sea carries an enormous iceberg, luminous and commanding and alone, whose bleakness and loveliness is like a glacial swan song.

“I just feel like I’m kind of the messenger,” Gorman said. “The glaciers that are receding. The ice that’s thinning. The bear that’s starving. Most people will never ride on dogsled through the icescapes of the Arctic, I know. But hopefully, I can help inject some biophilia back into this indoor world we’re living in, and help remind people who we are.”

Stephen Gorman will discuss his photography and his travels at a special viewing this evening in the Williamson Translational Research Building at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon, room 571, at 5:30. For more information, visit www.dartmouth-hitchcock.org/arts.

Openings and Receptions

Recently opened at the Norwich Historical Society is an exhibition devoted to the influential Mid-Century Modern style in architecture and design. In the post-war years artists and architects moved to Norwich and Hanover and brought the International Style with them. Think Mad Men. In conjunction with the show, there will be a home and garden tour on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that will look at some mid-century houses in town. For information go to norwichvthistoricalsociety.org.

The AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon will dedicate the Bente Torjusen West Sculptural Studies Building and Kelsey Stone Carving Studio with a public reception (June 22) today from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served, and faculty and students from the Upper Valley Music Center will perform.

Chandler Gallery in Randolph opens “Scale: Models to Monuments,” which explores public art through sculpture and large-scale photography, this Saturday with a public reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Many of the exhibit’s artists will appear at the event. Randolph sculptor Jim Sardonis conceptualized and curated the exhibit, which will be open Fridays and Saturdays from 12 to 6 p.m. through September 2.

Of Note

The Center for the Arts in Sunapee will sponsor “Arts and Antiques on the Green” at the New London Strawberry Festival this Saturday on the New London Town Green. The juried show will feature the work of artists from around New England, and will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunapee musician Tom Pirozzoli will perform at the gazebo.

Gallery 351, the home gallery of Hartland-based painter William B. Hoyt, will host an open house exhibition on Saturday on the theme of “The Realistic Alternative.” The exhibition will feature realistic paintings by Hoyt and South Royalton painter Katie Runde, as well as Woodstock artist Ian Swordy’s collages that he made while walking across the country. The open house will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 351 Town Farm Hill Road. For more information, visit wmbhoyt.com.

Ongoing

ArtisTree Gallery, South Pomfret. “The Syrian Experience as Art,” a traveling exhibition of work by 11 Syrian artists reflecting on their country’s civil war and refugee crisis, ends Saturday.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. An exhibition of photographs by Rosamond Purcell, the Boston writer and photographer, runs through July 23. Prints and sculpture by the late Hugh Townley are on view through Sept. 10.

Center for the Arts, Lake Sunapee. The CFA sponsors three exhibitions throughout the Lake Sunapee region. An exhibition of landscape photography by James Mudie and photographs of flowers by Richard Gulezian is on view in the Lake Sunapee Bank’s micro gallery. Mary Beth Westward exhibits landscapes at Whipple Hall in New London. The second annual Center for the Arts exhibition, featuring oil, watercolor and acrylic paintings, as well as drawings and mixed media, is on view at the New London Inn. All three shows end July 29.

Cider Hill Art Gallery, Windsor. Cider Hill is open for the season with exhibitions of sculpture, painting and environmental installations by Steven Proctor, Herb Ferris, Gary Haven Smith, the Mythmakers and Gary Milek.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. “Shedding Light on the Northern Forest,” a show of paintings by Kathleen Kolb with poetry by Verandah Porche, is on view in the Endoscopy Hallway Gallery, Level 4, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, through June.

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.

Aidron Duckworth Museum, Meriden. Laura Moriarty exhibits works on paper and Claremont sculptor Ernest Montenegro exhibits “flatmensquared” through July 23.

Hall Art Foundation, Reading, Vt. There are three shows currently on view: “Hope and Hazard: A Comedy of Eros,” a show of more than 80 paintings on the subject of romantic and sexual love; “Ready. Fire! Aim,” a collaboration between the foundation and Burlington City Arts; and a solo show by David Shrigley. All run through Nov. 26.

Howe Library, Hanover. The artwork of Stephanie Gordon, who teaches art at Hanover High School, is featured in the exhibition “80 Degrees: Encaustic Paintings.” The show runs through Aug. 2.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. Susan Pearson, a pastel artist from Canaan, exhibits her work during regular library hours There will be an opening reception next Thursday, from 5 to 7 p.m. Through Sept. 30.

Library Arts Center, Newport. Carmela Azzaro, Christine R. Hawkins, Ali Keller, Susan Lawrence, Laura Morrison, Richard Stockwell, Patricia Sweet-MacDonald and Tara Van Meter show their work in the annual “Selections” exhibition, culled from the best of the 2016 Regional Juried show. The show is up through July 28.

League of N.H. Craftsmen Hanover Fine Craft Gallery. The gallery exhibits works by jeweler Deirdre Donnelly and fiber artist Tarja Cockell through June.

Long River Gallery and Gifts, White River Junction. The gallery, now relocated to 49 South Main St., exhibits the work of Elizabeth Mayor through July 6. See also Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, where Mayor also has a show.

Norwich Public Library. Art work by elementary school students from Cornish, Woodstock, Lyme, Enfield, Unity, Thetford, Canaan, Norwich, Lempster, Fairlee, Lebanon, West Fairlee, Windsor, White River Junction and Hartland is on view through June.

OSHER at Dartmouth, Hanover. Margaret Sheehan and Cindy Heath exhibit fiber art through Wednesday.

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

Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. “Frances & Friends,” an exhibition of fiber crafts, paintings, photographs, and drawings by six South Royalton-area artists is up is through July 14.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. Black-and-white woodcuts, and handmade wooden serving spoons made by Norwich farmer, writer and artist Suzanne Lupien, are on view, in addition to the jewelry of Stacy Hopkins.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. An exhibit of large-scale, multi-media constructions by Brooklyn artist Katie Bell, who was a 2016 Saint-Gaudens Fellow, is in the Picture Gallery through July 16. There will be a reception on Saturday afternoon from 4:30 to 6; Bell will give a talk at 5.

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.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Hanover printmaker Elizabeth Mayor shows woodcuts. There will be a reception on July 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. The show runs through July 31.

White River Gallery, South Royalton. W. David Powell, of Underhill, Vt., shows his work in the exhibition “The Golden Era of the New Dawn.” Through July 1.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. The “God & Pony Show” brings together prints by Underhill, Vt., artist W. David Powell and the mixed-media collages of Deluxe Unlimited, the nom d’art of Corinth native Ben Peberdy. Through July.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at eholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216. Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.