Art in the Orchard 2019

Art in the Orchard 2019
Various Artists
Park Hill Orchard, 82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton, MA
Through November 24, 2019.

Farmers do what they can to stay in business these days. Some open breweries or wineries, some draw visitors to elaborate cornstalk mazes, and others venture into niche markets such as alpaca wool, lavender products, or farm stay tourism. Park Hill Orchard has one of the better angles; each fall it holds a juried competition for sculptors and environmental artists who wish to display their talents en plein air.

Not everything appeals to all and a few selections might seem puzzling, but it has become a rite of autumn to check it. It’s hard to beat the site: a vast swath of fruit trees, pumpkin patches, and greenspace in the shadow of Mt. Tom. One of the permanent installations, in fact, is a giant frame where one can compose Mt. Tom in the distance, gather friends against a fiery fall backdrop, or (if you must) take a selfie. Kids will enjoy chasing the free-range chickens and their own ability to roam off-leash, as it were. But let’s talk about the art.

Enjoying art is often a subjective experience that has little to do with what “experts” or critics think of it. I’m in the second category, which means you might not agree with my assessment that this year’s displays are not up the standards of previous years. But with 30 new installations there is bound to be something for all tastes. 

My own art doesn’t extend beyond my shutterbug prowess, but I will say that a few of the pieces left me perplexed and/or underwhelmed. “Field of Hearts,” for example, is a series of lollipop-like valentines covered in mosaic. They are cheerful, but do they tell us anything a parade of Mylar couldn’t? “D’Arbus the Radiolarian” baffles me. I got it that Mark Fenwick named after Diane Arbus, but his “dawn animal” (radiolarian) based on microscopic mineral skeletons is disconnected from the famed photographer and his explanation for the assemblage is idiosyncratic to a fault. Plus, the thing reminded me of vintage pineapple advertising cartoons. In all honesty, I found it creepy. Pamela Matsuda-Dunn covered boulders with glass beads and called it “Abundance.” It looks exactly like boulders covered with glass beads!

But, like I said, who can explain why one thing attracts and others do not? I am a huge fan of Michael Tiller’s wood and metal sculptures. To the band that has graced the field in previous years, Tillyer has added “Maureen,” who appropriately holds an apple in her outstretched hand.

I was also drawn to metalworks this year. I also enjoyed Elizabeth Denny’s “Junkyard Dogs.” It’s meta in that the pooches are fashioned from castoff junk. Chris Woodman’s “Chronos” is an airplane weathervane whose propeller is actually a rotating clock face. If you’re rusty on your Greek mythology, Chronos/Cronos is the pre-Olympian Titan who was the god of time (hence chronology). Staying with the ebb and flow of things, Ted Hinman’s “Tree of Life” harkens to Biblical traditions, but both this work and Woodman’s also evoke the climate change crisis and beg consideration over whether the end of the history is upon us.

Hinman also asks us to think of how elephants depend upon tree bark and high-hanging fruit during the dry season. Elephants are an endangered species. Last year, a wonderful twisted branch and steel elephant appeared in the orchard. This year, Lindsey Molyneux graces that one with “The Elephant’s Child.” It is both charming and poignant. 

As for traditional sculptures, I was moved by Valerie Gilman’s bronze “Persephone’s Dream: A Prayer for Peace.” Persephone takes us back to Greek mythology; she’s both the queen of the underworld and the goddess of spring. Gilman uses her as a plea “to listen deeply to the complex and paradoxical truths of our lives and our culture.” In a similar philosophical fashion, Tim De Christopher’s limestone “Bird Bird” is a fragile creature who represents “the primal nature of man, the beast, brute force and the more gentle nature of the human soul.” I can get behind both of these sentiments.

If you visit, don’t forget to buy some fruit!

Artist: R. Weir!

Rob Weir  


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