Shifting Shorelines, Works by Susan Hostetler, on View at Adkins Arboretum


Not a single bird stays still in Susan Hostetler’s paintings, drawings and sculptures on view at the Adkins Arboretum’s Visitor’s Center through June 1. Titled Shifting Shorelines, her show is full of motion with an undercurrent of concern about climate change. There will be a reception to meet the artist on Sat., April 14 from 3 to 5 p.m.

You’ll find birds flying, perching, stalking and singing throughout this show, including one full wall covered with a sweep of individual ceramic birds. But Hostetler also touches on their varied habitats with swirling leaves, flowers, seedpods, intricate clumps of moss and brilliantly hued underwater plants.

Many of this show’s works were inspired by weekend retreats at Echo Hill Outdoor School, where she and a group of artists have gathered to draw and paint on the school’s grounds, which include farmland, marshes, forests and a mile-long sandy beach.

“I always gravitated to the ‘back waters’ of the swamp and wetland areas,” Hostetler said. “They are the quiet, forgotten places teeming with life. A small mound of moss near the water’s edge is a microcosm of biodiversity containing so many intricate layers of life.”

“Shore Line Plants” by Susan Hostetler

Whether drawing or painting with gouache or encaustics, she builds up layer upon layer so as to create a feeling of translucent depth that makes her works resound with a sense of close interrelationships between birds, plants, air and water. Although she sometimes limits her palette to shades of black and white, she has a fresh and surprising way with color, mingling exuberant shades of orange, turquoise, leafy green, rust red and golden yellow.

Hostetler notes that while she has a lot to learn about birds, she is fascinated by their flight and migration patterns. Her studio in a northeast Washington, D.C., warehouse is lined with windows so that her drawn and sculpted birds inside mimic the real birds just outside.

“For us city dwellers, the bird may be the only chance we have to feel close to a wild creature,” she said. “Soaring birds are symbolic of a universal emotion of uplift and a sense of freedom.”

Hostetler has traveled and exhibited extensively, launching a hand papermaking mill in Friedberg, Germany, and a studio in Barcelona, Spain, and her work is included in many collections. In addition to frequent shows in the Washington area, her paintings and sculptures can be seen in April in Chestertown at RiverArts and the Massoni Gallery.

She feels exhibiting in the Chesapeake Bay area is a way of celebrating the International Year of the Bird, an effort by National Geographic, Audubon and more than 100 other organizations to raise awareness of the dramatic losses among bird species around the world.

Hostetler said she chose her title, Shifting Shorelines, because it allows for various interpretations. “Though one could say that shorelines shift regularly due to tides and other natural occurrences, climate change is ‘shifting’ the shoreline, and not in a positive way.”

This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view through June 1 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410–634–2847, ext. 0 or for gallery hours.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum is the region’s resource for native plants and education programs about nature, ecology and wildlife conservation gardening. For more information, visit or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

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