Land, Clay and Feathers: Portraits of Nature opens at Gleason

by Karina Coombs


“Infinity,” by Jenne Norton. Slab, textured and glazed stoneware. (Photo by Karina Coombs) 

While library staff prepared for afternoon patrons, artists carefully unwrapped paintings and ceramics and ironed exhibit case linens. Curators Amy Livens and Jean Barry washed and patched walls, proofread signage and worked out displays. Gleason Director Katie Huffman navigated both worlds, and when it was pointed out that a central wall would look better freshly painted, she pulled out paint cans, nonchalantly covered her clothes with a smock, grabbed a roller and did just that. 

Just another day at the library

As with most of the public buildings in Carlisle (and the people who run them), Gleason Library performs double duty: providing the town with first class library services as well as hosting myriad community events. Last week, on a rainy Wednesday morning, it continued this long tradition as it transformed once again into Carlisle’s local art gallery. 

The result? Land, Clay and Feathers: Portraits of Nature, showcasing the work of three local artists: Jennifer (Jenne) Norton, Laurie Engdahl and Emily Burchill Stewart. The show runs now through January 3, 2015, with an opening reception on November 7. 

While each artist uses a different medium and has a unique perspective to her work, the show’s central theme is everywhere you look: from the ghostly images of fields and tidal pools found in Norton’s hand-built stoneware, to Engdahl’s landscapes, capturing her fascination with beautiful decay and light and finally to Stewart’s whimsical and painstakingly accurate bird portraits and storybook illustrations.


“Running Water”, coiled, textured and glazed, byJenne Norton. (Photo by Karina Coombs) 

Jenne Norton-—Ceramics

Lowell resident Jenne Norton has been working with pottery on and off for over ten years. While she originally got her start on a pottery wheel, she eventually switched to hand building and never looked back. “I found my voice,” she says of the transition, which allowed her the freedom to experiment with the shape and texture that is evident in her stoneware. Norton is a member of the Art League of Lowell (ALL).

Following a divorce and a short break from the craft a number of years ago, Norton began taking lessons at Chelmsford’s Ancient Echoes Arts studio. She began with the basic hand building techniques of pinch pots, coiling, and slab work. And, through her classes, Norton discovered that working the clay with her hands and slowly building up a shape over time—particularly with coiled pieces-—proved therapeutic and relaxing. It allowed her to find the artist inside, something she believes everyone has.

Norton’s collection is made up of centerpieces, platters, large bowls and vases of various size and shape. And whether her forms are produced from a slab or through coils, texture and color play a preeminent role. Norton uses a variety of hand tools to create patterns in the clay and then incorporates different layers of colored glaze to give each of her pieces the dramatic colors and patterns that create the illusion of nature, such as waves, leaves, grass, seaweed and tidal pools. 

She has recently begun experimenting with even more organic forms in her coiled pieces by keeping the individual coils exposed instead of smoothing them down, and some of this can be seen in her current display. Norton will also begin working on a black and white series for the upcoming Grey Scale: White to Black show at the ALL Arts Gallery at 307 Market Street, Lowell scheduled to open on January 9, 2015.

Laurie Engdahl—Landscapes 


“Sugar Season”, acrylic on canvas, by Laurie Engdahl. (Photo by Karina Coombs) 


“After the Shearing”, watercolor by Laurie Engdahl. (Photo by Karina Coombs) 

As a “life-long resident of New England,” it should come as no surprise that Carlisle’s Laurie Engdahl seems to effortlessly capture the unique history and rural beauty of this region in her landscapes. Whether it is the image of a weathered shed slowly being reclaimed by the earth or a rusted Cape Cod fishing boat, her paintings capture a specific time and place.

Engdahl comes from a family of artists and grew up surrounded by art. “Being a lawyer is my day job. Art is what I do,” she says, explaining that through her art she seeks to capture the beauty of her surroundings as well as record its history. Engdahl says that she is particularly attracted to things that are run down and old because they tell a story and create a sense of emotion and longing that appeals to her.

“I’m capturing a slice of something while it still exists [and] the story behind it.” Nowhere is this more true than in her painting, “Sugar Season.” After Engdahl read that traditional maple syrup buckets were being replaced by plastic buckets and tubing, she made a trip to Towle Field, camera in hand, to capture the memory so that she could paint it. 

While she branched out from her traditional watercolors to acrylics a few years ago, Engdahl maintains another key aspect of her work—the ability to capture a particular time of day with the use of lighting in her paintings—by incorporating shadows or highlighting a specific surface within the image. And it is this detail that brings a human element to her landscapes.

Engdahl is a member of the Concord Art Association and the Creative Arts Center of Chatham. 

Emily Stewart—Portraits and Illustration


Painting by Emily Stewart. (Photo by Karina Coombs) 


Painting by Emily Stewart. (Photo by Karina Coombs) 

Anyone who has seen the magnificent mural inside the children’s room (the “Curiosity Corner”) at Gleason is already familiar with the work of Emily Stewart. Her attention to detail and use of color produces imagery that tells stories, relates humor, and cannot help but make you smile. And that is exactly what she wants it to do.

Stewart gradated from the Rhode Island School of Design, having majored in illustration. When looking for a day job, however, she turned back to her family roots. Stewart had always been attracted to fabrics and their patterns and textures, something she attributes to having a grandmother who quilted regularly. This interest transitioned into a career as an Interior Decorator, allowing her to work not only with fabrics, but also decorative painting, faux finishes and murals.

Looking at Stewart’s bird portraits you can see all of these influences working together. She began working on the series seven years ago after noticing the similarities between 17th and 18th century portraits and birds: their lack of emotion and resulting stiffness as well as their costuming. “[I] noticed the stately nature of the way birds pose. They are noble and regal looking,” she explains. While a few birds “are naturally wigged” for these portraits, others are featured in powdered wigs festooned with ribbon. Stoic faces gaze into the distance.


“Portrait of a Townsend’s Solitaire” by Emily Stewart. Painting on loan from the private collection of the Livens Family. (Photo by Karina Coombs) 

Stewart also captures the storytelling found in classic portraiture by incorporating representational objects that describe its subject, in this case including nods to each bird’s habitat or personality. The Goldfinch portrait is a prime example as Stewart adds references to apple orchards—the habitat of the Goldfinch—in a number of places throughout her work. 

In addition to her bird portraits, Stewart has several other paintings that tell stories, whether it is an expectant mother bird already feeling bittersweet about her baby leaving the nest, or a flock of birds that perished in Beebe, Arkansas in 2010—the latter including a funerary quilt pattern. Stewart also includes a series of small illustrations from a children’s book she is working on with a local writer. As with all of her work, they are charming, vibrant, and expressive in telling a story. And they make you smile.

An evening at Gleason

Marking a first for the Art at the Gleason program, the library will host the show’s opening reception on Friday, November 7 from 7 to 10 p.m., featuring the artists and their work along with wine, dessert, and live music. 

Guests may RSVP beginning November 1 by calling 1-978-369-4898. Online registration begins that morning at 6 a.m.: 

Admission is $5 per person and is payable at the door. Jenny and the Gents will perform two sets of live music beginning at 8 p.m.  ∆