Saturday, June 9, 2012

Art of the Landscape

Kentucky colors at Floracliff
We were driving back from a wedding in Illinois with me at the wheel and my co-travellers enjoying a sweet snooze; so I was alone with the landscape and the radio.  The scene was not my usual one. As far as I could see, wind turbines were arranged at all angles to catch the wind, which was blowing strongly over the broadly and subtly undulating land. How perfect it was that, right then, Aaron Copland's The Tender Land was offered up on the radio. I had a sound track for my traveling visuals because the music and the landscape went hand-in-hand. Driving home to Kentucky, I was struck once again by how art and landscape are profoundly intertwined.

    For a long time,  Kentucky has been celebrated for producing gifted writers. Now and then, there is a renewed noting of this phenomenon. The landscape is often credited for inspiring writing and just as often it is asked why this is so. The connection is so fundamental that it is acknowledged without explanation.

Meg Shaw and the newly acquired work by Dobree Adams

    Writers are not the only artists inspired by the Kentucky landscape. Visual artists also claim the landscape as primary inspiration (I am one of them.) If you would like to experience the Kentucky landscape in art, you can do so by visiting the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library & Learning Center on the University of Kentucky campus. Head of the Little Library, Meg Shaw, has developed a wonderful collection of art created mostly by Kentucky artists. Most recently,
the library has acquired work by well-known fiber artist, Dobree Adams.  Her weaving reminds me of the classic Kentucky colors of redbud violet and cedar green. (Please see my blog: Kentucky's True Colors 3-27-12.)  Adams has a fascination with the landscape.  She states on her website (  "I never tire of watching and recording how the light falls on the hills behind our river bottom, of how the light creates layers of trees and mist and fog." You can see this is her weaving.

Russell Weedman over the copiers 
 Speaking of rivers, Russell Weedman, an art professor at the University of the Cumberlands was influenced by the Cumberland and other rivers for a series "Rivers and Encroaching Shadows" (Heike Pickett Gallery, 2002.)  Weedman used the triptych format to express concerns for the environment and nature.  The connection between the artist and his place is evident.

A wall devoted to Anna and Harland Hubbard

  A significant project of Meg's has been to inventory the work of Harland Hubbard, celebrated back-to-the land artist. He is known as Kentucky's Thoreau (although he outlasted Thoreau's Walden experiment by about four decades.) Hubbard's life at Payne Hollow was better known than his art work. Meg has worked hard  to find and document paintings by Hubbard. The Little Library has five watercolor paintings by the artist, featuring the river landscape.  You can experience a bit of Harlan Hubbard's life just by visiting the library.

     There is a lot more art to see at the Little Library (and some books, too!)  Even the artwork that does not overtly depict the landscape has a palpable sense of Kentucky, especially in the story-telling component.  Right now, there is a fine display of Artist Books. Have a look and experience Kentucky from an artist's point of view.