Monday, December 29, 2008

How I get there from here

I am posting this series so people can see the development of my ideas as I get to know, love and make art about a given landscape location. You are seeing Fawn's Leap, a waterfall in the Catskills near Tannersville. This waterfall has been drawn and/or painted by Sanford Gifford, Asher Duran, Bolton Brown and many others. Big footsteps to be walking in.

On top is "Fawn"s Leap, Wide View" -- collage on paper 38 X 50" (now on view at Gallery North Star in Grafton, VT)

In order to make the collage, I had to make the watercolor paintings. In order to make the paintings, I had to make the drawings.

Image list:
Fawn's Leap Wide View, 38 X 50" collage on paper, framed $7500 Gallery North Star
Darkness in the Grotto, Sunlight Beyond" WC/gouache 16 X 12" Chace-Randall Gallery $1800.
Fawn's Leap, Midsummer Day, 14 X 10" Kiesendahl & Calhoun Gallery $1500.
Fawn's Leap, 16 X 12" pencil, Kentler International Drawing Space, Brooklyn $800.
Fawn's Leap, Rock Shadows, 7 X 5" collection of the artist NFS

I rely completely on the drawings and watercolors to make my collages-- I do not use photographs. Drawing is the most essential element in my work. I pin up color xeroxes of my paintings on the studio wall so that the flying gunk from my messy collages won't ruin a good painting. And did I learn that the easy way? oh no not me.

I now glue up the collages onto Belgian linen over stretchers. I use all manner of paint and drawing materials freely as I create surfaces exploring sunlight, shadow, rock, water, trees and foliage. I have recently learned how to get to a new vocabulary of textures by printing at the Womens Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY. I won a residency there last November and I'm easy company so they invited me back for February '09. I hope to be using their presses again next year to help me replicate the color and texture of Vermont. The collage works are the culmination of my explorations. I put everything I've got into them. I draw, paint, print, glue, scrape, peel, glaze, and glaze over in pursuit of the finished image until I get there. Sooner or later, easy road or hard road, I get there.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Life imitates Art

Above is a field painting in watercolor/gouache, 10 X 14" of a Catskill site we call Kitchen Falls-- because it's where the artists go to wash their dishes at the AIR Cabin in Platte Clove. Click on it to see the entire painting.
Second is a jpeg sent from Linn Perkins Syz of the VT River Conservancy. It shows Hunters Brook near Montpelier. When I look at the beautiful white shapes of the water and feel the powerful weight of the rock my heart expands, my hands start reaching for the brushes...
Just my kind of place...

I am hot on the trail of the project sites for the River Conservancy. What amazing, beautiful hidden places will be found!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Posted PLaces- No Trespassing No Painting No How

Palenville, New Morning, collage 40 X 60"
Palenville Panorama, collage, 26 X 54"
Stone Bridge on Camelot Road, 60 X 40"
Field painting: Downstream of Dylan, Oil/Board 12 X 9"

Here are photos of some of the work I have done from painting trips to beautiful sites before their new owners put up the fences, the razor wire, the video cameras etc. Bearing in mind that the waterways themselves are public-- I now float my materials UP THE MIDDLE OF THE STREAM in Palenville and SWIM them across to the rocks. Public space goes up to ten inches beyond the high water mark in NY State, so they can't kick me out if I waded, swam and rafted my ass on over to my favorite landscape places. If that what it takes, then take me to the river...

I greatly look forward to finding river sites with my newfound guides from the Vermont River Conservancy. I have seen their photos on their website and I am still hyperventilating over some of their waterfalls. I could make a whole new solo show for Gallery North Star in Grafton all about these Conservancy sites. It would take about two years to complete, but I can feel that vein-of-gold feeling. I felt that way the first time I saw Platte Clove in the Catskills. How amazing that this Art of Action project is bringing me to places I never knew in my own home state.

Friday, December 19, 2008

POSTED: a posting posing problems.

My recent researches have led me to the good people at the Vermont River Conservancy. Their website is beautiful and informative and scary. I had believed that protections were already so securely in place that preservation was a done deal. I love being wrong. Good thing it happens all the time. Vermont still has so much work to do to protect public access to swimming holes, waterfalls, fishing streams and watersheds.

The River Conservancy cites several ongoing problems for us to examine:

1.) Loss of Public Access to Water Places
I have seen this happen is several of my best painting locations in New York State. High Falls, NY lost its heart and soul when their cash-strapped Fire Dept. sold a piece of riverfront that had given access to a spectacular swimming area below the wide and thundering High Falls. The new owner is a big believer in razor wire. Now you can't even SEE the Falls anymore. Gone means GONE FOREVER. No Trespassing.

2.)Inappropriate Development of Shore Properties
In Rosendale, NY, a lovely lake that was owned by a hotel and open to public uses for hiking, cross-country skiing and boating got sold to developers. They intend to build a gated complex for those recovering from plastic surgery. The gate is up. The gate is closed. Plastic surgery??? Hello???Talk about a boob job... The Lake is gone. No Trespassing

3.) Over- Development of Watersheds and Lake and River Corridors
Pave the shores and watch where the water goes-- watch what's in it.

4.)Unmanaged Misuse and Abuse of Water Places
From their website: Without proper and thoughtful management, many exceptional water places are too popular. If Vermont's swimming holes, waterfalls and gorges, and other popular sites are to be well cared for, Vermonters need to be excellent stewards of the lands along Vermont's waters.

Stewardship is all about the future-- the seven-generation future and beyond.

As part of my AOA project, I'll be offering art-making workshops at some of the many sites handled by the Vermont River Conservancy. Because my interests as an artist and their work in preserving the waterfalls are so closely aligned, I hope to offer them a series of postcards for their use as promotional premiums or sale items. I will be visiting and painting their locations including Hancock Brook near Montpelier and Twentyfoot Falls in Claredon. I am so excited to find these new locations. I am thrilled to find new friends in Vermont.
Let's go painting!!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Take me to the River

Thank you artist/friend John Wall of Queens, formerly of the North Danville Road, St. Johnsbury for his great photo from September 2008 of the dark, cold churning waters of the Moose River.

As my AOA project pours through the streambeds of my mind, I am designing a workshop, flexible enough to accommodate many different kinds of students, open-ended and positive, an experience that opens peoples' eyes and hearts to the waterways. I offer new ways of looking, listening and relating one's own life-currents, heartbeat and breath to the rushing water. Understanding geological forces; pressure, direction, siltration, dissolution will lead to using those forces in drawing and painting. The workshop will lead to a statewide celebration -- I am big believer in having some fun down by the river. Art is a joyful endeavor.

Despite the many frustrations, challenges and rejections, art is still the sacred heart rush, an endless self-renewing spring of laughter and beauty. No coincidence that water figures prominently in religious traditions. We go there for spiritual renewal, for reassurance and to borrow some of its endless energy. Take me to the river!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shadow Lake, geological borders

Shadow Lake
In the heart of the Northeast Kingdom, this little lake sits in perfect contrast to the mountains of Vermont and beyond to New Hampshire. I was born on this road. My father lives here now and has his studio on Shadow Lake Road.

People often wonder how Vermont can be so different from New Hampshire. Just like Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland-- they are side by side, but so different from one another in character. The Green Mountains and the White Mountains are two distinct and different geological ages. Ireland too is divided by a massive geological fault line and it falls just where the North/ South border lies. The Connecticut River is a lovely blue dividing line between Vermont and New Hampshire. Do people determine where a border will fall? Are they unconsciously responding to earth energy and far more ancient history when they sit down to draw a border?

Painting and drawing landscape opens fields of research into geology, meteorology and
social history. Reading and understanding a landscape means looking for signs and interpreting them, putting a story back together. The last ice age was only 11,000 years ago and its marks can still be seen in Vermont.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How to Have fun with less money or Where is that waterfall?

Families are worried. Everyone is wondering how we are all going to manage with less money to spend. Everyone. No matter what the circumstances may be, we are all thinking about reducing gratuitous spending. That means the entertainment budget, the vacation money, the weekend trips, tickets for amusement parks and similar expenses are OVER! What can a family do that is deeply rewarding, endlessly interesting, memorable and special without losing half a paycheck?

I am going to quote my grandfather, Aime Bisson of St. Johnsbury ( Does anyone remember Aime's Restaurant?-- that was our family business for 3 generations just east of St. J ) Aime used be baffled at the very idea of "entertainment." La Natur est GRATIS!" He used to say meaning the great outdoors in free. Meaning get on outa here and go have your own fun under the clear blue sky of Vermont.

There is a deeper meaning to all this-- people need nature. If someone gets cut off from the land and the weather, stops following the phases of the moon, loses interest in the changing seasons, that person risks falling into depression. An inexplicable loneliness sets it. Even in Vermont, people need encouragement and guidance to explore the outdoors. Odd, how much fear there is of the unknown. Fear and depression can shut people right down.

I am always surprised at how few people can give me directions to a natural feature near their town. I did a test recently in St. Johnsbury. I asked people how to get to Emersons Falls, a large, dramatic waterfall directly beside and visible from a paved country road 3 miles from the center of town. I asked 20 people, young and old. Seven people were able to tell me and thirteen had no idea, no clue, had never heard of it or "don't usually drive out that way."

I want my project for AOA to address these issues:
Families and finances: How to Have Fun with Less Money
Encourage people to avail themselves of the cost-free wonderment of the big green amusement park of real life. Forget Disneyland. (I have alway said I'd rather set myself on fire than go to Disneyland-- at least I would be having a REAL experience...)
Encourage Vermonters who are not yet involved in hiking and waterways to give it a try
Teach people how to look. The more you look at, the more there is. Skills are involved in looking, perceiving, noticing, Reading the landscape is fascinating-- areas of knowledge geology, botany, and drawing intersect, overlap, inform one another and give beauty and meaning to the viewer.

Just in case you wondered: Emerson Falls is located on the Old North Danville Rd. just west of the Rte 2 interchange at I-91. Follow signs to North Danville, take the first right hand turn onto Old North Danville Rd. The Sleepers River is on your left and you'll hear the falls before you see them.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wilmington, VT

This image of Whitingham Lake in Wilmington appears courtesy of artist Katia Gushue who has shared this along with her fond thoughts of summers she has spent drawing and painting in Vermont.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mariella's projects this season

Mariella's Projects, November 2008

I am so grateful to all of you who have written to me about your thoughts on Vermont's waterways. You are inspiring. You are challenging my previously help beliefs about what people hold dearest in such memories.

A couple of people have asked me if I am doing other projects this season along with the Art of Action. Here is a sampling of studio projects currently happening:
I am an ART BARS artist this year!
They are including an image of Listen to the River, 2007, a collage/mixed media work 60 X 40"
in the packaging of the most amazing fair-trade organic chocolate bars. A group show of all the year's artists opens in Ithaca, NY on Dec. 6. The piece is available through IFC or Gallery North Star at $8200.

Group shows for the holidays are being hosted by
1. Gallery North Star in Grafton, Vermont
You can always see a varied selection of my work here. Edward and Kim Bank show collage works and paintings in a spacious gallery in the historic small town of Grafton in the southern-central part of Vermont. Gallery North Star organized a solo show for me last summer. Edward Bank created a fun 10-minute DVD showing my working process outdoors and in the studio. I love the original music he and Joe Terlizzi wrote and performed for the soundtrack available for download from their site
"Forces of Nature" (Plattekill Falls) 2007, Mixed media collage on wood panel 50 X 38" $7500.

This collage is a piece based on several paintings and drawings of this much loved location. My collage technique allows me to explore texture and color using papers I draw and paint on them both before and after gluing them, so the surfaces are quite active and layered. Finished pieces are sealed and framed like paintings rather than shown under plexi. This work in on a wooden panel. I work now on stretched Belgian linen as well.

2.) Elena Zang Gallery where I am thrilled to be showing with Judy Pfaff, Joan Snyder and Mary Frank who are all my heroes and mentors. Elena shows my collage/mixed media work in Woodstock, NY. Pictured below is Falls in Talullah Creek, 2007 22 X 30" POR

3.) Chace-Randall Gallery in beautiful Andes, NY
Gallerist Zoe Randall is showing a selection of watercolor/gouache paintings on paper. I am pleased to show with printmaker Rimer Cardillo and artist friend Inverna Lockpez and others.

Pictured here is a watercolor/gouache painting made on-site at Plattekill Falls. A painting that is not retouched in the studio can be called premier coup. So this is a plein-aire premier coup.
Matted and framed, it is priced at $2000. at Chace-Randall.

This work is a perfect example of my reaching towards visual abstraction based on the geometry of observed nature. I feel it is one of my best paintings-- and I have done MANY- of Plattekill Falls. I kept it in my own collection for a few years, but there's another one I'm keeping now.
I go to Platte Clove and paint there often. I also serve as chairperson of the artist friends of Platte Clove Cabin at the top of the Falls for the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. For further information about the Artists & Writers cabin residency in Platte Clove:

4.) and now for something completely different.... for a thought-provoking show called "MEND" at the Proteus Gowanus alternative artspace in Brooklyn, I am restoring a "Widow's Quilt" from the depression era. Found in Vermont in tatters, this amazing intricate Log Cabin pattern will require the replacing of almost every piece within the 80 fabric blocks. Obsessive??? Me??? You think so??? You can check in for updates as the mending process unfolds.

Teaching plans:
Four Fridays in February, a Drawing and Painting Skills Workshop at the Woodstock School of Art in Woodstock, NY I'll be back again for two summer workshops on outdoor painting and art-making hand skills.

Adirondacks! A 3-day plein-aire intensive in July celebrates the beautiful northern lakes district. We'll work on water surface and how to translate geological forms into paint.

Special thanks to the spiritually charged and politically active people who invited me along with 13 other writers and artists for a 5-day intensive November residency at The Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. This is one of America's leading artist colonies and the only one to have a social justice component in their mission and programming.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A beautiful stream has been described by Clair-- I could just imagine it from her words. There was a similar intimate waterfall in a brook near my family's home in North Danville. The stream came around a perfect bend and the water spilled white into an oval pool. There were 4 tall cedars providing a sort of viewing booth made of tree trunks. Forty years hence, 3 of the trees still stand, and annual floods have re-shaped the pool, but the place still has big magic for me. Above is an image based on this small waterfall-- a collage 38 X 50" called Roy's Brook.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Talk to the People of Vermont

Talking to the people of Vermont about waterways in the Green Mountain State has quickly brought me to the conclusion that there is passionate feeling and deep-seated attachment to every distinct kind of water place imagineable. I have collected about 20 surveys from internet and phone interviews, and in-person canvassing, I have heard from people of all ages, from 6 to over 80. I have sought out former residents of the State because there is a diaspora of native Vermonters and we are fervent in our love and longing for our home state. Here are some results:
To my surprise the small and intimate bodies of water lead the popularity contest. Quiet brooks, small streams, and trout fishing holes are prominent in people's thoughts. I have three waterfall lovers responses. Like me, they love the shapes, sounds and drama of a waterfall. The big lakes are mentioned as well, with Willoughby and Lake Champlain cited most frequently. Rivers are being described too, The Winooski in Plainfield, Sleeper River near Danville, the Connecticut River and the Gihon River in Johnson, VT.
Because as an artist I specialize in moving water, I am opening to the possibility of working with a small brook/waterfall location such as Buttermilk Falls near Chester. I am considering a lake location, maybe Willoughby for its massive stone cliffs, a river location such as Emerson Falls and a waterfall site. Moss Glenn Falls on Route 100 is a favorite that is well known to everyone but I haven't seen it come up on a survey yet.

I would be pleased to discover any other water locations that people find important in their lives. Readers and viewers, please be so kind as to contact me with any suggestions you may have. If anyone hasn't yet taken the survey or would like to direct a friend to it, here is the address:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Skinnydipping, one of those precious freedoms!
Local residents of Westmore are united in their desire to keep the South Beach nude swimming area clothing-optional. Having been a big fan of this place and the age-old practice of swimming naked, I add my vote to those who say KEEP IT NAKED!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The first wave of survey and emails are coming in and they are interesting indeed. I am hearing from several people who live elsewhere and keep Vermont in their hearts. Such letters have come from as far away as Kabul, California and Quebec. I am reading memories of soft summer days on the Sleepers River --and a heartbreaking story of a beloved cat who accidentally drowned in the Winooski River. Vermont Waterways have an ever present element of danger. Nature is not always kind-- I work with this tension in my paintings. The survey includes mentions of lakes and ponds, a waterfall, and two rivers so far. Landscape Photos: Willoughby Lake in Westmore, my Dad, artist John Bisson in his boat on Shadow Lake, Concord, VT and Emerson Falls near St. Johnsbury, VT. some of the places that have been mentioned in survey responses.

Friday, October 31, 2008


As a Finalist in the Art of Action project in Vermont, I'm gathering thoughts from all who love the state to help guide me in selecting water sites to paint in the Green Mountain State. See

If you were born in Vermont, have lived in Vermont, have been to Vermont or live there now, I invite you to share your thoughts in a quick survey. You can easily fill it out on-line. No name or address is required but I am planning a small hand-made art-gift for each person who participates in the survey. If you would like to be added to the art-gift list, kindly fill out the survey. At the end of the 4 questions, you'll see a link to my website where you can send me your name and address confidentially.