WILLIAMSVILLE/NEWFANE >> When photographer Chris Triebert moved to Vermont from Boston, she fell in love with the river that ran through her new hometown of Newfane. She soon learned that she wasn't the only artist attached to the Rock River, beginning in East Dover and continuing through South Newfane and Williamsville. In 1993, having connected with local like-minded artists, she and Carol Ross, with whom Triebert had opened a design and photography studio, launched the Rock River Artists, which now includes fourteen noted artists working in a variety of media including painting, pottery, collage, photography, printmaking, furniture, wrought iron work and the unique thread on fabric technique developed by artist Deidre Scherer.
Scherer is perhaps the best known of the artists. Her work has been shown in over 150 solo and group shows nationally and internationally and has appeared on the cover of several anthologies. Working with the unique medium of thread on fabric that she pioneered, Scherer brings to life people of extraordinary character and humanity. She uses scissors and a sewing machine, cutting and layering, always looking for what she calls the magic, "a sense that there is a sentient being who will appear to tell me how they want to come through." Scherer's work focuses on the aging human face and the universal issues of age and mortality, seeing life transitions as "a natural part of life, worthy of reflection.
Caryn King's subjects are animals. A designer and ceramic artist, she found her way to painting when she captured a rooster on canvas. Painting became her passion combined with her love of animals. "We share our world and our future with animals," she said. "I paint them to capture the viewer's attention and emotional response. Hopefully they come away with a greater appreciation of each animal's individuality and spirit."
Blacksmith and metal sculptor Rich Gillis became a Rock River Artist in 2000. "I get a great sense of satisfaction doing my part as the blacksmith much the same as I imagine it has been for hundreds of years. There's an endearing, romantic quality to incorporating my traditional art form into peoples' homes and properties and to helping create a timeless, enchanting feeling." He continually strives to offer museum quality work. "I challenge myself," he says. "I love the malleability, flexibility and especially the sounds of working with metals. It continues to amaze me how fresh ideas pop into my head when I'm asked to make a railing, lamp or some other project that is unique and special."
Mary Welsh and Roger Sandes, who are married, found their inspiration as artists in Europe. On a trip to France Mary became inspired to take up collage when she noticed beautifully artistic tourist board posters that depicted the country's architecture. She refined her technique while traveling and studying in various countries. Soon her collages which feature exquisite houses and rooms were widely exhibited in the US and England. "My collages are depictions of what we all take for granted: houses, rooms and their contents. Viewing these scenes evokes memories and fantasies of what we know about houses and rooms. These dwellings, their settings and contents, reveal the layers of mystery surrounding the lives of all of us," said the artist.
Her husband, Roger, "fooled around with art" as an adolescent but it wasn't until he met Mary that he took himself seriously as an artist. He began by drawing with India ink and a speedball pen and then discovered he could add color to his drawings. That led him to acrylic paints. He has been producing widely displayed figurative works on nature-based, multi-cultural and art historical themes for private and corporate collections ever since. "Mostly what I do is take on a well-established genre," he explains. "I'm doing the thing and reflecting on it, so viewers may see what's there, or they may see references reverberating into art history. Making art is always in my imagination, waiting for realization. I am an instrument for its expression."
Other Rock River Artists include award-winning potter and ceramic artist Rob Cartelli, Raku master potter Richard Foye, fellow potter Matt Tell, who co-founded Brattleboro Clay Works, fourth-generation cabinet maker Dan DeWalt, printmaker Kim Hartman Colligan, painter Georgie, award-winning graphic artist Ellen Darrow who collaborates with Richard Foye by etching on clay, and painter Leonard Ragouzeos.
The Rock River Artists hold an annual Open Studio Tour every summer in July during which visitors can meet the artists in their bucolic studios and gardens, watch how they work, and purchase extraordinary art made by nationally recognized, award-winning artists. This year the Tour will take place on Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. with a start point at the Old Schoolhouse in South Newfane where the artists present a group show.
"I'm increasingly gravitating toward the funkiest, most unlikely pieces of wood and found objects," said Dan DeWalt as he prepares for this year's event. "I'm drawn not just by the unusual beauty of these pieces, but also by the serendipitous fashion in which they all came to me, whether tripped over on the water's edge or diligently sought on an Oceanside driftwood trek."
"There are no limits to what can be created," adds Rich Gillis. "I want my work to satisfy viewers so that they walk away with a sense of wonder and awe at the magic that is alive in the world." That seems pretty likely to happen given the cafeteria of creativity offered by the Rock River Artists. Its Open Studio Tour is a feast not to be missed.
Elayne Clift writes about and appreciates Vermont' art scene from Saxtons River