Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Art Review: Art in the Round Barn: 200 Years of Farming... 20 Years of Art!, Waitsfield

by Bev Kehoe

It’s been 200 years since settlers cleared some land on the way to Waitsfield Common and decided that it was a good place to build their homestead. It’s been 100 years since the farmers in that house felt they needed a big round barn to store the hay, milk the cows and feed the chickens. It’s been 25 years since the Simko family restored the grounds and created the luxurious Inn at Round Barn Farm, and 20 years since Doreen Simko and Anne Marie Simko deFreest felt that the milking parlor deserved an up-close experience with Art. And this is the first year that the Green Mountain Cultural Center chose to create an ‘invitational’ show rather than the juried show that usually occurs each September in the Round Barn.

Twenty-six artists were invited, and all said “Yes!" By creating an invitational show, Anne Marie felt that she wanted to “recognize and honor the artists who have been so supportive of the

art show in the past, and who have greatly contributed to the Vermont art community.” This enabled deFreest to curate a show that displays a diversely coherent range of styles and techniques that flows through the circular space with balance and grace.

This is a showing of Vermont artists in every configuration: in mediums that include metal and clay, watercolor and oil, encaustic wax, pastel, photography, granite and wood; in styles that span the modality from realism to abstraction; with artists that live here just a few months a year as well as those who are first or sixth generation Vermonters; in a display of artistic experiences that are described from the hearts of venerable masters, diligent devotees and ambitious newcomers. The whitewashed walls and natural burnished floors of the barn create a warm but neutral backdrop of Vermont-wide artists, with a healthy mix of Mad River Valley artists.

When you walk in the door you are charmed by five pieces by Bill Brauer, who has nurtured his world-renowned career in a studio located just one mile up the road. His inspiration from the Renaissance is evident, as he says, ‘in a fascination with the human form, taking Renaissance concepts of the figure and combining them with my contemporary design sense…Formally the paintings are about shapes next to shapes and colors next to colors, with influences from the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians. A single light source and shallow visual field create a tension and dramatic dark-to-light patterns that help to emphasize that something is happening just beyond the picture plane.” This mystery and drama plays out with pieces entitled, ‘Cleopatra Meets the Sphinx,’ ‘Art Lovers,’ and ‘In Another Place.’

These pieces pull you in the two directions that lead you around in a circular array of art, paintings on the walls interlaced with sculptural structures that are as heavy as granite and as light as the air between the intricate —or massive— three-dimensional shapes. Robert Birbeck’s wood or stone pieces display a well-polished sense of humor in pieces such as ‘Honey I’m Home’ and ‘You’re Not In Kansas Anymore.’ John Brickels’ humor, by contrast, emerges from clay and ceramic constructions that juxtapose gritty dirt-colored structures with colorful vinyl dime-store props. ‘Vertico Barn III’ is singularly creative, topsy-turvy and one-of-a-kind (oh, wait, there must have been a ‘I’ and a ‘II’…)

Three Mad River Valley sculptors—Mireille Clapp, John Matusz and Mark Eliot Schwabe—put their hearts into steel and copper, aluminum and bronze. Mireille Clapp, with a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from MIT, delights in the concept of order/disorder, taking the strength of steel and transforming it into statements of freedom and roughness. Mark Schwabe has plied his art for 40 years with a scale that ranges from 12 feet one half inch wide. He pushes pure geometric shapes into a precarious balance; he cuts away a simple clean form to show lava-rock-like inner turmoil; he works intricately, intimately in fantastical miniature scale.

John Matusz wields his welding equipment in the old firehouse in town where he burns up rock and steel into industrial-sized monuments. His pieces are raw, massive statements of a fierce artistic temperament. In contrast, the sculptures of Bruce Hathaway, especially ‘The Perfection Within’ are lilting melodies in metal. His aluminum & ‘mild steel’ pieces on maple or cherry bases are soft excursions into an artistic sensibility that dances with a Calder-esque mobility.

While the sculptures anchor the flow of the artistic expression, the soul of the show is the diversity of the paintings. Three Mad River Valley painters (in addition to Brauer) are displayed: Candy Barr in oils, Gary Eckhart with watercolors, and Marilyn Ruseckas in pastel. Candy Barr’s duo of moose images, ‘Stillness in Winter’ and ‘Early Spring Moose’ have the viewer tiptoeing up quietly to avoid disturbing the woodland creatures in all their massive glory. The complementary palette used creates a compelling lightness within the deep, rich colors. Candy reiterated this very natural theme by personally hewing the frames from birch trees right outside her Warren studio loft. Marilyn Ruseckas creates alluring visual oxymorons with her dense, dark pastels. Her play of dark against light and semi-surrealistic earth forms move into organic abstractions. Gary Eckhart’s watercolors contain a heightened sense of representation in pieces such as ‘Simply Buckets’ and ‘Exposed.’ Although the subject matter is traditional imagery of barns, sugar houses and buckets, the textural layering of muted pigments within these shapes emerge into a depth of color and form that create moving, nostalgic reminders of simpler times gone by.

Bonnie Acker, a strong supporter of the Art in the Round Barn through the years, finds flame and fire, air and water within the abstractions of her landscapes. A strong horizontal landing zone within the paintings allow for soaring skies and fiery vertical breath. Simple, strong oils that dance deeply in the pastel modes of jewel-like color flicker one against the other for a luminous expression of love for the Vermont landscape. Elizabeth Allen’s oils, by contrast, are dreamier, more realistic representations of ‘Waitsfield Autumn’ and ‘Sundown on Lake Champlain.’ If dreamy art is intriguing, discover the large scale oils of Janet Fredericks in a display a faraway fairy tale abstraction. They seem to clearly state a reflection of inner emotional landscapes in concert with sketchy flora and fauna while fading in and out of sunny, summery color schemes. And if radiant light is to your liking, the oils of Joy Huckins-Noss are landscapes that seem to echo pointillism until you look up close and detect the three dimensional, rough layering of oil that create rifts and valleys of shadow and high peaks of complementary colors that glow with the luminosity of seasonal colors.

The oils of Kevin Fahey garnered him a ‘Best of Show’ accolade at the 2009 Art in the Round Barn Show, and especially his ‘Modern Explorer’ and ‘Mesmerized at Basin Harbor’ clearly show why. His sweeping drifts of shadow and light along the waves and beaches create bold statements of color and form. A more whimsical version of bold color opens up in Anne Cady’s oils where shapes and rhythms, patterns of light in nature reflect a simple playfulness that reveals the artist’s involvement with children and art.

If your idea of pastel is dreamy impressionistic styles, take a bite out of the pastels of Lucy Petrie. They revolve around a degree of detail that is dramatically literal, with mouthwatering explosions of color in ‘Orange Slice & Lime Wedge’ and ‘Kiwi & Orange.’

Frank Woods takes in his landscapes, feels and then responds to the “pull of abstraction.” His modernistic take on Quebec landscapes is strong pure color anchored by a dark under painting. In contrast, Helen Shulman starts her oils as realistic figures, and through a series of layering, works them into a powerfully geometric matrix of abstraction that shows little of the original sketch. Even so, they contain an organic depth that intuitively breathes light into pieces such as ‘Shifting Sands.’ Shulman concludes, “I work in a space patrolled by knowledge and challenged by intuition.”

This sentiment could be the theme of the 2010 Art in the Round Barn. The 26 artists hold an immense volume of technical knowledge in the areas of

materials, surfaces, color theory, composition and history. They use those skills and experience to transform their emotion and intellect into paintings and sculpture that challenges and soothes, inspires and animates the world around them. The Art in the Round Barn is open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm daily except on Saturday when the Barn is closed at 2:30, and runs through October 11. For more information, call 802-496-7722 or go to

Bev Kehoe is Coordinator of the Vermont Festival of the Arts.