Farms rule at the River Garden
BRATTLEBORO — Both of the featured artists in this year's Strolling of the Heifers farm art exhibit at the River Garden are native Vermonters living in Windham County, but that is where the similarities end. Steven Meyer lives in Newfane and works in shades of gray with India ink on Yupo paper portraying Vermont landscapes, while Amber Bessette lives in Guilford, and works with colorful acrylic paints to bring the farm animals of her backyard homestead to life on canvas.
Zephyr Design, the town's art supply shop, doesn't make a lot of money off of Meyer. The tools he needs are incredibly simple, consisting of squeegee, Q-tips, steel wool and sponges - more likely to be purchased at Brown and Roberts Hardware Store than at an art shop - to create his realistic picturesque scenes ranging from the familiar Newfane Farm on Route 30 just before town, to a stone wall he built himself, to the Townshend Church on a foggy morning, all on display with others at the River Garden.
Always a drawer, he said drawing old farmsteads has been his favorite and he loves the deteriorating countryside, sketching old barns and crumbling shacks, adding some paintings of whimsical stuffed toys for fun, making use of his drawing skills in a medium that is 70 percent drawing and 30 percent painting, according to Meyer.
He learned how to work with India ink from Leonard Ragouzeos.
"I love painting the old Vermont farmsteads, especially when the trees are bare and mother nature is showing her edges," he said.
It is no surprise that Meyer has such a creative streak. He is the great-grandson of Hans and Mary Meyer, who founded the Mary Meyer toy shop out of their Townshend barn in the 1940s. Mary's creative sewing talents grew that shop into a full-fledged factory and retail store.
Steve Meyer went to Columbus College of Art and Design for product design. After that his dad, Walter Meyer, asked him to help out just for a year designing toys and as a graphic designer. Thirty-two years later he is still there. These days he works in the warehouse shipping Mary Meyer products worldwide, getting his painting in late at night.
If you visit his website, stevenmeyerartist.com, you will see his previous work was in oil paints, but he didn't like inhaling the fumes of oil paint and wanted to do something simple while embracing his drawing skills.
Besides the tools from the hardware store, all he needs is the Yupo paper and up to three thimbles full of ink to create an image. Yupo paper is a glossy synthetic paper that doesn't absorb the black India ink, giving Meyer time to manipulate the ink on the surface of the paper before the ink dries. He first sketches out the composition, saying that if you have a really good composition in the beginning, the middle is easy, then adding light for which he said the secret is ammonia. A mixture of 50/50 of ammonia/ink allows him to adjust the light and dark to bring the subject alive. He has been exploring different subject matters such as the bark of locust and white pine trees, or texture and shape of stone walls, or the gnarly branches of an apple tree.
He said, "Even one lonely Holstein can be very interesting to paint. The possible patterns are limitless. Just imagine what an artist can create with a whole herd!"
Formerly a member of the Windham Art Gallery where he first got the inspiration to pursue his art, he is now one of the Rock River Artists, participating in the yearly open studio tour that takes place this year the weekend of July 20 and 21. "Joining has been inspirational," he said, " having an artist friend to bounce ideas off. Being an artist can be a lonely experience.
"I'm just really happy to be part of the agricultural world even if it is only in an aesthetic to help people relate to the farms and farmers through my pictures," Meyer concluded.
Amber Bessette was painting her last cow portrait in the car on the way to hang her work at the River Garden last week, according to her chauffeur dad, Dale Bessette. "I tried not to hit any potholes," he joked.
She has been painting with acrylic paint for 10 years. She said she likes acrylic paint because it is the medium she has the most experience with and she likes the flow.
"I have always known I was an artist. I started painting in high school and started painting animals after I became a backyard farmer. I always wanted chickens, so I got chickens, then I wanted goats, and it went from there," said Bessette, who runs the Blue Hollow Homestead, a small farm on two acres of land.
"I went through a sad time in my life when some people close to me died, but I loved animals and farming, so why not bring them together? It brought me happiness. I hope people find happiness (in my art)."
She has been referred to as the new Caryn King. Bessette said she hadn't seen King's work before she started painting her animals, but she thinks it is flattering to be likened to her.
Bessette's work has been hung at the Guilford Country Store, at the Thompson House, and at Brattleboro Savings & Loan. When an artist backed out of the River Garden the last minute, Bessette got the opportunity to show her work there. She already had plenty of art to show, but wanted to add a few cow paintings to maintain the heifer theme.
On view at the River Garden is a lineup of portraits of chickens with attitude, curious cows, fuzzy bunnies, and more. "I want to portray the animal's soul," Bessette said.
As a mom of a 5-year-old son, Marcus, and a full-time art teacher and co-social emotional support counselor at the Neighborhood Schoolhouse, it is hard to find time to paint. She usually spends hours on her painting at night after Marcus falls asleep or before he wakes up in the morning. But painting is something she is passionate about. It is important to her that she show how farm animals have different personalities and that they are fun little characters.
"Each animal on my little farm has a unique personality," she said. "The individuality and joy of farm animals is something that I try to portray through my art."
She also sells prints and cards of her work at vending events. When she sees people start to smile at her animal portraits, "It is nice," she said.
To see her work online visit amberbessetteart.com.
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