Local Art and Local Food at Art in the Orchard


Art in the Orchard
Through November 26, 2017
Park Hill Orchard, 82 Park Hill Road
Easthampton, MA

Kermit the Frog wasn't talking about farming when he said, "It's not easy being green," but he could have been. Maybe a 127 acres sounds like a lot to you, but imagine how many peaches, raspberries, and apples you'd need to sell to compete with corporate giants like Dole, Kraft, or Smucker's. We can wax nostalgic about family farms, but these days it's Goliath against David with a busted slingshot. If you want to survive, you'd better be creative about it. Perhaps art and apples sounds like one hungry man sharing one sandwich yet against all odds, it seems to work.

Each summer and fall, Alane Hartley and Russell Braen, owners of Easthampton's Park Hill Orchard transform part of their farm into an outdoor sculpture garden—mostly for local and regional artists. Much of what is on display for 2017 is quirky, some of it is a better concept than finished piece, and a lot is magical. All of it is a great excuse to buy fresh, non-commercial fruit, stroll amidst beautiful fields in the shadow of Mt. Tom, and converse with friends—the more the merrier. Here are a few of my favorites.

I'm often impressed by junk metal parts assemblages, though I seldom "like" them in the sense of thinking they are great art. But Wade Clement's Superweed really works because it is well situated. It springs from a pumpkin field like some sort of mad science project and it's hard not to think about the chemical crap Monsanto and its ilk pump into the food chain to induce largeness without wholesomeness.

Bob Turan imagines post-industrialism in his Geode Time Capsule. It put me in mind of a larger version of religious work from the Middle Ages in which pious artists meticulously carved scenes inside of nuts or small balls of ivory.

One of the strongest works is Through the Looking Glass by Eileen Jager. It's simple in concept—paneled mirrors and glass strung between two points—but the wind and light constantly change our perspective. Sometimes we peer through, sometimes we see refracted images, and often part of our vision is simultaneously crystal clear and distorted. The lesson of this is obvious, but poignant.

Michael Melle has gained well-deserved praise for his burlap, wood, straw, and wire figures. Some might have encountered his outdoor tableaux of figures from the paintings of Camille Pissarro that accompanied a 2011 retrospective of Pissarro's work at the Clark Institute of Art, or as installations at the Three Sisters Sanctuary in Ashfield. Easthampton has his powerful Refugees—a family fleeing with its meager possessions toward an uncertain destination. It could be any group at any time, though it certainly evokes various Irish Famine sculptures throughout North America.

It's not my favorite work overall, but I liked bits of Sheena: At the Fight Over the Last Fish by Mark Fenwick. It's based on a graphic novel, but I was most drawn to Sheena's face and its ice-blue eyes, all framed by a wreath of red flowers and a shell necklace.

Kudos to the youngsters from the Four Rivers Charter Public School in Greenfield for understanding the idea of "organic" art better than anyone else. Their Bumble Bee/Barn is a bunch of boxes attached to posts at various angles and filled with bamboo and wooden tubes suggestive of birdhouses and beehives. They are painted in lavender and set perfectly by a field of wildflowers alive with honeybees, butterflies, and birds hard by a working beehive. 

Slim is a holdover from last year and Michael Tillyear's wacky band is a whimsical delight. Were it not for Grommit, Tillyear's wooden pooch would be a serious candidate for the cutest canine in art award.

The hillside nearest the fruit stand is alive with wire, glass, and steel outlines of Our Tribe, Michael Poole's reflection on the various types of people who make up a community.

Chris Woodman has produced the most imposing (in a good way) piece in this year's art crop. His A2 soars into the heavens with such might that, on a sunny day, it rivals the blue skies and clouds in majesty. It's a riveted steel piece that invokes ship figureheads and the art deco ornamentation of streamlined trains and 1940s automobile hood ornaments.

I'm a sucker for masks and faces and Beckie Kravetz has been a mask maker. Her Reunion is a grouping of freestanding faces fashioned from clay that look like a jocular Easter Island update.

I can also tell you that this year's peaches are works of art and that the slushies are reliably good. Local food, local art—what's not to like?

Rob Weir


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