Last summer, my husband and I impulsively pulled into View, the new art gallery in in Old Forge, and stumbled onto a one-woman show by Montreal artist Holly Friesen. We fell in love with her signature piece, “Weaving Roots of Time,” an arresting 30 x 60 triptych depicting a mysterious grove of old trees which had grown moodily on and around boulders.
Both of us were struck by how closely the painting of a scene in Canada’s Laurentian Mountains resembled hundreds of similar scenes we have hiked past in the Adirondacks. In fact, all the paintings in Holly’s show looked like scenes in the Adirondacks. Then it struck me: the huge boulders strewn all over the Adirondacks some 10,000 years ago by retreating glaciers are sisters to the very rocks in Holly’s paintings, torn from those mountains and deposited in ours.
We had to have the painting. When we arranged to pay, the curator was flustered. “We just finished hanging that exhibit five minutes ago,” she said. “The artist’s reception opens in half an hour. She just left to shower. You must stay to meet her.” Fatefully, we decided to hang around. Soon, in swept the petite, glowing woman who had created an show of paintings that captured the essence of the Adirondacks.
I told Holly about our Wawbeek rocks, as the Native Americans had called the huge boulders which modern geologists call erratics. Holly said she would love to paint in the Adirondacks someday. I told her we had a loft space above our garage that she could use any time.
A month later, Holly emailed to say she was headed to Old Forge to pick up her unsold paintings at the end of her exhibit. Did I really mean it about a place to stay? she asked. “Absolutely,” I said. “And by the way, since you will have all that great art with you, why don’t we take down my artwork, hang yours, and invite all my friends in to see the paintings. They might buy some.”
Hence, the first thing I learned – such an event is called a pop-up gallery and someone was way ahead of me with the idea. My friends came and after three days, all but a couple of Holly’s acrylics had found new homes. Without being asked, Holly donated a generous amount to my favorite Adirondack non-profit, AdkAction.org.
In the months which have followed, Holly has stayed often during all seasons at our house, both when we are here and when we are away, much of the time with her significant other, who also is an artist. We have formed a warm friendship bond and I’ve continued to learn.
Watching her paint has been a revelation for someone like me who has no artistic talent and little knowledge. I have been present twice when paintings struck her, like a bolt of lightning strikes near an unsuspecting hiker in a storm, it seems.
The first time, we were standing on the edge of my shore on Upper Saranac watching a huge fall moon rise over the water. “I have to go paint,” Holly murmured. The next morning she showed me an almost-completed acrylic, “Night Fall/Moon Rise.” It captured the essence of the brief time of awe we had shared the night before, the raw emotion, our silent aha at the rising moon.
The second time I was present when inspiration struck her, Holly was with me and several others late at night on our pontoon boat, floating for almost two hours, just gazing up at a vast sea-sky of stars in the Adirondack blackness. Within days, she had produced “Soul Floating in Cosmic Star Sky” The painting depicts an empty canoe, lighted magically from within, floating on the dark water under the starry sky. The painting represents perfectly for each of us there that night how we reacted emotionally, how we felt, as if each of our souls were afloat in that symbolic, empty canoe.
So, I have been thinking about art and artists and the Adirondacks and how influential art has been here and elsewhere. It was in part the work of the Hudson River School of artists which propelled people in large numbers to the Adirondacks in the 1800s. People yearned to see the wild places depicted in the oil paintings from the mid to late-1800s, which became etched in the public consciousness. City folks came in droves to hunt and fish, summer in grand old hotels and, soon, in second homes. The same happened in Maine after Charles W. Woodbury founded his art school in Ogunquit in 1898. Artists flocked to the Ogunquit art colony to study and paint. Soon tourists followed by boat from Boston. And just north of here The Group of Seven artists painted the wilderness into the hearts and minds of Canadians, solidifying its place at the center of the national identity.
Excellent modern Adirondack artists like Sandra Hildreth, Tim Fortune, Meg Bernstein, Georgeanne Gaffney, Matt Burnett, Jacqueline Altman, and Diane Leifhet are enriching the North Country now. Saranac Lake is becoming known for its art galleries and this year began a street art banner campaign to publicize artists’ work. Old Forge gave birth two years ago to View, a fancy new home for the renowned watercolor show that for years had thrived in a bare-bones, metal-sided building.
Two plein air events added to the Adirondack art scene in recent years are drawing artists here to paint. Eric Rhoads, publisher of Plein Air Magazine, founded the Publisher’s Invitational Paint the Adirondacks. It is a week-long annual plein air (painting is outdoors) fest for 100 artists who stay at Paul Smith’s college and paint the Adirondacks. Already, the 2015 event is full. Eric has said he wants to encourage a new Adirondack Mountain School of art.
I like the sound of that: Adirondack Mountain School of Art.
By hosting an artist in our homes, even those of us with no artistic talent at all can help foster this movement.
Using the internet, it would be so easy for a non-profit like AdkAction.org to set up a space on its web site where Adirondackers with a bit of spare space could register to house their own artist in residence for a weekend, a week, a month, whatever. Artists – professionals only – could then apply for a match by submitting a bio, letters of recommendation, images of five recent works and a statement on why they want to be come here.
Take my word for it. There is much to learn and great joy in even briefly welcoming an artist into your home and life
Note: Holly Friesen will conduct a pop-up gallery of the paintings she has been creating in the Adirondacks from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aug. 15 and 16 at a home on Upper Saranac Lake owned by folks who are among her local fans. Space is limited. If you would like to come, contact Holly at HollyFriesen@gmail.com
Illustration: Holly Friesen’s ““.