Alive with art
“Still Life with Swimmers” by Roger Sandes.

Alive with art

The hills of Southern Vermont reveal hidden seams of creative gold in Rock River Artists Tour

WILLIAMSVILLE — Traversing the sleepy, winding roads of Southern Vermont, one might never guess the richness of art and craft hidden in this bucolic landscape. Among a few, noble, open fine art and craft studio tours in the region, the Rock River Artists holds its own again July 20-21 in the villages of Williamsville, Newfane, and South Newfane, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Joining tour regulars - Ellen Darrow, pottery; Dan DeWalt, custom furniture; Chris Ericson, furniture and jewelry; Georgie, oil painting; Richard Foye, raku pottery; Steven Meyer, painting; Roger Sandes, painting and prints; Deidre Scherer, thread on fabric; Matthew Tell, pottery; T. Breeze Verdant, marquetry and inlay; and Mary Welsh, collage - will be newcomers Carol Ross, functional modern potter; Peter Erickson, en passant painter; and Diane Echlin, potter.

Back after a hiatus are Christine Triebert, photographer; Rich Gillis, metalsmith; and John Long, artist in wood.

The 2019 RRA tour showcasing 17 fine artists and craftspeople within the three villages is one of the largest collections in the RRA's 27-year history.

A return to painting

Peter Erickson is new to South Newfane. Having lived in some of the most beautiful areas of New England, he's happily landed here where the arts community, the landscape, and the people all feed his art. An architect by training and practice, it's painting that first captured Erickson.

“I returned to painting as my primary concentration,” he says.

Having never put down his sketch book and paint brushes after more than 30 years in architecture, Erickson decided it was time to get back to what compelled him into architecture in the first place.

“My perspective remains that of an architect moving through space and time; i.e., perception, realization and reflection,” he says. “In the context of the passage of time, the art of painting becomes about 'just being.'”

Erickson describes this as painting en passant: intended to catch an incidental moment in motion, for which brush painting had become a constraint.

“This was when I happened upon the spontaneity and diversity that can be achieved by painting with airbrush and acrylic pigments,” he says. In Erickson's vibrant, dynamic works is the world in motion, the energy of life in action, the tricks that light plays on his eyes.

Diane Echlin on South Wardsboro Road studied at Marlboro College with Michael Boylen. Focused on the functional in her work, Echlin values process as much as product.

“I put a lot of play time and practice into developing new ideas,” she says.

An inspiration hits, and Echlin follows it down the rabbit hole - wherever that may lead. The process is not directed, and the results yield a feeling of serenity and peace evoked through use of color to emulate the pastoral.

Echlin had followed different career paths to unsatisfying conclusions when she finally returned to clay in 2014. “It was cheaper than therapy,” she quips.

She relocated to Newfane in 2015, recalling the vibrant arts community here.

“I wanted to live a rural lifestyle and wanted to be where people are literate in craft,” she said. She now teaches, sells, and shows locally and regionally while creating in her serene studio.

Recycled materials

Up the road on Wiswall Hill, John Long works in wood, as he has been doing for 45 years. In his studio - a rustic, converted chicken coop - Beethoven is blaring from the radio.

“Classical?” I ask.

“Yeah, either that or '50s rock 'n' roll, these days” he says.

That eclecticism counters the steadiness of his work. Like fellow RRA artist, T. Breeze Verdant, Long uses recycled materials. Not quite an ambulance chaser for old wood, he is often called when a barn is about to go down and given a chance to scavenge for his art.

These weathered remnants of bygone days are repurposed into striking, handsome, beautifully envisioned and rendered works of art. Inspired by Eric Sloane, Long works with an eye that is both contemporary and also respectful of the disappearing American landscape, giving 200-year-old barn boards a place in homes around the world.

At one point, Long did 40 shows a year. Now he's at six. He has a website and is seen in several galleries. Enjoying a splash of fame, Long was asked to create the graphic identity for Broadway's Peter and the Starcatcher several years ago. He is compelled to create, saying “my retirement is to keep working.” A visit to his studio will tell you why.

Carol Ross is hardly a newcomer to the Rock River Artists. In fact, she and her spouse, the visionary photographer Christine Triebert, co-founded RRA in 1993. Both Ross and Triebert, who is rejoining the tour this year, come from graphic design backgrounds, and each finds, in her own way, the reciprocating influence of that discipline on her art.

“I love design in every form,” Ross explains, an enthusiasm that is clear in her work, which is understated - almost Shaker like - and elegant in shape and detail. It was seven years ago that Ross first took up clay, and she says she immediately felt committed to the medium.

“To be able to get my hands into something so visceral, when I'm throwing it's so not in my head. I don't have to think or strategize. I do what feels good to me and makes sense. It's an emotional thing, not a head thing.”

'When the muse hits'

Ross calls herself “unpredictable,” to which Triebert says: “Carol and I are different in approach: I'm more intentional: the muse hits; I get an idea, I mush it around and if it wants to be something, I stay with it.”

Lately, Triebert has turned her images into something more craft-like. Be sure to check out her new lampshades.

For Ross, this marks her first year on the RRA tour as an artist. “I didn't want to be another potter on the tour, but my peers heartily encouraged me to be part of it,” she says. Visitors will be delighted that she is.

Visitors are encouraged to start their RRA Open Studio Tour at the old Schoolhouse in South Newfane village, where participating artists present a gallery exhibition.

A classic 19th-century structure that formerly housed the village's one-room school, the Schoolhouse itself is well worth the visit. There one can pick up a map of artists' locations and begin a self-guided tour of the studios, all within short driving distance. Admission is free all weekend.

The tour is free. Lunch will be available for purchase at the Schoolhouse each day. On Saturday at 6 p.m., visitors are welcome to the annual Williamsville Hall BBQ with renowned fare from Top of the Hill Grill: $12 Adults, Kids under ten $8.

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