The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 14, 2010


Viewing the world through different media

The three local artists with work on display at the Gleason Library all find inspiration outdoors, but record their impressions in different ways. John Brewer, a Lowell Street resident, always has his camera along to catch familiar sights in unusual ways. Suzanne Hill, of Westford Street, captures the shades of outdoors in her pottery and literally uses nature in her finished work at times with a decorative handle of driftwood or a polished rock. And Alison Ruch of Concord captures landscapes in watercolors. The soothing blues and the brilliant oranges in the various pieces draw the work of the artists together, yet their unique vision and use of different media make their artwork distinct.

The photographs, ceramics and paintings by the three artists will be on display through July 3. All the work is for sale, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the library. You can obtain pricing at the library desk.

Brewer takes a singular view

Considering photography a “hobby” since his teenage years when he had a darkroom, Brewer takes a relaxed approach to his art. His family may not find it as relaxing, as he confesses he will “slam on the brakes” when he’s driving, and stop to set up a tripod to catch the perfect shot.

Brewer graduated from the University of Maine as a physics major, but has worked professionally for a variety of software communication companies in marketing communications over the past couple of decades. Today he works full-time for Logility in Burlington. All the while he has kept taking photographs, primarily on weekend trips and vacations, often by stopping at the side of the road when he sees something interesting. The advent of digital photography enabled him to simplify the photo processing, and use computer software to take his hobby to new levels. He limits his use of Photoshop, however, and minimizes manipulation of his images.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘how do you get such great results? Why can’t I take a picture like that?’” said Brewer. He modestly added that, “Everyone can take ‘a picture like that’ but they have to spend the time to learn.”

If you look at the photographs at the library, however, you’ll quickly realize that the eye of a serious artist is involved here. Many of the vibrant photographs with brilliant color look like designed prints and even paintings. He started participating in art shows about five years ago.

“My photography grew out of weekend trips and vacations,” said Brewer. Yet I’m trying to go beyond the snapshot level.” He describes stopping his car at a picturesque point and seeing four other photographers there and many tripod holes. Rather than getting the panorama shot that most tourists will take, he goes for an unusual angle or takes a small portion of a wider view to make it unique. Instead of photographing a covered bridge from the outside, he’ll go in and focus on the rafters. Instead of taking a shot of an entire old barn, he’ll focus on the graffiti. He enjoys taking pictures of the coast, old buildings and wildlife. He jokes, “I’m limited to things by the road.”

Among the 18 pictures on display at the library, most sized at 16 x 20 inches, you’ll find most come from trips around New England, including four from Carlisle, where he has lived with his family for the past ten years. His two sons are just graduating from college with degrees in art and film. Since he doesn’t provide for his family as a professional photographer, Brewer admitted “I can’t go camp out on the top of an alp and wait for the perfect lighting.” Nonetheless, he takes advantage of what he finds, and – perhaps the mark of a true artist – he knows when to stop his car.

Hill puts her hands around the Southwest

Formally trained in art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, Hill has worked in clay for over 35 years. She lived overseas for ten of those years in Peru, Mexico and Bangladesh. The skilled craftswoman learns from artisans and the traditional crafts they make, in places she visits. But her travels affect her in another fundamental way and she calls landscape the one unifying theme throughout all her work over the years. As the landscapes of different places vary, so has her work.

Her pieces on display at the library, produced in the last year, currently capture the colors of rocks and the shape of the land from visits over the past few years to the American Southwest.

“The series is ‘saggar-fired,’” explains Hill, which means that the “pots are fired inside larger pots” and “you pack them in combustible materials like hay and sawdust.” She mixes in oxides to get the color. She’s always experimenting, and has found kosher salt a helpful additive in the current series to provide the orange shade that permeates the Southwest. She takes a lot of photographs of her work to record her methodology so that she can reproduce and develop her techniques. She then fires the pots in a 50-cubic foot kiln, and while her experience usually gives her an idea of what she might expect, her experiments sometimes lead to surprising results, and “each one is totally different.”

Producing ceramics has numerous steps. A larger piece takes an hour and a half to “throw.” After it dries, she trims the clay for a half hour and sands it. A glaze goes on to provide a satiny surface. She does a first firing where the piece comes out very white and shiny. Then, she packs the material for the saggar-firing step, and puts the material in a gas kiln for eight to ten hours. Over the course of a month, she completes about thirty pieces. Half of the work being fired belongs to her students at the Emerson Umbrella in Concord where she has a studio. She appreciates working in an environment with other artists, and finds sharing ideas and approaches helpful. “I love walking in the woods,” says Hill, whose appreciation of nature inspires her work. She has lived in Carlisle since 1996. Her two children attended the local schools and are now in college.

Ruch depicts landscapes in watercolor

Although Ruch studied literature and studio art as an undergraduate at the University of Vermont, she ended up spending the next ten years working in early childhood education. While she has taken classes and experimented in various media, watercolor painting has interested her most, and three years ago she decided to focus on this form of art. She produced most of the 16 works on display at the library in the last three years. The pieces range in size from 12.5 by 14.5 inches up to 19 by 25 inches.

“Everything is inspired by nature, and painting is a form of meditation for me,” said Ruch. “My first step is about feeling the energy of the moment, of the flower.” She primarily works outdoors and from photographs indoors, when weather doesn’t otherwise permit her to paint outside. For the past year and a half she has worked mostly in the Rockport area with an artist group, in her Concord garden and in Maine, when vacationing.

Ruch, who also works as a yoga teacher, begins her artistic work by getting in touch with nature. She mentally relaxes for about ten minutes, and then begins drawing for another 30. Then, the painting begins, and can last up to a few hours.

Ruch is drawn to paint flowers and fruit. She likes natural forms and soft shades. Most paintings are realistic and contain recognizable items, but she does occasionally work in the abstract. She enjoys the “serenity of the beach” and capturing blues and greens in nature, but admits to recently being “on an orange kick.” As a result, her pieces are very complimentary in content and color with the work of the other artists currently on display at the library. ∆

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