Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Barnyard "Seens"

     The idea was to get away from cows for a few hours. It was a hot, humid Sunday afternoon and emptying a truckload of sawdust had left us frazzled. Gwenne and I both needed a little break. So where did we go? To Leslie Peck's studio open house, of course. The irony is that Peck is Washington County's noted painter of farm animals. What you see when you walk into her Greenwich carriage house gallery are ducks, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs and cows. Lots and lots of cows!
     There were holsteins, angus, herefords and a gorgeous portrait of a Randall lineback bull who once resided up on the mountain at Merck Forest but has since relocated to a tonier Dorset, Vermont address.

Leslie Peck paintings

     I actually like cows, although constantly dealing with their "byproducts" can be a bit onerous. But it's easy to love the cows Peck captures on canvas. She imbues her subjects with both individuality and inherent dignity. Animals are the heart and soul of Washington County's farming identity. Even people no longer involved with commercial agriculture often keep a flock of chickens or a few beefers. It's part of their heritage, it's in their blood.
     But how often do we slow down long enough to really see an animal? Usually we're hustling to get our chores done, making sure everything is fed and watered. Or we're in a hurry to get the kids to practice, get the shopping done and we may smile at the flock of sheep on the hillside but at 50 mph they are really just a blur.

Portrait of a Pig by Leslie Peck

     That's why we need artists. They take the time to look and really see. They tease out the essence of something, distill it and with skilled technique give it back to us. Then it's our turn. We need to slow down, look at what they've created, be receptive to their vision and become more sensitive to the world around us.
     I'm grateful for art and those who make it for us. I've noticed how my visits to the river this year have been enriched after taking in Battenkill Inspired at Crandall Library ( A big thanks to Todd DeGarmo and all the contributing artists). And whenever I get up to Shelving Rock I see the lake with fresh eyes thanks to the Hyde Museum's many shows, including Artists of Lake George (1976), Painting Lake George (2005), and more recently the Georgia O'Keefe and Wild Nature exhibits. Consider, as well, how ASA's annual Landscapes for Landsakes event in Coila has contributed to an appreciation of both local artists and our picturesque countryside.

The Battenkill above Clarks Mills

Lake George at Shelving Rock

     Back in Peck's studio I was pleased to discover that she also does exquisite still lifes. I'll never look at a cabbage quite the same way again and the painting of several white vases on a shelf held my gaze. She's also accomplished at portraits in oil and charcoal and we learned that she paints covers for romantic novels as well. It's slightly surreal to move from one of her pig portraits to an illustration of a buxom woman being swept off her feet by a virile young man!
     There's an endearing, whimsical quality to Peck, both in person and in the range of her work. Later that day I came back to my very real cows and felt like I was seeing them in a new light. Now if they could just be framed so I wouldn't have to feed, milk and scrap up behind them!

Reason to Roam

     Leslie Peck, along with fifteen other artists, were hosting visitors as part of the Open Studios Tour. The tour lasted till 6:00 pm Sunday afternoon and inexplicably we waited till 5:30 to go ( yeah, I know I'm hopeless ) so we only got to one stop and probably overstayed our welcome there. Was it Shakespeare who said "The tours the thing"? I guess not, but organized tours have become popular in Washington County. In addition to the mid-summer Open Studios you can go on maple and fiber tours in spring and the cheese tour this September 12&13. There are also occasional home and garden tours and the Slate Valley Museum has a self-guided quarry tour.

     Note: this years Landscapes for Landsakes will be on October 10, 11 and 12 at Maple Ridge.
You might also like to make the short drive to Williamstown, Mass. and the Clark Museum to view Van Gogh and Nature on exhibit till September 13. It's a rare opportunity and the show is getting great reviews.
     Finally, here's a link to Leslie Peck's website.

Wild Watch
     The sky put on a good show over the weekend. Saturday evening Venus was just above the crescent moon after sunset. Sunday was all about an amazing display of clouds as a front rolled in to give us thunderstorms, and more than twelve hours without power. In the evening I watched as bolt after bolt of lightning lit up the horizon off towards Bennington. Monday morning brought a dense layer of ground fog turned pink by the rising sun.
     Sorry I don't have photos - my cheap little point and shoot can't do justice to scenes like that. But there's the lesson...not everything is captured for later consumption so get out there and take a look whenever you can. Nature provides us with something to smile about everyday.

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