A celebration of friendship in art


BRATTLEBORO — Collin Leech was a guest's "plus one" at Helen Schmidt's wedding in 1994 when she and Schmidt first met and despite the frenzy of nuptial celebrations, they soon became fast friends. They have collaborated on numerous projects over the years, including their most recent show on view now at 118 Elliot featuring Schmidt's prints and Leech's encaustic paintings as a celebration of their friendship in art..

Schmidt divvies up her time as a mom, as an artist, and teaching adult studio and printmaking, as well as directing the Children's Program at The River Gallery School. She shares a studio with her husband at their home in West Westminster.

Leech lives in Putney and also divvies up her time as a mother, artist, a massage therapist, and teacher at River Gallery School where she created a "tots" program and along with Schmidt created a program for teenage girls, Expresso, plus many other creative projects, squeezing in time to work on her paintings when she can.

These two friends came to a mutual conclusion that something had to give in order to focus on their art. Their decided to "make hay while the sun shines" and so, cut back on their teaching responsibilities.

Leech's goal was to do a painting a day. To do so it necessitated generating smaller pieces of work. These pieces showcase the range of things that can be done with was-based encaustic paint. She said her pieces are not so much a series, but oddball projects she had started, with a variety of ways of painting. "Raddon's Aquarium" for instance, started out as a collage that evolved into a painting, naming it after Raddon because its dreamlike quality reminded her of his work. "Pompeii's Dream," a mixed media piece, also has collage components, as well as cold wax etchings and oils. A fair amount of the pieces include sea life such as an embedded dead sea fan, or of imagined landscapes.

Leech taught herself the process of encaustic painting. She had begun taking classes when she was pregnant then worried about the toxicity of the smell of the fumes created by the encaustic burning tools, so quit later teaching herself instead. She now makes her own paint with beeswax, resin and pigment, and uses a converted wood burning tool to heat up and fuse layer upon layer, feeling that the wood burning tool gives her more control. She said it is a great way to build up texture and luminosity such as that in her piece called "Brooklyn Magnolia" (named such because the background to the magnolias is a building rather than nature).

"I may have a story going on in my head — not important to me that they see that but bring their own story to it," Leech said.

A press release described her work as, "about the natural world at the height of bloom. She is a master of contrast, using hand-drawn lines to indicate the incised precision of the closely seen, against lush gestural painting. Leech is a colorist with great range. Her recent paintings use a jeweled palette of pomegranate, saffron, and bright greens. There is an elemental quality of sky in the water and water in the calyx, which makes her work instantly recognizable."

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Other than faculty shows at RGS she didn't start publicly showing until 2015. " It is new to me to show and let go of a lot of teaching income to do these shows," she said.

Schmidt's pieces on the other hand are organized series. The prints were created from drypoint abstract etchings on metal printed with intaglio ink on Nepalese blushed paper. Schmidt often uses symbols such as circles that represent the act of opening and of letting go of the nonessential. She doesn't consider herself an expert on Buddhism but it feels right to use symbols in her etchings. Images of Japanese temple gates, known as Torii and asylum seeker figures looking for home make up the two series in colors ranging from grey-blues to brown to gold.

"The images of gateways in this show were printed from wooden boards of an old disassembled suitcase. The boards were inked and printed on Thai Lakta paper, then applied as chine colle onto larger drypoint prints. These prints become a metaphor of travel, displacement, and the search for connection. When we travel, is it on the inner or outer planes? What do we take with us in our suitcase, and what do we leave behind?"

To help give a better understanding of how prints are reproduced, the suitcase boards are on display next to the prints that were created with them..

Schmidt said, "Torii are traditional Japanese gates most commonly found at the entrance to Shinto shrines, marking the transition from the mundane to the sacred. This body of work explores the themes of crossing thresholds and seeking sanctuary. The seeker may take the guise of a refugee looking to find safe haven and asylum in a new country. The seeker may also be traversing an internal landscape, endeavoring to connect with something greater than themselves.

She continued, "The theme of traveling pulls together both of the bodies of work I have in this show: Travelers in search of homeland and a sense of place, to the suitcase used to print the gates in the second series, which aid travelers along their path, whether it is a physical or more internal, metaphoric search of belonging, or coming home."

"People interpret work as they will. I can say what it is about for me, such as a gateway or an asylum, or finding home — people should take what they get out of it," Schmidt concluded.

Leech and Schmidt did their first show together at the Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery last March. This is their second collaboration. It will remain on view at 118 Elliot through May 27. Gallery hours are Saturdays, noon to 3 p.m. And by appointment by contacting lcmendelsund@gmail.com or 802-257-2757.

Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261


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