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Art of the People, For the People, By the People: Creativity and Community Thrive at Artistree

Mar 22, 2023 11:48PM ● By Stephen D’Agostino Photos Courtesy Of The Artists

Jeffersonville Market, Watercolor. By Emily Burkholder

Who is an artist? A painter who has had a show at a gallery, a sculptor whose work is in a park, or an author with books on bookstore shelves? The obvious answer is yes, but that description is incomplete to Deborah Goodwin.

Deborah is the exhibit coordinator of Artistree, and she runs an annual program called Daily Artist. The intention is to encourage people to devote time to art every day of the year. The output of the artist won’t be checked. There is no grade. Instead, it’s a personal commitment to devote some time to art every day and to support and encourage others who have also pledged to themselves to make creativity a regular part of their existence.

The devotion can be a quick sketch or an all-night painting session, seeing an exhibit at a museum, talking to a friend about art, or writing in a journal. The one thing the participant cannot do while in Daily Artists is say they are not a real artist.
Deborah notes that Daily Artists fits well into Artistree’s work, which “facilitates the enjoyment of creativity and the awakening of the realization that we, as humans, are creative beings, and we need to create.”

Azusa Mihara, who is the gallery coordinator and teaches Japanese cooking classes and moderates the figure drawing class, is a perfect example of how Artistree helps people connect with their creativity. Azusa admits that she struggled with art when she was a kid, and part of the struggle was her own making. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be as good as anyone in the class,” Azusa says. At Artistree, she took steps to overcome her doubts by taking a basic painting class. “It was a good learning process,” she says, and she became more comfortable exploring her creativity through it. Classes at Artistree, from visual arts to ceramics, writing, dance, and music, offer the opportunity to be part of the creative community and to learn in classes taught by Artistree staff and artists in the community.

On the day I visited the gallery, the 2022–2023 Daily Artists show was on display. Of the 32 participants, 17 chose to present their works for the show. For some of these participants, the thrill of displaying one’s creativity is not new. But for others, this show was the first time their works were on the wall next to works from artists farther along on their creative journey.
Like any gallery, the shows at Artistree change regularly and on a schedule that celebrates the beautiful and not-so-beautiful aspects of living in Vermont. Local Color, for example, occurs in the fall, and MUD (Season), which you may be enduring right now by staying inside to read instead of venturing out into the quagmire that is your road, happens during Vermont’s fifth—and least-liked—season.

Scanning the description MUD (Season) on the Artistree website, you would not find the word “juried.” You would not find a request for an artist’s bio or any language that would discourage participation. This exhibit, like Local Color, is a show for anyone exploring their creativity.
Rounding out the gallery’s extensive calendar are the Spotlight shows. These thrice-annual exhibits feature the work of one or several seasoned artists who must submit a proposal for a show. The summer Spotlight show will feature the works of local painters Rich Gombar and Elizabeth Ricketson, and in the fall, William B. Hoyt, a well-known local artist, will mount a show of his paintings, which could easily be mistaken as photographs at first glance.
And in May, as we are finally, hopefully, past the last frost and snowfall, as farmers are working the soil and gardeners are tending their seedlings, Artistree will host a show titled Farm to Table.

Three Artists, Two Art Forms, One Story

The term farm to table has been used, misused, overused, and turned into a marketing gimmick. Such a beautiful summation of the link between farming and life became so clichéd that it is easy to overlook. The show by the same name, a collaboration of three artists—two painters and a potter who, not surprisingly, know each other through Artistree—takes back the term and makes us stop and think about the depth of those three words.

The idea of Farm to Table is the brainchild of Barnard artist Emily Burkholder. “Farming is a lot of what Vermont is about,” Emily says, “and the show is a way to be appreciative.”
Emily enlisted her friend and fellow artist Katie Runde to join her in producing the show. Katie seemed like an obvious choice for a partner. She, according to Emily, is known for her mouth-watering paintings of food. When speaking with Katie about her love of painting food, the artist’s joy was palpable. “I love painting food,” Katie says with a laugh, “especially frosting,” an apt subject for oil painting, which lends its ability to create texture on canvas the same way buttercream does on cake. The colors of food, Katie also admits, draw her to it as a subject. Anyone who has been to a farmers’ market in August and September and has filled their basket with slender orange carrots, bulbous purple eggplant, long yellow squash, and feathery green arugula can understand why.

Katie Runde

For Katie, though, art is not just food. She is a portrait painter, and she won a competition to paint the portrait of Alexander Twilight, believed to be the first African American to graduate from an institution of higher learning, Middlebury College, in 1823. He was the first African American in the country to be elected to a legislative body, the Vermont House of Representatives, in 1836, and the only African American to hold such an office before the Civil War. The five-foot-tall portrait of Twilight is on display in the Vermont State House.

Emily Burkholder

Emily is also a portrait painter as well as a skilled en plein air, or outdoor, painter, drawn to barns and other farm buildings that tell a story. “I paint barns that have some character,” Emily says. “Ones that have been around a long time and might need a little bit of upkeep and aren’t fancy and new.” These structures are part of the farm to table story. They remind us that farming is not easy. While the farmer cares for the crops and the animals, the barn must fend for itself. Like the careworn face of a grandmother, the beauty of an old barn is not in how it looks on the face but what the face reveals of how it has lived, providing shelter and security for cows, pigs, and sheep, a dry place for hay, a comfortable roost for chickens.

Emily and Katie nurtured their exhibition idea as it grew. At first, they envisioned the show as a collaboration of three painters, a decision influenced by the fact that the gallery at Artistree has three rooms. In time, though, Emily and Katie realized that the show was missing something.
“We pick up what we buy at the CSA,” Emily says, “or go the farmers’ market and get our meal for the week, we get our vegetables, and then we go home and enjoy it with our family.” That last part, the communal aspect, the sharing, was missing, Emily realized, but she knew how to fix it. Ceramics, such as the plates and bowls we use to share meals with family and friends, are the real-life intersection of art and food. Its inclusion in the show would help everyone relate better to what farm to table and Farm to Table means.

As Katie and Emily met through Artistree, so did Emily and Cara DeFoor, a potter who returned to Vermont, fortunately for her and her family, right before the pandemic started. She connected with Artistree quickly and enrolled her kids in programs there, including piano lessons taught by Emily.
“Emily and Katie are inspired by Vermont small farms,” Cara says, “and showing how our history and communities have grown up around them. I’m inspired because pottery deserves a place at the table, literally and figuratively.”

Cara DeFoor

Cara’s pottery brings that third dimension to the story of Farm to Table, as well as a deeper dimension to its meaning. “I relate to the historical connections between farming, food, and clay. I think about some of our earliest artifacts—clay vessels used to hold water and food, and how we’ve always embellished practical pieces with stories and esthetic sensibilities. When I think of ‘farm to table,’ I like to include the wares we eat off of, too.”

Through the mid- to late-winter, the artists have been busy. Katie opened a solo show at Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury. Cara and Emily have been creating pieces for the show. All have been leading their lives and tapping into their creativity and the deepened appreciation of the term farm to table to build their exhibition.

In a grander scheme, though, preparation for Farm to Table has been ongoing for thousands of years, a point they touch on in their statement for this show. Prehistoric humans were nomadic, hunting for their food. That changed when they learned they could settle into communities, farm food, and domesticate animals. There was still danger in the world where they lived, but they had better control over one aspect of their lives, their food supply. Now, they could focus on another nagging need: the need to create.

Paintings went up on the walls of caves. Dishes, cups, and bowls were made to hold their food and, coincidentally, provided another medium on which to create. Survival became easier, time became more available, and creativity flourished.

Thousands of years later, farming is still hard work. We should all be thankful to the farmers who help satisfy the need to eat. We should be grateful, too, for artists in general, who help us fully appreciate and understand our interconnectedness and our need to create, and these artists in particular for rescuing the sentiment of farm to table.

Upcoming Shows
MUD (Season) group exhibit
March 17–April 22
Farm to Table: Emily Burkholder, Katie Runde, and Cara DeFoor
April 28–May 20
Congratulations, Graduates!
May 26–June 10
June 22–July 15
Rich Gombar & Elizabeth Ricketson
July 21–August 19
William B. Hoyt
August 25–September 23
Local Color
September 29–November 4
Small Works
November 17–December 20

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