Monday, June 24, 2013

Sandy Hildreth: The Adirondacks Inspire Art

plein air at the VIC

Living in the Adirondacks is all I need – I’m inspired by the landscape I see and often by the kind and friendly people I interact with as well. This past week I experienced a different kind of inspiration – more like an immense gratitude for this special place on the planet.

One hundred artists attended the Publisher’s Invitational Paint Out hosted at Paul Smith’s College. I wrote about my experiences at the 2012 event, because I was inspired then too, but this year’s event merits additional attention.

Eric Rhoads, who publishes Plein Air Magazine, has done this for 3 years now – extending an open invitation to plein air painters, throughout the world, to come paint the Adirondacks. Eric understands the magic of this place too.

Granted, we had a glorious week of Adirondack blue skies, with only 1 day in which it clouded over and rain spattered a few canvases. The water was high, due to our wet, wet, spring, so all the waterfalls we went to paint were roaring. The black flies were mostly absent, thankfully, the no-see-ums and mosquitoes did make their presence known, however they weren’t awful. But the question is, why would artists from California, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Brunswick, CA , and elsewhere, want to come here? Those places surely have some beautiful landscapes….

First of all, there is the tradition of the Hudson River School painters. Artists came to the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and Adirondacks in the 1800’s and they were inspired by the rugged wilderness of these mountains. The visible power of “nature” in spite of the march of civilization across this continent in the name of Manifest Destiny. We followed in the footsteps of some of these historic artists and painted last week near some of the spots they painted 150 years ago.

St Regis Mt, plein air

But the real attraction, I believe, is the spirit of this place, even without knowing the history of the Adirondacks, or how much was logged and burned before the land became protected by the Forever Wild amendment in the state constitution. “These aren’t like other mountains” is a comment I heard several times.

While there are summits that are barren of trees, most of our mountains are cloaked in green, a green that is so intense this year, due to abundant water, that some artists found it hard to create the right color. I, personally, have never used as much Permanent Green Light in my paintings as I have this year! I wonder if it’s the irregular glacier formed shapes of our mountains, or the craggy, snaggy, leaning white pines, or the erratic glacial boulders that randomly dot the landscape, entangled by gnarly hemlock or yellow birch roots. Maybe it’s the tannin colored water crashing over rocks, reflecting the brilliant blue sky as it slides over ledges on it’s way to the sea. The fresh, clean pine-scented air, cool nights, the openness of our scenic vistas, or the intimate space of a forest trail cloaked in soft, reddish brown pine needles, where you can barely see the sky.

Could it be the rustic homes or farms tucked in close to the landscape, not intruding as much as complimenting? There is a rugged individualism that exists among those who choose to live here and visitors seem to pick up on that as well. Of course I also heard questions like “where do you get your food in the winter…? and “you don’t go outdoors when it’s 20 below zero, do you?”

Whatever it is – if we could bottle it and sell it, we’d be rich. As the artists departed for their homes, or other destinations, they all thanked us for the experiences we gave them here.  Whether their paintings were successful or not – they loved being her and having a chance to get to know these mountains, ponds, fields and forests. This is what the advertising executives need to understand about the Adirondacks. The spirit of the land, the colors, smells, shapes, and the feelings inspired by them are why people who come here fall in love with the place. Artists have figured that out!

Photo above, plein air painting at the Visitor’s Interpretive Center.  Below, St. Regis Mountain.

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Sandra Hildreth

Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting.

Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks.

Sandy’s work can be seen on her website

2 Responses

  1. Janet Marie Yeates says:

    When we are painting in a glorious natural setting, we are investing several hours in concentrated observation. We become entranced with the subtle or dramatic changes that occur minute by minute as sun and clouds tease us with new revelations. While moving light and shadows can confuse the painter attempting to capture a moment in time, it is a fascinating experience to submit to becoming an acute observer. In contrast, we witness people hastily pointing digital cameras at a view, missing the opportunity to really see, breathe, and marvel in real time. Artists and artwork can remind us to embrace ‘immense gratitude,’ as Sandy stated so well.

  2. The Adirondacks have been my muse for over to decades and there is no place on earth so unspoiled, so pristine, so inspiring. History was made here last week. The Adirondack Mountain School Painters ( the people attending) completed 517 known paintings, which ill go in Galleries, shows, museums, homes and collections to be seen for generations. After three years probably 1500 or more Adirondack paintings are making the park known worldwide. We have had painters from as far away as Russia here for inspiration.

    The Hudson River School painters did 130 known paintings attributed to the Adirondacks, which in their day caused a fully of interest and tourism for decades. They put lake George on the map and increased awareness of this beauty by exposure in our cities. That historical significance was partially responsible for the creation and protection of the ADK park and this effort should continue to reinforce the special need to protect these lands, which are so unique, unspoiled and under developed in America.

    Eric Rhoads
    Plein Air Magazine
    The magazine about nature painting