The Chestnut Group Journal
by Lori Putnam, originally published at: www.outdoorpainter.com Used with permission.
Artist Lori Putnam speaks on the role artists can play in the conservation and preservation of land, cultures, and buildings. Lori explores conservancy in the Harpeth River Watershed, close to where she lives.
Land conservancy and plein air painting groups are nothing new. From Maine to California, and most states in between, artists are working to save the places they love and the resurgence of plein air painting itself. We paint in packs, travel like herds, and gather across the globe to worship the light and its ability to describe what lies before us.
California Impressionists Guy Rose, William Wendt, Edgar Payne, Granville Redmond, Franz Bischoff, and others (some native Californians and others who traveled there) were in pursuit of the same thing we are, color and light on the land. Many became members of early art clubs. Some helped established schools. Others helped drive land preservation and settled art colonies. I am drawn to those subjects, to the Pacific coastline and the mountainous West too. I belong to both the California Art Club and to Laguna Plein Air Painters Association and paint with them as often as I can. Not everyone has the opportunity or even the desire to travel. If you are looking for some place your work can make a difference, I suggest looking closer to home.
I live about a mile from the Harpeth River in Middle Tennessee. It is 125 miles long from its headwaters to its confluence with the Cumberland River. The flow from Tennessee’s rivers provide nourishment to flora and fauna as it makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico. According to the HarpethRiver.org website, the Harpeth has more than 1,000 tributaries and is a unique system of freshwater rivers that contains a greater variety of aquatic life than anywhere else in the world. I grew up not too far from where I live now in the middle of the Cheatham County Wildlife Management Area. As a child I watched as the Harpeth River, low and dry in the summer, came to swell and flood in the spring. One of my childhood memories is canoeing down the raging river over what had been a bridge only a day before.
Tennessee’s approximately 61,000 miles of rivers, lakes, and streams offer recreation, fishing, and boating all year long. The area’s thick, humid summers and abundant water sources provide plein air artists with an assortment of spring greens as early as late March. By the end of October or early November, those brilliant greens will turn to russet, orange, and gold. The distant hills and mountains are as blue as their name suggests. Moderate Tennessee snowfalls complete a landscape painter’s paradise.
Our local painting organization is writing an impressive chapter on the subject of conservation. The Chestnut Group, a non-profit plein air group, is helping preserve my paradise. The group partners with other non-profits that have like-minded missions: conservation of land and restoration of historic properties. Established by a small group of painters in 2001, its membership has grown to more than 200. Several of our members come from surrounding states as well.
One of the great things about this particular organization is that it has members at all levels. We have rank beginners and people with established careers of 30 years or more. I have been a member since 2004. Joining this group as a beginner provided access to those seasoned veterans and early education opportunities, and contributed to my path of artistic growth and exhibition experience. In fact, the first plein air painting I ever sold was during one of their fundraisers.
“Amos,” a rather horrible cow painting, was purchased by a lady who said she sort of felt sorry for it. I was thrilled! Someone recently found the painting in an estate sale. Too bad I do not have a picture of it; we could all laugh hysterically. That first sale meant a lot to me. It encouraged me and it helped raise money for a good cause.
Another perk of working with the Chestnuts is their fairness policies to all involved. Artists are not asked to donate 100 percent of the sale. The Chestnut partnerships are split 45/45/10 (artist/partnering organization/Chestnut Group). Artists are giving a hefty chunk, but are still able to afford to be part of multiple shows in any given year. The 10 percent that goes to the group covers minimal administrative costs the group has. Because the group is so large, not everyone is expected to take part in every event. We all do what we can, and some do a lot more than others; no effort goes without appreciation.
The absolute best thing about the Chestnuts is the spirit of the group. It is contagious. Paint-outs take place all year long in snow, rain, 105-degree heat, and 100 percent humidity. We have a lot of fun, but we also understand we are given a great privilege and a great responsibility.
Sometimes the lands on which we are invited are spaces that are already open to the public. Other times they are areas that are not yet publicly accessible. We are there to capture time and to document both beauty and destruction through our paintings. Following months of well-organized painting opportunities, an exhibition and sale is held. It is an opportunity for supporters of the partnering cause, of our group, and of the arts to come together and make a difference. Recent partners have included the Land Trust for Tennessee, Friends of Warner Parks, Friends of Radnor Lake, the Nature Conservancy of Tennessee, and more.
Chestnuts recently partnered with the Harpeth River Watershed Association (HWRA). The local area benefiting from the HWRA is highlighted on the map of Tennessee above. Only the largest bodies of water are marked. If all of our streams were drawn on this map, it would make little sense. The Harpeth River watershed covers a small footprint relative to the size of the state. Yet there are 1,314 stream miles and 655 lake acres currently recorded in this watershed alone. In 2015, the Harpeth was listed as one of “America’s Most Endangered Rivers.”
Dorie Bolz, HWRA’s executive director, said, “The love of the land and the great outdoors is evident in all of the works produced for ‘Scenes of the Harpeth.’ Just as the Chestnut Group is dedicating to preserving and protecting what they love, the Harpeth River Watershed Association is passionate about protecting our rivers and ensuring that everyone has access to clean water. The mission of our two organizations couldn’t be more closely aligned.”
A huge struggle for watershed areas is urban expansion. Nashville was voted the friendliest town in America in 2016 and ranked 19th as the nation’s fastest-growing according to U.S. Census figures for 2015. Nearby Franklin ranked 14th in growth the year prior. As more land is developed into subdivisions, malls, and parking lots, rain has less chance of soaking into the ground, trickling into streams, and nourishing our rivers. Instead it must flow into storm drains. As more development occurs, storm drains work less efficiently, causing flooding. Flooding destroys riverbanks and natural vegetation. Less ground-absorbed rainwater leads to lower water levels and increases water temperatures. This not only has an effect on the water we drink, but also fish and wildlife. Add man-made pollution, such as litter, and runoff from golf courses, construction sites, and septic systems to the problem, and clean, once-plentiful water becomes more and more scarce.
Members of the Chestnut Group exhibited more than 200 pieces in the HWRA sale. Prices ranged from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Sales brought in just over $20,000 for the weekend. This group never rests. There are two remaining partnerships in the works for the Chestnuts this fall; Dinner on the Bridge, an event with Greenways for Nashville, and Farm to Fork, benefitting the Cumberland River Compact. With an average of $10,000 raised for each partner agency, I’d say the Chestnut Group is hitting the mark.
by Marie K. Thompson, Member, Chestnut Group Marketing Committee
“As an artist I’m forced to slow down and drink in a sunset, a field at a certain time of day, a single flower, an expression on a human face,” says Chestnut Group artist, Marjorie (Marci, to her friends) Hicks. “Every moment is rare and fleeting. It is here and then it is gone. When I paint I attempt to honor that moment.”
This year Hicks is serving, along with Ed Routon, as Chestnut Group Co-Chair of the Radnor Lake Art Show and Sale. She and Routon have organized several plein air paint-outs at Radnor Lake in preparation for the Chestnut Group/Friends of Radnor Lake Fine Art Show and Sale, scheduled for November 6-8, 2015, at the Radnor Lake Visitor Center. Other Chestnut Group activities that she has been involved in include instructing one figurative “Paint Your Heart Out” Workshop and, along with Haden Pickel, co-teaching another figurative workshop.
Plein air painting at Radnor Lake is very challenging to many artists. Around artists, we hear the challenges continuously–so much green, so much water, and so much sky! As an artist of 20 years, Hicks recognizes that she has to get creative and realize that it’s up to her to search for something that strikes her as standing out, something that catches her attention, whether it is a log in the water, a duck gliding by, a pattern of leaves on the water, the way the light reflects on the water, a tree limb overhanging the lake or one small sliver of the lake. Then the artist must start the process of depicting the selected motif on a two-dimensional surface.
“When I am plein air painting, I’m most attracted to the strongest light and the shadow that it casts on my subjects,” Hicks says. “Usually that would be my focal point. I try to place it pleasingly and properly on my canvas at the very start. I always pay close attention to the perspective. I make sure, as best I can, that it rings true; if it does not, I wipe it off and start again. Then I start looking at the other values and the colors that lie within those values that make up the rest of the painting. I ‘read’ everything off the brightest light and deepest shadow. Toward the end, I’ll check my edges to see if they could be made better by softening them or making them more crisp. Usually my edges are crisper or sharper near my focal point and softer around the outer reaches of my paintings.”
For the first seventeen years of her art career, Hicks focused on fine-tuning her drawing skills through tonal painting. She did that because she absolutely loves to draw. For the past three years, she has devoted her time to learning all things about color and the way it behaves in nature and on her canvas.
A wonderful high school art teacher first encouraged Hicks to be an artist; she then studied art for two years at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina. To enhance her skills in painting, she enrolled in several workshops; one of her most exciting workshops was at the Florence Academy of Art, an atelier in Florence, Italy. She has studied with a multitude of well-known artists. Max Ginsberg of New York City taught her to “notice and honor everyday things around me that don’t fit the typical definition of beauty. He reminded me that everything that exists is beautiful and has worth and value.”
Famous artists who have influenced her work include John Singer Sargent for his figures in oil and landscapes in watercolor and Richard Schmid for his portraits. Other well-known figurative painters with whom she has studied include Dawn Whitelaw, David Leffel, and Greg Kruetz. Landscape artists with whom she has studied are Anne Blair Brown, Randy Sexton, Jason Saunders, and Colley Whisson.
This concentrated study by Hicks has paid off in acceptances in four outstanding exhibitions and two awards. She was accepted to the Oil Painters of America (OPA) 2015 Salon Show and Sale, Beverly McNeil Gallery, Birmingham, AL; 2015 National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS) On-Line International Exhibition; 2015 Women Painters of the Southeast (WPSE) Juried Exhibit, Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, Blue Ridge, GA; and 2014 WPSE Third Annual Members’ Juried Exhibit, Magnolia Art Gallery, Greensboro, GA. She was awarded an Award of Excellence for her painting, “Table for Two” during the 2015 NOAPS On-Line International Exhibition. For her painting, “Ode to Richard MacDonald,” she received the 2nd place prize in the WPSE Third Annual Members’ Juried Exhibition.
This Chestnut Group Board member furthers the mission of the Group—“plein air painters for the land.” Besides the organizations previously mentioned, she is also a member of the American Impressionist Society and a patron member of the Portrait Society of America.
When asked which kind of painting she enjoys the most, Hicks says “The ones that fly off my brush! It rarely happens, but when it does it feels really good. I’ll always feel most drawn to depicting the human form, but I certainly get a thrill with every single painting that I attempt, even if it does not come easily.”
The artist has this advice for wannabe artists, “Sketch, sketch, sketch! Every day, if only for 10 or 15 minutes. In a month’s time, you will astound yourself at your increased abilities. I’ve been sketching my entire life and I’m grateful that I’m usually able to get my subject down quickly. This allows more time to focus on color, values, and edges. I remind beginning artists to keep striving to the next level and to keep trying new techniques. I urge them to never settle for a certain recipe but to be fearless.”
Hicks compares painting to a lesson her daughter learned one day from a violin teacher. He had accused her of being too tentative. He told his student, “I want you to pretend that you are out in the middle of a cornfield where no one can hear you. If you have a train wreck, it won’t hurt anything or anyone, but you will learn the power of your instrument!” Hicks says, “I’m still learning, that’s for sure, and there will be some train wrecks, but I’m grateful to be on this journey to unleash the power within my paints and brushes!”
Lastly, Hicks says she ultimately paints in response to a deep feeling of gratitude. “Being able to see and study all that surrounds us is a wonderful gift.” The artist says that her real claim to fame and an absolute joy was realized in raising three amazing daughters with her husband Guy, her steadfast supporter for nearly 40 years.
To learn more about Hicks’ work, interested parties may wish to check out her web site at marjorieshicks.com and chestnutgroup.org/members/marci-hicks. You may see more of her artwork at the various Chestnut Group shows, especially the Friends of Radnor Lake Show, Walter Criley Visitor Center,1160 Otter Creek Road, Nashville, TN, November 6-8, 2015.
by Marie K. Thompson, Member, Chestnut Group Marketing Committee
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond
Thoreau wanted to get the most from his life by determining what was really important, and he did that by removing himself somewhat from the normal life of Concord, Massachusetts in the 1840s. To escape life’s pressures, many teenagers use different escape routes, sometimes dangerous ones.
For Chestnut Group artist, Michael Poindexter, however, his love of nature directed his teenage escape from the social upheaval of the late 60s toward the woods surrounding Radnor Lake.
“The peacefulness and solitude always refreshed my energy to take on the world I was trying to understand,” Poindexter says. “I knew every inch of land within that area and could have camped for days with no one ever suspecting I was there. I could spend the entire day walking in the woods and not see another person.”
The young would-be painter quickly considered Radnor “his” park and he knew it better than anyone else. In the late 60s, Radnor was more of a “cut-through” between Granny White Pike and Franklin Road than an actual park for the general public. The teenager rarely saw anyone in the parts he frequented for exercise and solitude.
Today the Yale University School of Art and Memphis College of Art-trained artist frequents Radnor not only to enjoy nature but also to capture the natural beauty of the place in oil on his canvases.
Poindexter found out early that he wanted to be an artist. “My first influence came from a book of Leonardo DaVinci’s drawings borrowed from my church’s library,” he says. “I knew then what an artist was and I wanted to be one. I started private painting lessons at age 9. My goal was to live in New York City and be an artist.”
After graduate school he moved to New York in 1981 and maintained a storefront studio in Brooklyn, worked to hone his professional skills and sought gallery representation. “I quickly learned that success in the New York art world depended on many factors other than the quality and integrity of my work,” Poindexter says. “At that time the ‘scene’ required going down a path from which many did not survive. I was not willing to sacrifice my life for the chance of achieving artist celebrity. I quickly became disillusioned with the art world in general and modern/abstract art in particular.”
Like many other artists, Poindexter had to turn to other skills to support his studio; he worked as a carpenter for a company doing residential rehab construction. This proved to be advantageous to him because he met architects and was hired as an assistant in several architecture and interior design offices. Most NYC architects are trained in theory but not in practice so Poindexter exploited his knowledge as a builder. He became a project architect for 10 years and qualified for licensure in New York. The pull of Nashville and Radnor must have been strong for he moved back to his hometown in 1996 and worked as an architectural project manager for several companies until the economic collapse affected his architectural career in 2009.
The year 2012 was a turning point for Poindexter; thankfully for the art world, he began painting again. This time he was inspired to paint landscapes after seeing the work of fellow artists, Kevin Menck and Jason Saunders. In his words, “I am inspired by their landscape paintings because they have what I consider the salient qualifiers of art—composed of permanent materials, possess a mastery of form and meaningful content, and has an obvious relationship to art history.”
He finds landscape painting the most enjoyable because successes in that genre are hard fought but yet so proudly won when they are achieved. His early love of Radnor is being recaptured in his recent paintings at “his” favorite park.
Poindexter is very honest about his painting techniques. “I work from photo references a lot and I’m not ashamed to admit it,” he says. “To me it is just another method of recording what I see as a reference to what the final painting will look like. I don’t copy photographs nor paint photo-realistically. I’ve studied principles of composition and believe that a good painting starts with two or three simple shapes of contrasting value. I always look for that first.”
This artist understands well the challenges of plein air painting. “Absolute fidelity to the scene is impossible because of the passage of time. You can match just right that hue of a patch of sunlight, but it is gone from the scene instantly. Painting landscape from life is like a slow motion transformation of the scene in time. The result is not a copy of nature but rather more a feeling of what it was like to be there at that time.”
As do many contemporary landscape painters, Poindexter has an affinity for the historical impressionist painters. In his case, he looks to the American Impressionists and considers his work distinctly American. “The American Impressionists were known for their representation of a ‘place’ in time. I want my paintings of Radnor Lake to be the spark that ignites the memory of that place, at that time. When that happens, I know that I have won the battle.”
To learn more about Michael Poindexter and his work, you may check out his page at chestnutgroup.org/members/michael-poindexter and facebook.com/MichaelPoindexterFineArt. He is also on LinkedIn.com. You may also find his work at the various Chestnut Group shows, especially the Friends of Radnor Lake Show, Walter Criley Visitor Center, 1160 Otter Creek Road, Nashville, TN, November 6-8, 2015, and other local art shows including St. Matthew Church and School, Franklin, TN, November 14-15, 2015 and the Martin Masters Art Show, Brentwood, TN, November 13-14, 2015.
Time for an exciting change of pace! Chestnuts are painting on the grounds of the Frist, and other downtown locations, in preparation for Nashville Open Air! This art show will take place May 31-June 1, to benefit our new partner, Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Please enjoy the photos of our artists painting the city. For more info:
Chestnut Group members have been out painting through the seasons in preparation for our upcoming show with the Friends of Warner Parks. The Warner Parks are such a beautiful asset to our city, and you didn’t have the ask the group twice to get out and tackle it on canvas! The show sill surely be a feast for the eyes, full of beautiful vistas, quiet walking paths, windy roads, and interesting old structures that create the breadth of the Parks. If you haven’t explored them, you should go give it a try!
The show will be at the Warner Parks Nature Center, 7311 Hwy 100, Nashville, TN
March 8-10, 2013
Friday and Saturday 9am-5pm