The current exhibitions at Old York’s George Marshall Store Gallery are well suited to the season as the local trees turn from from summer greens to autumnal yellows and reds. “Taproot” is an exhibition inspired by the book “The Hidden Life of Trees, What they Feel and How they Communicate,” by Peter Wohlleben. Whereas a common theme connects the work in “Taproot,” it is the coincident of national origin that inspired the show “Maine Dutch Masters,” featuring painters Jaap Eduard Helder and Jan ter Weele and ceramic artist Simon van der Ven. Both exhibitions continue through November 11th.
In “Taproot” curator Mary Harding has combined the work of 30 regional artists, representing a wide variety of medium, into a thoughtful and visually rich installation. “I thoroughly enjoyed Wohlleben’s book about trees and heard several interviews with the writer on the radio. I could immediately think of a number of artists who regularly paint or are inspired by trees and thought it would make an interesting theme-based exhibition.”
The image chosen for the invitation announcing the show is an etching by Kittery artist Victoria Elbroch. Titled “Layered Understanding,” the image of her tree has an equal number of roots spread underground as upper branches reaching towards the sky. The title of the piece is also fitting with Wohlleben’s descriptions on how trees communicate with one another and their environment.
Some artists created work specifically in response to the theme. Portsmouth artist Michael Stasiuk, known for his found object sculptures, made five pieces for the show. A six- foot tall tree, made from tool handles, clothes hangers, and assorted fragments, supports nine small birds with spring loaded wings and golf tee beaks. A Bunny figure swings happily from one of the lower branches.
Portland artist Judith Allen-Efstathiou exhibits several of her wall pieces fabricated from copper sheets removed from the dome of the Maine Capital Building in Augusta. The State offered the copper to several artists who were commissioned to create new work from the material. Her “Prouts Neck Pine” measures 48 inches high, 15” wide and because of its depth, multiple shadows are projected onto the wall.
Portsmouth photographer Carl Austin Hyatt exhibits three of his black and white prints. A layer of snow covers the trees in “Winter Woods” like a lace veil and in tones that are a reminder of the cold yet to come. “Entangled 4” by Bangor artist Nina Jerome is a large painting of Virginia wild grape vine enveloping a tree. Its strong color, movement and placement pull the viewer into the room. Once there, one can not help to notice a tree line boarder near the ceiling that wraps completely around the room and then cascades to the floor in one corner. Portsmouth artist, Lucinda Clark hand-cut, 70 feet of landscaping tree-wrap paper to create this tree line. Her choice of material, designed to protect trees from insects and abrasions, in an interesting metaphor.
Portland ceramic artist Sharon Townshend’s small ceramic “Walking Houses,” are in response to the plight of refugees who literally have to “pull up their roots” and move away. “Firestorm One and Firestorm Two” by New York artist Charles Ramsburg are 14” x 12” panels that look like charred bark and represent the artist’s comment on the increasing number of destructive wildfires in the west.
There are numerous fine paintings by local artists depicting trees and their environments including Tom Glover, Michael Walek, Todd Bezold. From further down east are Sam Cady, K. Min and MaJo Keleshian. Exhibiting for the first time in the Gallery are William Gotha (Andover MA), Frank Gregory (Greenfield MA), Mathew and Nathanial Meyer (Portland ME), Roy Perkinson (Wellesley, MA) and Margery Thomas-Mueller (Alton, NH). From furthest away are artists Charles Ramsburg (New York City) Julia Zanes, Donald Saaf and Kate Emlen from Vermont, and Susan Lyman from Provincetown, MA. Most visitors have been intrigued by the theme and spend considerable time viewing the work.
There is plenty of color in “Taproot” but almost pale in comparison to the brilliant color found in Maine Dutch Master’s paintings. The three artists share a Dutch heritage and are Maine based artists. Perhaps it is in their genes that color plays such a significant role– the long dark winters give a craving for color. Jan ter Weele paints a stylized version of the landscape. Trees are not green and the sky is not blue. He disassembles the landscape into unexpected colorful shapes, paring pinks with orange, and yellows with blues resulting in a view of the landscape which is both beautiful and surprising.
Jaap Helder’s painting at first seem like pure abstraction however through his use of color, line and texture they hover between abstraction and representation. He explains that that his work has always been influence by the land and the ocean. “The boats of the shipping and fishing industries find their way into my paintings with their industrial colors and weather-beaten hulls.”
Paired with the two painters are ceramics by Simon van der Ven from Lincolnville, Maine, where he works as a full-time studio artist and part-time educator. He continuously explores different clays and techniques. The show includes both wood and gas fired pieces, and several of his signature pierced forms. A pattern of holes are drilled into the forms during the bisque stage and then glazed and fired. Three pieces are collaborations with ceramic artist Mark Bell.
The exhibitions continue through November 11th. Gallery hours are 10-4 Wednesday through Saturday, 1-4 on Sunday. 140 Lindsay Road, York, Maine. The gallery is a program and property of the Old York Historical Society. www.gerorgemarshallstoregallery.com phone: 207-351-1083