Constant, but ever-changing

Rock River Artists Open Studio Tour offers a mix of old and new

NEWFANE — Google “Rock River.” You'll find lots of local entities that boast that handle. A beautiful tributary feeding first the West, then the Connecticut River, its massive rock formations are staid, but the river never is - even on the driest of days. The rocks are constant around which the ever-changing river flows.

Visiting Rock River Artists (RRA) studios recently to catch up on plans for their Open Studio Tour coming up this weekend, I was struck by just that: constancy and flow.

Those in the old guard - several having been with the RRA for its full 31 years - are still producing extraordinary fine art and craft while experimenting with new shapes, forms, and techniques. And they're embracing new members - younger artists eager to be part of this collective.

For three decades, interrupted only by Covid, the RRA members have opened their studios to the public on the third weekend of every July, inviting visitors to view creative processes, to engage and interact and, yes, to purchase what they might not find anywhere else.

Having earned its following well beyond Southern Vermont, the Rock River Artists' Studio Tour this year features 12 artists in a range of media from functional ceramics to thread on fabric: Mucuy Bolles, pottery; Richard Foye, raku pottery; Georgie, oil painting; Steven Meyer, painting; Gianna Robinson, painting; Carol Ross, functional pottery; Roger Sandes, painting and prints; Deidre Scherer, thread on fabric; Matthew Tell, pottery; Christine Triebert, photography; Mary Welsh, collage; and, posthumously, Ellen Darrow, to whose memory this year's tour is dedicated with a retrospective, “Ellen Darrow/Aho: A Lifetime of Making Art,” on view at Olallie Daylily Gardens.

Born in 1933, Darrow, who died in March, lived for 61 years in South Newfane, where she's left a legacy in various media from clay carvings to pastels, collages to watercolor.

Having studied fine art in various venues from American University to Windham College and workshop settings in Putney, “she did art all the time,” her son Chris Darrow recalls. “She valued art and the process of exploration [...] and she was prone to whimsy.”

In the garden shed on the family farm, one can see as much of her work on a napkin, a stone, a cheese box lid as in sketch books and on canvases. “She was a consummate artist, compelled to create,” Darrow adds.

A Newfane Selectboard member for years, she was a mainstay in Newfane, a frequenter of events, a champion of causes; kind to the core, a lover of nature: As her eyesight deteriorated in recent years, she would often say to her son, he recalls: “Let's go out and lead me about the garden.”

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Here's who's who on the tour:

• Potter Mucuy Bolles was born in a Mayan village in Yucatan, Mexico, to an American archeologist father and a Mexican mother who, she says, “taught me about Mayan culture: the language, the customs, the beliefs. [...] I have tried to infuse my work with Mayan motifs, hieroglyphs, and mythology. The pine needle weaving adds texture and homage to the rich history of textiles in Mayan culture; the feathers used to adorn the headdresses add depth and color as well as the emotional element of the fleeting magic of life embodied by the image of birds in flight.”

• Richard Foye, who makes his own glazes for his raku-fired pottery, has an enduring following that finds him and his work in his South Newfane studio, at the NH League of Craftsmen's Fair held every August at Mount Sunapee, and at the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival where he sees customers from around the U.S., as well as from Europe and Canada.

Rarely standing still when not at the wheel, Foye's working on a new glaze - “green pine needle,” he calls it - for new shapes. Visiting him is a kick: surrounded by his creations shaped with elegant soft curves and long lines, you'll inevitably be engaged by his raconteur's banter and sharp wit.

• “The [RRA] tour offers incentive I need to keep creating,” says painter Steven Meyer, who works in black ink, water, and ammonia on Yupo paper. “Forward momentum is really important when you're an artist.”

Rendering New England scenes evocative and austere, Meyer works “a lot with rocks and old barns. I love November and December - it's stick season, when Mother Nature shares her bare bones. I'm in love with the process,” he adds. “If you look closely at my work, you see the layers, the textures, the drips. I start out with a quick sketch and I make a mess, then I tighten it and tighten it,” yielding intricate texture as he works with brushes, squeegees, steel wool, Q-Tips, paper towels, fingers, rags, sticks, sponges, “whatever I have handy.”

• Gianna Robinson has been venturing more these days into pointillism, a technique in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image. “I like to play around,” she says, trying to pare the elements in each piece down to an essential aesthetic she describes as “calming, but in an invigorating way, like you would feel if you went out to Grout Pond.”

Painting peacefully, she says, “gives me that feeling like I'm falling in love for the first time and everything gets bright and crisp and it's buzzing” in landscapes of favorite local scenes and in abstractions too. Robinson shows at a few different local venues and will have her second show at Newfane's Moore Free Library in October.

• Throwing mostly at the Wheelhouse Clay Center in Brattleboro, Carol Ross offers her pottery at the Farmers Market in Brattleboro every other week, at the Peru Fair, on the RRA tour, and from her home gallery, which she says is “always open and I welcome visitors.” Ross has been honing a new glaze, green fog, a soft green matte that graces her modern, functional pottery.

Characterized as simple, clean, Asian, Scandinavian, and minimalist, Ross's work has no surface design or texture. Having been a graphic designer in New York, Boston, and locally, she says, “I love design and I've always gravitated toward clarity and simplicity: I believe that shows in my work.” Her passion for what she does is manifest in her home gallery. “I'm at an age,” she says, “where I don't want this to become work. I just love doing it.”

(3)Georgie Runkle - known professionally as Georgie - says on the RRA website: “My paintings are deliberate. They are a mosaic of complex color and shapes arranged on a canvas to create a visual expression of an inner landscape. [...] I am a plein air painter. As you drive through southern Vermont you may see me painting along the roadside, in a field, or beside a barn... anywhere that the setting has attracted my aesthetic sensibility.”

• For more than 40 years, Roger Sandes has, according to his artist's statement, incorporated into his paintings “symbols of life, fertility, and civilization. [...] I assemble these images in ways that highlight their natural beauty and abstract form, and integrate or synthesize elements of modern art and folk art, nature and artifact. By balancing the simple and complex, I hope to create objects of contemplation that will attract the eye immediately and also reward subsequent examination.”

• Prolific and showing her work (4)widely in exhibits, private collections, and in texts, Deidre Scherer says “there's a lot of new work” to see this year. Focusing more now on what she calls “inner contours,” Scherer continues to create still lifes and portraits. While producing new works, such as “Brilliance,” and a series of hands in relief, she's recreating, using prints of older pieces and weaving them with translucent paper to create complex meaning with heart.

With so many of her subjects being us humans as we age, Scherer focuses on the reality of mortality and on the inevitable cycle of life. Scherer's (5)news of note: “Sisters, Sitting” is now in the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence, Rhode Island. Created in honor of Hildegard Bachert and Edith Schnabel, this double portrait was recently donated by Dorothy Kerzner Lipsky. Another piece, “Stories,” has been added to the Bennington Museum's permanent collection through the generous donation of collectors Sharron and Frank Kropa.

• Potter Matthew Tell notes on his website that “My dialogue with clay is articulated in the 6,000 year old tradition of the functional vessel. I like the idea of my pieces becoming part of people's everyday life. I am influenced by my environment, the Green Mountains of Vermont. This is reflective in the suggestive landscapes and colorful earth-tone glaze overlays I use to decorate my pots.”

• Of her recent work, Christine Triebert says that with 30 years of photo images in store, she's no longer capturing images as her main art form. Instead, she's applying from her vast collection to “create functional objects for the home” - primarily lampshades and pillows.

Repurposing images - botanical, still life, abstract - she teams, in turn, with South Newfane woodworker Chris Erickson, Brattleboro ceramicist Steve Proctor, and blacksmith Aaron Anderson at Small Town Forge in Grafton to grow her marketed collection and to do custom work following an intricate in-studio process.

On the RRA tour, visitors can buy from her firsts and, under a sale tent on her serene Rock River property, find old frames and prints, notecards, calendars, and posters. Currently she sells from her studio, online, and through Artful Home, a gallery-like curated site with a tight jury process that treats artists well, she says. It's a worldwide market for her aesthetic that is clean, graphic, harmonious, balanced, simple, spatial: elegant contemporary.

• In her artist's statement, Mary Welsh says: “My collages are depictions of what we all take for granted - houses, rooms, and their contents. Viewing these scenes evokes memories and fantasies of what we know about houses and rooms, and these memories and fantasies become incorporated in our experience of the work. Some things are exactly what they appear to be; some things are not. [...] I use found materials placed in new contexts to ask questions about appearances and reality and to stimulate our imaginations about new possibilities.”

As the RRA urges on, “Get a behind-the-scenes look into the unique locations where each artist's work is made. Take a trip through our rural villages - visit rustic studios down country lanes, or high up in the hills with spectacular views; visit studios with lush gardens and landscaping; and studios tucked away in the woods, or along the river's edge - and see how and where art is made in Vermont.”

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The RRA Studio Tour will take place Saturday and Sunday, July 15 and 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It begins at the Old Schoolhouse, 387 Dover Rd., at the intersection of Dover and Auger Hole roads in South Newfane. There visitors can view samplings of work from each featured artist, enter a raffle, and grab a map to guide them from Auger Hole Road in South Newfane to South Wardsboro Road in Newfane Village. Ravi, of the Willow Retreat in South Newfane, will offer authentic Indian fare as take out on Willow's lawn from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days. For more information, contact Gianna Robinson at [email protected] or 802-380-4448.

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