Even as the qualities of a temperate summer persist in this first week of September, it’s a joy to harken back to our 2014 artist residency in early June, as the earth, warmed ever so gently by spring’s slow thaw in the Catskills, graciously opened to us. New life was abundantly evident, from thousands of black tadpoles teeming at the edge of our pond, to fish egg clusters protected by vigilant patrolling wide-mouth bass, to a nursing fawn with its mother. Our burgeoning lilacs were lovely and redolent, constellations of diminutive wildflowers punctuated our fields in the tender new grass, day lilies up by the house had started to open, and pine cones were bursting in wild array:
Among the artists who attended our 2014 June residency were Joe & Merridee LaMantia, an artist couple hailing from Bloomington, Indiana. Journeying to Zelený Les by car with an overnight stop in Ithaca, they arrived equipped with only a few small hand tools, some buckets, and a curiosity about the land as a space of potential where one’s creative process can bloom.
Having completed over one hundred community projects in urban neighborhoods and schools in the mid west, Joe came to Zelený Les to test the possibilities of creating work in a natural environment using materials from the land. With a background in illustration among his numerous skills, Joe took a literal approach to the rendering of two self-portraits and a metaphoric sensibility in his choice of material. As he speaks about his process, themes of growth and decay, youth and aging, and cycles of life and death are seen layered in a patch of dried grass, flowers gone to seed, slate stones, a bird’s egg:
Joe inspired the rest of us to think about notions of self-representation and an infinite array of forms emergent from nature. Together, we spent a beautiful afternoon by the former homestead site creating portraits. Shown below are works by Dennis Friedler (bird with lightning rod), Gretchen Hayden (pine cone people in field stones; see video) and Catherine Tutter (self-reflection in farmhouse window with memorial bouquet; see video):
Merridee LaMantia has been described fondly by her husband as having a “nature antenna.”
Motivated by an inspired relationship with material, Merridee was happy to learn we routinely cut back some of the willow bushes growing at the edge of our pond. She harvested, sorted and stripped the branches, creating neat piles according to size, working quietly and methodically. Initially experimenting with basket-type forms, Merridee’s willow piles became bundles, lashed together with the stripped bark that had turned leather-like, and joined with intention and care to each other as in the branching of a family tree. Suspended from a long, graceful branch that Merridee calls Creation, her work is entitled The Land Speaks, a kinetic sculpture hanging under the old maple tree by the brook, a few paces from the homestead site.
Merridee’s intention was to honor the generations of people that lived and flourished on the land, beginning with Native Americans, to dairy farmers, to vacationing NYC urbanites, to my family. Merridee’s final touch was the addition of three stacked silver-plated stone beads to the bottom-most element of her sculpture: to anchor it in strong wind, one bead for each of her daughters.