It has been a tough 18 months as we’ve faced the global coronavirus pandemic, natural disasters, political unrest and perpetual news of violence in the world. It’s not the first time our world has faced these challenges and it won’t be the last. During these trying times it can be difficult to see beauty in the world, but the Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle members have created more than 100 pieces of art they’re going to showcase in two upcoming fall shows—a first for the group.
The Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle was founded by Trish Crowe—named for her farm just on the other side of the Conway River from Greene in Madison—and has been around for almost two decades. Crowe said she developed that group to give artists a place to create and to support one another. Last summer, artists were given the chance for weekly outdoor creative time on the grounds of James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County.
The group was able to hold its usual spring show at Woodberry Forest School, but only virtually due to COVID-19. Crowe can hardly contain her excitement about returning to in-person shows.
“We didn’t lose any artists (during the pandemic),” Crowe said. “I’m so excited and really happy about that. I think it was a combination of meeting at Montpelier and weekly critiques by Zoom. It was amazing.”
Deb Erickson said the Facebook online critiques also helped, but she didn’t believe Zoom would work with the group.
“I was dead wrong,” Erickson said. “And I think it’s because people (couldn’t be together) and were lonely.”
This is the ninth year the group has held a show at Woodberry—and this year their doing two.
“I think that gives us a kind of credibility,” Crowe said. “What I realized is part of the story about the group is how many years it’s been together. Our artists really did serious soul-searching and found the art as almost a refuge because we need one another for support.”
Erickson said she believes a lot of that success lies with Crowe.
“It’s a real testament, I think, to Trish’s vision,” she said. “No, seriously, it’s a real testament about how much you care about the artists’ circle and the encouragement—not only from Trish, but from other artists. It’s amazing. I feel fortunate to be part of this group—not as an artist, of course. This would no longer happen if it weren’t for (Crowe).”
Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle artists work in varied media.
Crowe said having the chance to create on the grounds of Montpelier allowed artists the “chance to paint, photograph and explore and reflect on what it means to be an American, as well as an artist.”
Additionally, the show at Woodberry Forest’s Baker Fine Arts Gallery titled “Into the Light”—“challenged us to consider the new normal and we embraced ‘Into the Light’ in that spirit,” she added.
“We, the Artists”
“It’s not what you look at that matters,
it’s what you see.”—Henry David Thoreau
Living here in Central Virginia it’s highly likely you’ve visited James Madison’s home, Montpelier, at least once. But did you see it? The Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle artists spent months working outdoors to craft pieces that can offer a different perspective from what you think you know about the historic grounds.
The “We, the Artists” show will be open from Aug. 29-Sept. 30 in the Grand Salon at the Montpelier Visitors Center. Montpelier is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. From 4-7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 29, the public is invited to a public reception where, at 5:30 p.m., the artists will be introduced and available to talk about their work.
When the pandemic arrived in full force in March 2020, prohibiting the artists from working together in the Firnew Studio, Roy Young, president of James Madison’s Montpelier, invited artists to create in plein air (or out-of-doors) at Montpelier.
“Typical of this group, they did not limit themselves to plein air,” Crowe said in a press release. “The photographers turned to tintypes, assemblages and the mixed media artists turned to weavings and basketry. Here they confronted not only a new landscape, but the real story of Montpelier. They faced the restored home of James Madison behind the reassembled homes of the enslaved persons.”
Chee Kludt Ricketts, of Greene County, will be the featured artist for the event and offered this about the experience of painting at Montpelier:
“Grounded for many years in a style of traditional realism, today my paintings navigate between reality and interpreted vision. … It is my goal to express my feelings—to interpret rather than record; to inspire, rather than simply remind. My collection of acrylic paintings was created almost exclusively on site on the grounds of Montpelier during the spring, summer and fall of 2020. I would set up my easel beneath one of the majestic English oaks on the grounds and as I painted, I would become enveloped in a sense of reverence for my surroundings. Often, groups of visitors would stop to see my work and to engage me with questions about Montpelier and its history. As one who paints in isolation, I found the interactions with interested visitors to be energizing.”
Photographer John Berry, of Madison County, created a tintype photograph, “James and Dolley Madison at Montpelier.”
“The COVID pandemic and ensuing shutdown, along with the ‘stay home’ recommendations, turned out to be a gift to me—the gift of time,” Berry said in the catalog. “The time to dig into a process that was invented in 1851 and creates an image, as Sally Mann says, ‘… whose ragged black edges gave it the appearance of having been torn from time itself’.”
Wet plate creates a light sensitive plate (glass or aluminum), exposes it in-camera and develops it immediately to create a photograph, Berry explained.
“With Montpelier’s long history, the 150-year-old wet plate process seemed a fitting medium to capture the landscape there,” he added.
Artist Sara Schneidman created “Sensemaking,” a pencil on rice paper piece.
“George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020,” Schneidman said in the catalog. “On June 4, 2020, the Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle began meeting at Montpelier. I drove down from Rappahannock watching the seasons unfold and listening to podcasts about systemic racism and what it is to be Black. Arriving at Montpelier I am always struck by the dissonance of the beauty and the history of the place. The fact that enslaved people were being treated as less-than-human at the same time that their master was writing our Constitution is something I have been struggling to make sense of for all these many months.”
Cecilia Schulz’s watercolor and acrylic piece, “Iris,” showcases one of the original flowers at Montpelier.
“In Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow,” Schulz said in the catalog. “She was the messenger for Zeus and Hera and rode the rainbow as a multicolored bridge from heaven to Earth. If you look closely at this painting you will see people at the top of the mountains and at the bottom of the sky, looking for that rainbow … still looking today.”
Montpelier staff has waived the general admission fee has been waived for visitors who are at Montpelier solely to visit the exhibition; visitors who wish to spend time on the property and/or take a house tour must purchase a property pass or tour ticket. Note: Montpelier is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. To view the “We, the Artists” catalog, visit firnewfarmartistscircle.com/exhibits.
“Into the Light”
“To love beauty is to see light.”— Victor Hugo
The group’s second art exhibition will run from the end of August through the end of October at the Baker Fine Arts Gallery at Woodberry Forest School. It will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays only, beginning Sept. 4. Firnew Farm Artists’ Studio will host its ninth annual reception from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3, and all who attend the exhibition and the reception must be vaccinated and wear a mask.
The name of the exhibition—“Into the Light”—was inspired from a piece by Firnew artist Pat Temples’ piece at Woodberry Forest called “Out of Darkness Into the Light.”
Crowe said it’s indicative of what we’re doing as a country now—trying to come from the darkness (the pandemic) and into the light (normal life).
“Our artists have prepared and produced at least 100 pieces of art since last year that will be offered to the public and the work is so beautiful,” Crowe said.
Crowe said in her opinion every one of the artists went deeper creatively than before.
“The work is beautiful. It is provocative. It is thoughtful. It is also a testament of a group of artists coming into maturity in full blossom—textured, compelling and pushing their edge,” Crowe said.
Two artists who share Gallery 3 in Sperryville will be exhibiting—Carole Pivarnik and Mary Allen.
Pivarnik states that her work is “shifting toward abstract realism as I seek to express more of my emotional response to the world around me in my work.
Her piece “Lightfall #1” will be on display.
“As I continue to explore the abstract painting rabbit hole, I am finally beginning to find my voice in this style,” Pivarnik said in a press release. “The goal for this piece is simply to suggest the cascade of light down.”
Allen is a watercolor artist because “I love the fresh, bright colors one can only capture with that medium.”
Gallery 3 is open by appointment due to COVID-19. It’s located in the Sperryville Schoolhouse complex, adjacent to Cottage Curator, 12018 Lee Highway, Sperryville. For information, call Allen at (540) 987-5078.
Woodberry Forest School is at 898 Woodberry Forest Road in Woodberry Forest. Off-campus visitors are only permitted to visit on Saturdays and Sundays. Contact Crowe at (540) 718-0370 for more information about either show or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crowe also encourages people to visit the artists’ individual websites for more information about each member of the group.