By Laurelle Walsh
Visual artists derive inspiration from many aspects of the world — nature, music, the human form, the written word — and often manage to create poetry out of whatever medium they’re working in. The Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh particularly understood the power of the word, and wrote to a fellow artist: “There are some among our comrades who imagine that words are nothing — but on the contrary, is it not true that saying a thing well is as interesting and as difficult as painting?”
The three artists featured in the Winthrop Gallery show opening this week, “Poetry in Wood and Paint,” understand that one can make poetry by doing a sketch in pen and ink, or taking a photograph, or turning a piece of wood into furniture, or writing a haiku.
“I think of poetry as a line that turns into a mountain or a tree or a flower,” said watercolorist Patty Yates, who admits to loving the written word while not being a writer herself. “I love inspirational lines from many poets,” such as the letters of Canadian artist Robert Genn, which are “like a spark for me,” she said.
“I’m no poet, but I see poetry in the work I do,” said woodworker Laura Karcher. “While making pieces for this show I’ve created stories that become poems. I think wood has a rhythmic quality; the grain, the fluctuations in color. So in a way the material I work with can be called poetic.”
But photographer and painter Carol McMillan “is really our poet,” said Yates.
McMillan has several published works of poetry and enjoys performing her verse before audiences in her hometown of Bellingham. She will be reading some of her poems from White Water Red Walls at the show’s opening reception on Saturday (May 23) from 5-7 p.m.
McMillan said she believes in muses, and believes that everyone can communicate with their muse if only they listen. “All you have to do is say you’re a poet and you’ll become a poet,” McMillan said. “The muse grabs my hand and I have to start writing.”
Each of McMillan’s photos or paintings in the exhibit is accompanied by a “haiku-ish” poem, she said. For a watercolor of a grove blanketed by wildflowers she wrote,
Spring-wakened tree roots
tickling around beneath a
laughing flower pond.
To accompany a close-up photo of a bumblebee on a wild rose she wrote,
I wish that nature
allowed the liberty of
stroking furry bees.
For Karcher, each piece comes from a story that’s running around in her head. One piece, a wooden bench titled “Through Hiker,” contains a “relatively elaborate story,” Karcher said.
The piece began its life as a cherry tree from Karcher’s friends at Booth Canyon Orchards, and she shaped the wood with tools she inherited from fellow woodworker Richard Wrangle. “I reflected on those first friends I had after I moved here; Stina and John with their love of nature and the organic orchard that reflects their love and hard work; and Richard Wrangle who left an extraordinary legacy of craftsmanship behind,” Karcher said.
The bench became “very clearly a walking thing,” with two legs that resemble human legs and two that look like walking sticks, said Karcher. “The beauty of a poem … is that it can meander without constraint, but my walking bench has to stand on four legs.”
Yates often paints subjects that are fleeting or have passed, giving some of her watercolors an elegiac quality. “Goodbye to the Norwegian Maples” is an homage to a group of majestic trees that had to be removed from a neighbor’s yard. “I enjoyed them for 25 years, but it was time for them to go,” said Yates. “It’s all about changes.”
In “Another Damned Aspen,” Yates captures light and shadows in a white grove of aspens off Old Twisp Highway. “I know they’ll be gone some day, but I’m immortalizing them,” said Yates. “I never met an aspen I didn’t like,” she admits.
“Poetry in Wood and Paint” runs through June 22 at the Winthrop Gallery. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. For more information, call the gallery at 996-3925, or go to the website www.winthropgallery.com.