Our region of the Eastern Shore is well known as a welcome landscape for artists who seek to capture the terrific beauty that starts each day at dawn. This beauty carries over the gentle water and history-rich farmsteads like the migrating geese we hear now. This same beauty grows throughout the day with watermen, townsfolk, and all the hard-working women right into the pastel-drawn sunsets of earthy tones. These four-dimensional sunsets are often viewed behind stands of trees and silhouettes of barns that have always been painted with iron-rust red. The fields of feed corn and soy are colored from various earth tones like the sand and very clay they grow from. The natural stains and pigments that capture this beauty also come from the earth. Red rust oxide descended from countless shooting stars stretching back before the history of recorded observations by John Smith and the oral tradition anchored in memory. We see this color in the hand-formed red bricks of our colonial architecture, and we have it in our blood. Millions of greens, pure blues, and surprising highlights of pinks and yellow draw the eye and reflect what we see (and how we feel about what we see).
You are unlikely to see anything dashed upon rocky crags, people trapped in their despair, or anything that can be called “cold” or “severe” when you view art from the Chester River region. Here, cold winters are about hunting and resting fields. Work and recreation are difficult to tell apart as captured by the artist. Art collectors descended on us during the Open Studio tours last month because they too are hungry for the rare and valuable nectar that we possess here. It is our charge to celebrate, protect, and record what surrounds and nurtures us. Let’s not forget the rhythm of our poetry and music that descends from our warm-hearted spirituality.
Some may think that the predictable array of water/grass/barn/wildlife topics that our artists insist on revisiting is common and ubiquitous. It is to those people who I invite first to come view the “RiverArts Student Exhibit” at the Chestertown RiverArts Gallery these next two weeks. As an artisan potter (and curator of this exhibition), I hope you will begin to see what I see: Our peaceful landscape and graceful inhabitants of this landscape have entwined to form a masterwork of transcendental beauty and wisdom in an era of growing uncertainty and media exhaustion. Here along the quiet tides of the Chester River, a particular unified tone of Gentle Nature and Mild Timelessness has come to dominate our culture and arts. This local vernacular tradition is the unique Chester River School of Art.
How do our artists capture the extraordinary context of Kent and Queen Anne Counties? What is our collective voice when it comes to making art that celebrates our poetic landscape, our vibrant communities, and our diverse cultures and histories? In everything we artists and artisans of RiverArts create, we seek to capture the beauty (and sometimes the challenge) that surrounds us all, even when we travel. The artists in this exhibition present diverse works that reflect the themes and skills of their RiverArts classes over the past year. You may discover a regional commonality in the pleasant treatment of light, texture, line, and color throughout the various mediums of paint, pastel, and pottery in the exhibition. There is a theme of a rural life in conscious balance with the changing light of each day.
There is an overarching comfort that we are at harmony with Nature. Suzanne Fisher’s Soybeans depicts a familiar farm scene where the dominant field of autumn colors can also be found in earthy tones of several of the stoneware pieces in the gallery. Many works focus on the life-giving water that surrounds us. Who wouldn’t want to glide down the river of Golden Grass by Marjorie Adams? Other works reflect local traditions and ways. Anne Singer’s Highlander Stu uses nuanced light to convey a deep gaze of open sincerity. Don’t you agree we have something spectacular happening in our local arts? Tell me what you think.
Chestertown RiverArts Gallery is open Tuesday-Sunday, through November 12
More at: www.chestertownriverarts.net
Mike Pugh is the RiverArts Clay Studio manager in Chestertown.