This year 13 artists set out to capture the landscapes conserved by VLT. Their visual essays are part of Eyes on the Land, a partnership between the Vermont Land Trust, Shelburne Museum, the artists, and owners of conserved land. Curated by the Pizzagalli Center for Art & Education, the work will be on display starting October 3.
Each artist was paired with a conserved property; collectively, the properties represent the breadth of VLT’s work. They spent a year exploring their response to the land. “We did not tell the artists what to create, so there is an element of surprise,” says VLT’s Elise Annes. “Through art we can engage community members and convey how important it is to protect this landscape into the future.”
Using various media including photography, painting, environmental sculpture, and video, each artist offers their own interpretation of the places Vermonters call home.
For Charlie Hunter, there was already a connection to nearby Harlow Farms. Charlie begins each morning with a trip to the farm’s cafe. He has a scrambled egg with herbs and two cups of coffee while reading the paper and enjoying the view. That view—of barns and fields—has become a painting on the left panel of his triptych for Eyes on the Land.
“Not only has the food produced there literally become a part of me,” Charlie says, “so, figuratively, has the landscape of these farms.”
The property is one of three farmed by Paul Harlow and protected by VLT. (The others, Kestrel Farm and Riverview Farm, make up the center and right panels of Hunter’s work.) A pioneer in organic vegetable production, Paul has one of the largest organic farms in Vermont and is a co-creator of the Windham Farm and Food Network.
Charlie’s approach to painting is pragmatic, like a journalist on assignment. Known for his “murky paintings of decaying American infrastructure,” his work at Harlow Farms has turned out to be more romantic, melding the visual languages of photography and Italian Renaissance painting. This is his homage to working landscapes, to those who work with their hands, and to the “remarkable mission of VLT,” which allows them to preserve this way of life.
Already the view from his breakfast seat has changed since he painted it—with a recent addition to the barn. He likes this idea. “I love being reminded that time keeps on moving.”
Early in her work with the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry (BVNB) property, artist Gowri Savoor hiked through its forests. She was searching for a peak or vantage point but instead found ancient undulating hills and stands of trees huddled together. She had already been working with lifecycles in nature.
Now, the UK native began looking at mapping systems, studying the history of the region, and thinking about how humans create boundaries to establish a relationship with the land. These observations on two properties in Bolton fueled her work for the project.
The BVNB land was conserved in 2013 with community support and a massive fundraising effort by VLT. It eventually netted $1.85 million for the purchase of the property, which was given to the state as an addition to the Mount Mansfield State Forest. Nearby, the 403-acre Preston Pond land hosts the 3,500-year-old pond within conserved forestland that supports wildlife and recreation.
For the exhibit, Gowri has created three installations. Using a 3D printer, funded by a Vermont Community Foundation grant, the last piece looks at life cycles of humans and the earth. With it she tackles the ideas of permanency.
“Our lives happen in the blink of an eye, which is nothing in geologic time,” says Gowri. “We are not even a millisecond within the land’s history. It’s the beauty of this and the sadness that is inspiring.”
Artist and UVM Senior Lecturer Cameron Davis began her project with the desire to sit by an apple tree. After finishing a music collaboration about the creation of the universe, she was ready to contemplate something small.
She wondered, “What if I sat and listened to this tree? What would come forth?” These became the questions that ultimately led to her Eyes on the Land project at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham.
Bill Suhr and Andrea Scott built their orchard business on fresh apples, assorted fruit, and products like ice cider. Bill bought the farm in 1998 from the Larrabee family, who had conserved it with VLT. The sale of the development rights made the land affordable to Bill, who was only 27 at the time.
At Champlain Orchards, Cameron recognized wildness in its geography, and in the incredible winds off Lake Champlain. “My work over the last 30 years has always dealt with a sense of presence when we are in the natural world,” she says. “There’s a spiritual dimension in our relationship with nature.”
She sees the twists and turns of a craggy apple branch as an allegory for the twists and turns in life. To her the tended orchard can be seen as “a metaphor for a ‘right relationship’ in the collaboration between the human and the more-than-human world.” Her work for the show, a painting and a display of objects, is titled Tenalach, a word referring to a deep connection to the earth that allows one to literally hear it sing.
It is the deep connections between the land and people that the artists hope visitors will take away from the exhibit, along with the importance of VLT’s work.
You can see all 13 artists’ work at Shelburne Museum,Oct. 3, 2015 – Jan. 3, 2016. Learn more at eyesontheland.org.