The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 30, 2010


Maris and Liz Platais celebrate the opening of his new studio

Maris and Liz Platais (Photo by Priscilla Stevens)

Maris Platais, respected artist, printer, teacher and lecturer, and his wife Elizabeth (“Liz”), celebrated the opening of the new Maris Platais Studio at River Road Farm on June 27.

Approximately 100 friends and neighbors attended the open house at the farm on the corner of Skelton and River Roads, familiar to many Carlisle residents because of the picturesque old white farmhouse with the horses and dog agility equipment in the adjoining pastures.

Maris and Liz moved to River Road Farm in early summer of 2009 after Liz’s mother, Rachel “Pagey” Elliott passed away. Pagey was a Carlisle fixture: an Old Home Day Honored Citizen in 1998, a renowned author, researcher and lecturer on dog structure and movement and anaccomplished breeder of golden retrievers as well as a successful competitor in the breed show ring and at field trials.

A former graphic designer, Maris took the opportunity to return to his childhood love of fine arts when he retired. After he and Liz moved to River Road Farm, Maris began to plan the new studio. “I was working on the dining room table in the house, which wasn’t too much fun,” he said.

Family friend Nini Bloch says “I think it was harder for Maris to make the move to River Road Farm than for Liz because he had to abandon his studio. But he drew up plans to convert the old milking office...into his new studio.”

Once Maris had designed the new studio, located in a separate building from the house, he worked with the Windhol family and One Source Construction on the renovations.

“I built a foam core model of my plan for the studio and then the design kept changing” Maris explained. “The guys, Eddie Windhol and his brother, were so accommodating that whenever I had a whim to modify something or move something to another location, they took my idea and made it happen.”

“When they were ripping the ceiling apart they said, ‘Well, how about a sky light over there’ and that’s how we came to have a skylight there.”

“As far as positioning the doors and all that, I made my box model large enough that I could put it over my head and look from a corner across here and from a corner the other way so I could get an idea of what it was going to be like. It worked out quite well,” Maris said with satisfaction.

On the porch outside the front door to the studio, balloons bob merrily in the breeze. “Remnants of our party,” Maris explained cheerfully. Inside the studio the timber walls are lined with shelves and infuse the cozy room with the rich smell of wood. Windows on three sides offer idyllic views of pastures, a pond and Liz’s garden. Every inch of wall space is covered with Maris’ art: acrylics, pen and inks and prints created from etchings.

“The floor is the original floor and the shelves are the original shelves,” Maris said, standing in the studio. “This was a storage area that was full of old steamer trunks and clothing racks and books and memorabilia of all sorts going back to not only the Elliotts but I suspect even before then.”

“When we were putting up the shelves, I found an interesting thing between the walls here,” Maris said, showing a small tag. “It’s signed by C.H. Skelton, who would be Skelton of Skelton Road and reads ‘Breed Weeder and Cultivator Company, Zephaniah Breed.’”

“This just came out of the wall when we were ripping things up. But the double whammy is that it’s an old Dennison Manufacturing tag and I used to work for Dennison for about 17 years as a graphic designer.”

A charred beam runs across the middle of the ceiling. “That beam is part of the history of the farm. There was a fire in here in July of 1936,” Maris explained.

“The farm got hit by lightening,” Liz added. “They lost several buildings to fire back in ’36.”

I saved this one beam just for conversation’s sake,” Maris continued.

Along one wall, a staircase with a rope railing leads to a loft. “My nautical touch for the ladder,” Maris said with a smile. “I have sufficient headroom to walk around up here, even for a six-footer,” Maris said contentedly from the loft. “It doesn’t look like it from down there.”

“There’s sufficient storage space up here that otherwise would have taken up three-fourths of the floor space down there. So, I’m quite pleased about that.”

The back of the studio opens with glass sliders onto a deck, which looks out over the pond.

“I’ve even had some students out here to the new place. I teach at the Lexington Arts and Crafts and also the Concord Art Association and other places,” Maris explained.

“If I have a class of ten people or so, we can come out here in nice weather and if it’s not nice enough, we can always duck into the studio. With ten people, I can set up the chairs to do a lecture while it’s raining.”

“When you talk to him about art, his enthusiasm and positive attitude show that he’s a born teacher,” Bloch commented. “He’s been a successful mentor to many aspiring artists – some of whom, I suspect, never thought they could draw a straight line.”

Maris is an award-winning artist whose artwork showcases natural scenes from around New England. He has won 11 “Top 100” Arts in the Parks awards and recently won a competition for a grant given by the Wilderness Workshop, a conservation group working to protect and expand National Forests in the west, to create acrylic paintings of the wilderness in Colorado.

“I did eight paintings out there in late September (2009),” Maris said. “We were near Aspen and Snowmass (Colorado). It was very nice, intermittent with heat waves and snow.

I finished three and left them there, little ones. Then I came back here and did a little tweaking on the others, but not too much. There’s one on exhibit at Newbury Court right now.”

In addition to his vibrant work with acrylics, Maris creates detailed pen and ink drawings using crow quill pens and soft touches of color. His studio is adorned with marvelous depictions of trees in pen and ink. He also enjoys creating intricate prints from etchings on zinc copper plates.

Asked about the future, Maris said he wants to continue creating his art and spending time with his grandchildren. That may not be as easy as it sounds, Nini Bloch points out with a smile. “Both Liz and Maris are such gracious hosts that their main problem may be getting rid of their guests so they can get some work done.”

Maris Platais at work on a new acrylic painting. (Photo by Priscilla Stevens)

Colorado Rocky Mountain Prize. One of Maris’s award-winning paintings.
(Photo by Priscilla Stevens)

A Lesson in Etching

Maris demonstrated his engaging teaching style as he described the process for creating a print from an etching, from the mind-bending talent for seeing a subject in reverse to the painstaking procedure for making prints from the etching that are similar enough in result to be “keepers.”

“To make the plate, first I take a piece of zinc and really burnish it, polish it, as clean as it can get. You have to get every kind of oil or fingerprints off or the ground won’t stick,” Maris begins.

“Then you paint on a waxy substance (the ground) that’s acid resistant but dark in color so when you scratch through it you can see the shiny metal.

“You have to think backwards, twice. Not only backwards image-wise but backwards in terms of what you open up as light is going to print as dark.

“Then I put the plate in the acid and take an old turkey feather or something and agitate it so that bubbles don’t form. Then I check it, take it out of the acid from time to time, take a little needle and test to see how deep the grooves are.

“Once the plate is ready, I ink the plate with very viscous ink. The ink is the consistency of chocolate syrup. So you really have to work the ink into the grooves. One of the best things to use is a good old-fashioned plastic credit card. Then you wipe the whole thing with newspaper. I used to use a type of cheesecloth but now we use newspaper because you can toss it or start your fire with it, once it’s oily.

So ultimately, you’re ready to print. But then comes the hard part. You have to take paper and wet it for two hours or sometimes overnight depending on the kind of paper. And then you put the plate down, put the paper on top of it, put another piece of protective paper on top of that, put a blanket over it and then you roll it through the press.

The press has a large wheel that must be turned, similar to the steering wheel of a ship. This is pretty hefty going. It’s like being in a rowing machine for a day, sideways. It’s no wimpy operation.

“What makes a good image is the combination of the cold, damp paper and the heat from the pressure of the rollers that sucks out the ink. They say that oil and water don’t mix but in this case, it does because it’s the heat and the oil and water mixture that has a reaction.

“Once I’ve put them through the press I take the damp images and stick them on a board with push pins until they dry. After the drying time comes the selection of the best images. You have to find some kind of a compromise. You want each one to look close to the others but not exact, so the reject rate is pretty high. If I can pull 20 images in a day and get eight or ten good ones out of it, it’s been a very good day.

“Out of [those]ten images, I would say I’m lucky if I get six keepers because you don’t see the imperfections while you’re inking and while the paper’s still wet.

“When the papers dry you might notice that there’s a crease on a corner or the wiping was a little out of whack or you’ve got too much of a blob somewhere.

“Even [with] the keepers, each image is going to be slightly different and that’s of course the value in it. And if one comes out really well, you have to decide if you will keep it and then try to live up to that new standard.” ∆

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