The 200-year-old barn at 2313 West Hill Road in Stowe is hiding a few secrets behind its weathered doors.
Step inside and, instead of the cows and sheep that once called it home, you’ll find an art exhibit, “In Our Nature.” It runs through Oct. 14 and features the works of 11 local and regional artists who are immersed in and inspired by the natural world.
The barn was once home to a seasonal art gallery, but has been unused for six years. Curators Gunnel Clarke and Idoline Duke decided to bring art back to the space this spring.
“It’s been a really fun collaboration,” Duke said. “We both bring different strengths to the table and things have been running really smoothly. We are so compatible and agreeable, it’s almost spooky.”
The barn’s rustic structure enhances the exhibit’s nature theme. Hand-hewn beams and barnboard walls serve as effective backdrops for botanical still-lifes, abstract watercolors of local mountains and meadows, and bronze bird sculptures.
Massive barn doors open to grassy meadows and mountain views, framing them in a way that almost makes them part of the exhibit.
In an era of doom and gloom about the environment, the show is surprisingly optimistic.
“While this exhibit is not overtly ‘environmental,’ I do feel good about it contributing to the dialogue about how important nature is to sustaining not only life on Earth, which is a big concept, but physical and emotional health and especially creativity,” Duke said.
The paintings, photographs and sculptures remind us that, while we live in a world that is growing ever more high-tech, we still need to spend time with nature.
“These artists need to be in nature to feel human, and through their art are communicating this feeling to the viewer,” Duke said. “Being in this space, surrounded by all of this beauty, gives you a great feeling of being nurtured and, at the same time, stimulated and energized by all of the colors and textures. It’s a very hopeful exhibit in that way.”
The exhibit offers divergent interpretations of nature, from a watercolor rooster to pieces of driftwood, painted with variegated bands of blue and carefully arranged in shadowboxes.
“Nature is so personal — how we live in it, interact with it, feed off the energy of it,” Duke said. “And ‘our’ nature may no longer be pristine wilderness. It may be the boat-filled harbors of Henry Isaac’s paintings, or the time- and machine-ravaged quarries of Don Ross’s photographs, or it may be a simple flower cut from a peony bed, as in Katy Schneider’s still-lifes.”
“Every artist has different perspectives,” Clarke said. “They’re inspired by their unique life experiences. Some see nature in a very abstract way. Some see it in a more realistic way.”
The exhibit offers plenty of variety.
“We have a great range of art, not only stylistically, but our price range is $350 to $35,000,” Duke said. “We hope there is something for every art buyer.”
Duke and Clarke aren’t sure how often they’ll open new exhibits in the barn.
“I’d love to do something every summer and fall to keep it going,” Clarke said.
For now, they’re counting on press releases and word-of-mouth referrals to steer art lovers to their off-the-beaten-path barn/gallery.
“We’re really hoping that his exhibit is a big success and we can justify all of our time and efforts financially, so that there will be many more like this one,” Duke said.
Nature as a muse
Each artist in the exhibit finds inspiration in a different aspect of nature, from changing seasons to Vermont’s variegated topography.
Painter Joe Salerno, who lives in Johnson, wakes up almost every day of the year and paints the same mountainside, just to capture changing light and weather.
Printmaker and sculptor Jane Parkes spends her summer combing Eastern beaches for perfect pieces of driftwood, then paints them meticulously in her Maine studio.
Photographer Don Ross, who lives in Brandon, captures the gravity and serene beauty of ravaged Vermont quarries with technical and compositional precision.
Architect-turned-watercolorist Tom Cullins of Burlington, through his dynamic abstractions, manages to make even a sunset look architectural.
Also exhibiting work:
Sculptor Jim Sardonis, who created the 13-foot-tall Whale’s Tails sculpture between exits 12 and 13 on Interstate 89.
Rhode Island and Vermont oil painter Bunny Harvey, whose large, highly sensitized landscape paintings grace many museums and public institutions.
Painter Katy Schneider, who creates loosely brush-worked, small, floral still-lifes.
Sculptor Sharon Wandel, whose trademarks are serene bronzed birds and hummingbirds.
Painter Idoline Duke, who does detailed large-scale specimen watercolor paintings.
Painter Sky Hoyt, who works on colorfully abstracted still-lifes and figures.
Henry Isaac, known for his large, light-abstracted landscape paintings of New England’s coastal shoreline and Vermont hillsides.
Information: In Our Nature - The barn gallery at Comfort Farm - 2313 West Hill Road, Stowe - Opening reception: Friday, Sept. 14, 6 to 9 p.m. - Exhibit open: Sept. 14 to Oct. 14, noon to 5:30, closed Tuesdays.