By Jeff Waring, Art Teacher at Westtown School
For the past 15 years or so, I’ve traveled to the northern Adirondack park, usually in mid July. Our family meets for a week at an old Great Camp just west of Saranac Lake, once used by Cal Coolidge as his Summer Whitehouse. Here among the history and the beauty we intentionally unwind and unplug. Perched on a ridge overlooking Osgood Pond, our setting offers access to pristine paddling, meandering trails, and solitude. The fragrance of pine, the softness of the forest floor, the towering trees, the moss, the fungi, the deadwood, the loons’ laughter, and the flow of water all refresh and reinvigorate my soul. There’s a lean-to close by where I usually set up an impromptu studio, and daily visits offer me the time and mental space to paint. My annual one week visit always feels right, yet always too short.
In the town of Saranac Lake, where we stock up on provisions, there is an art center on the edge of town named BluSeed run by Carol Vossler. It’s in an old corrugated metal warehouse alongside the railroad tracks, a bit gritty and rustic, as is most of the town. BluSeed serves the community as a hub for papermaking, printmaking, painting, sculpting, exhibiting and performing, and offers an artist residency program as well. Every year I make a point to stop through and talk with Carol, and annually I tell her of my interest to be a resident artist. Last summer I was able to make good on my word. A Blu Seed residency was funded by Westtown’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” grant, established in honor of David Mallery, and allowed me to lengthen and deepen my experience. I am grateful to the Mallery family for this opportunity. As a teaching artist it can be easy to get caught up in the needs of teaching, and to run out of time and stamina to create. Re-immersion into the creative process re-fires the neurons and rekindles the passion to find beauty and meaning, and serves as a humbling reminder that creating takes time. Two weeks of uninterrupted time served me well.
While at Blu Seed, my exploration of paint ranged from misty watercolor washes and pours, to encrusted, gritty collage, to graphic and linear compositions. My process was often initiated with something physical from my surroundings, maybe a sprinkling of pine needles to pivot within a flow of paint, or chunks of earth captured on the edges of drying acrylics.
By doing this, the DNA of the moment was grounded or attached, and the resulting marks gave me something to respond to, almost like reading tea leaves. These events led to images particular to the moment and rooted in the place, yet universal and timeless. When I paint, I like to start many pieces at once, and then revisit them as a group, deciding what should stay put as is, and what needs to be brought up to the level of the others. Some art feels right after one initiation, some things call for more exploration. As one work gains clarity, others might feel less resolved, and so a constant relational weighing takes place. It is a dance of elements, and very much like our Quaker Meeting for Worship, it is a process of waiting and seeking. The development of each work is a journey where discovery and intuition are the guideposts. During my residency I woke early to paddle or hike, capturing inspiration with my senses and my cell phone camera, and returned to Blu Seed to interpret and respond. Painting is like paddling or hiking. At times the path meanders, sometimes it is direct, and often I find myself circling back, looking for signs and directions to follow, and taking time to pause. The pieces I am including in this exhibit are explorations and reflections of flow, magnetism, vibration, and undulation, as well as light, color, form, and space. But more importantly, the act of painting is a gesture of communion, on a small and humble scale, with the immense spirit of the land.