Artist Carol Keiser in her new studio with six of her many paintings.
Victoria Chertok/The Commons
Artist Carol Keiser in her new studio with six of her many paintings.

Putney artist opens barn gallery

Carol Keiser says she is thrilled that she can display the whole body of her work in one location

PUTNEY — Artist Carol Keiser moved to the area in 1970 to attend Antioch Graduate School and liked it so much she never left.

On Saturday, Sept. 30, Keiser will realize a longtime dream: the opening of her own art gallery to showcase her four decades of work.

"I'm very excited to have the whole body of my work hanging in one place again," she says. "It's thrilling to see it that way."

Keiser paints on canvas and tile and works in her Putney studio primarily, creating rich and colorful images that include scenes of women at leisure, romantic couples, flowers, still lifes, ladders, and landscapes.

For Keiser, the dream started indirectly.

"So I have this barn on my property where I've done Airbnb and some short-term rentals," she said. "It was pretty frustrating. Someone would come to my house and want to see my work and I'd have to pull out my paintings from the closets, the basement, the living room, the bedroom, etc."

Which got her thinking: "I have that space out there."

"So I asked my friend who is a carpenter to help me design it," Keiser said. "We decided to put a wall up to hide the water heater. It made a storage closet and gave me more wall space for paintings."

Keiser, who also has a studio in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, goes there for three months each winter. She is now a permanent resident of Mexico but can't pay her taxes the way local Mexican artists can.

"Mexican artists can pay their taxes with a painting!" she said. An artist must be accepted into the juried program, and Keiser noted that some of this public art in lieu of taxes goes into a traveling exhibition.

Keiser's paintings and tile work have been exhibited in galleries in the United States and Mexico. She is a member of the Vermont State Craft Centers, the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts, and the National Association of Women Artists. Her work is also represented at the Canal Street Art Gallery in Bellows Falls.

Of her paintings, Keiser says, "They are mostly about something that gave me a moment of pleasure and delight, like the sun falling on the kitchen table, a walk through an orchard, a corner of my studio, a dance, or a remembered moment […]. They are really a visual diary of my life and my response to the joy and beauty around me."

The Commons met up with Keiser to see her new gallery and to learn about her painting process and where her inspiration comes from. Here's an excerpt of the conversation.

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Victoria Chertok: What do you like about living and painting in Vermont?

Carol Keiser: It is quiet and peaceful. I can walk anywhere. I like being surrounded by nature. I like waking up to the birds in the morning, but I do like to visit other places occasionally for inspiration and new perspectives.

V.C.: I heard you went to France earlier this year on an artist retreat, and you've talked about your travels in Italy, Costa Rica, and Maine. How is the light unique in all of these places?

C.K.: The light is always different. In Italy, the light is soft and steady. In Costa Rica, with their 12-hour days and jungle foliage, the light is intense and full of sharp contrasts. I love the open-sky light of the Southwest, and I really love the crystal clear light of the Maine coast.

I don't know what to say about the light of Vermont, except it sure seems like we have too many dark, gray days!

V.C.: You divide your time between your home and studio in Putney and also your studio in Mexico. How has Mexico shaped your art?

C.K.: When I was producing the tiles, my painting time was in the winter when I went to Mexico, where I have a studio in San Miguel de Allende, an old colonial town with cobblestone streets and a year-round temperate climate. I love the colors of the culture, and I love the warm light. I think my painting has always been inspired by the colors of Mexico.

V.C.: You often use symbols in your work, like mountains, water, sun, moon, stars, sailboats, things that represent the natural world and our connection to the divine. Where does your inspiration for a painting come from?

C.K.: Inspiration for me can come from anywhere - the way the sun lands on the kitchen table, the way a friend looks sitting on her couch, the path through the trees, the fresh-picked flowers in the vase, the combination of colors in a piece of fabric. Colors and light are the main elements that I respond to, when something catches my eye.

When I do a landscape, I want to leave an opening; there are always openings in life to other places. I do a lot of reading and travel. I am always observing the world, studying people. I am fascinated by life.

V.C.: How do you know when a painting is finished?

C.K.: Honestly, that is a difficult question. Sometimes, I settle too quickly, and a few days later I might look at something I have done and know that I need to go deeper.

A painting takes on a life of its own, and it begins to talk to you. It is really like a dance: You make a mark here, so then you need to make a mark there, back and forth, back and forth, until finally, a balance is achieved, and it feels settled.

The French painter Bonnard used to sneak into the museum with a sawed-off paintbrush in his pocket to retouch one of his paintings.

In some ways, you can a say a work is never finished, there is always more that can be done.

V.C.: Did you start painting as a child? When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

C.K.: I did. Growing up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, I was exposed to art early on. My mother would take me into the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and I had some private painting classes in grade school. In high school, I did both the art program and the college-prep program.

I went to the University of New Hampshire, where I took art classes and then transferred to Ohio State University, where I continued with art classes. Then I went to Antioch's graduate school to get a degree in early childhood education, which brought me to Putney in 1970.

V.C.: What is it about Acrylic paint that you like?

C.K.: Acrylic paint is very fluid; it can be used thin like watercolor or thick like an oil paint. I especially like that you can wash your brushes in soap and water. And because it dries quickly, it is the perfect medium for travel.

V.C.: You said that most of your paintings on display have been done in the last four years. What were you drawn to paint?

C.K.: These past few years I have been drawn to paint what is immediately around me. Since the start of Covid I have painted what is close. I painted views from my long walks. I painted still lifes of my kitchen table, my porch, my cat, my gardens. I like painting interior scenes with maybe a view out the window to another world. I like to have an opening or a suggestion of another world beyond what is right in front.

V.C.: You are also known for your tiles and have an installation at the Putney Public Library. Are you still making tiles?

C.K.: Yes, the tiles provided me with a living and allowed me to work with color and composition and design - basically, the same elements used in painting, so in a way I was really just painting all those years, just with glazes instead of paints.

V.C.: What is it about Putney that has kept you here?

C.K.: After growing up in a suburb, I really like the independence of living in the country, being free to set up a studio, free to work. Living in Putney has allowed me a way of life that continues to make sense for me.

V.C.: What do you hope visitors will take away from your work?

C.K.: I hope people can feel my love of color and joy, and I hope they leave with a smile.

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Carol Keiser's Barn Gallery opens on Saturday, September 30th from 2 to 5 p.m. at 338 Hickory Ridge Rd. South in Putney. The new gallery will be open by appointment. Call 802-387-5774 or email [email protected] to schedule a visit.

Victoria Chertok covers arts and entertainment in Vermont for The Commons. She is a classically trained harpist and received a B.A. in music at Bucknell University.

This The Arts item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.

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