Review: Art in the Orchard is a Museum that Breathes

Easthampton artist Eileen Jager installs her piece, Through the Looking Glass at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton on Wednesday, August 2, 2017, for the biennial Art In the Orchard show which opens Saturday, August 12.
Easthampton artist Eileen Jager installs her piece, Through the Looking Glass at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton on Wednesday, August 2, 2017, for the biennial Art In the Orchard show which opens Saturday, August 12.
A2 by Chris Woodman is part of the biennial Art  In the Orchard show which opens Saturday, August 12, at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.
A2 by Chris Woodman is part of the biennial Art In the Orchard show which opens Saturday, August 12, at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.
A2 by Chris Woodman is part of the biennial Art  In the Orchard show which opens Saturday, August 12, at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.
A2 by Chris Woodman is part of the biennial Art In the Orchard show which opens Saturday, August 12, at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.

Captivating. Whimsical. An idea at once exotic and comforting. Art in the Orchard is a curatorial triumph striking a perfect balance between art and nature.

A2 by Chris Woodman is part of the biennial Art  In the Orchard show which opens Saturday, August 12, at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.

A2 by Chris Woodman is part of the biennial Art In the Orchard show at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton. Kevin Gutting photo

This was my first visit to Art in the Orchard, which has been hosted by Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton in odd number years since 2011. An orchard, where you go to pick fruit from the tree, seems the perfect locale for an art exhibition. Rather than being stuffed into the rigid and confined world of a museum, the pieces of Art in the Orchard seem to breathe with the breeze and burst with life in their lush surroundings as you walk the half-mile circuit. One of the pieces — Bumble Bee/Barn by the students at Four Rivers charter school in Greenfield — even supports life, providing a place for bees to live and help pollinate the orchard.

When my wife and I showed up the weekend the show opened, a group of plein air artists were painting the mountain scenery surrounding the orchard — new art is apparently being made in the orchard all the time. At each turn we were greeted by something new: a unicorn, giant bugs, a rocket woman blasting off at an absurd angle, and other feats of engineering and design that delighted.

Each of the 30 pieces sprinkled throughout the orchard has arresting and beautiful qualities, but I found that my favorites were the ones that also surprised.

Piper Foreso makes a trenchant statement with Easthampton’s Big Beautiful Wall, which consists of fluorescent acrylic slabs with people-shaped holes. That image in itself screams against the inhumanity of Donald Trump’s calls to build his wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but the genius of the piece is that those people-shaped (and dog-shaped) cutouts that would fill the holes are presented nearby, walking among the orchard. They supply the humanity the wall lacks.

Wind Field, by Bruce Hooke, comes at you unexpectedly, a hidden array of wind socks only visible when you approach a ridge on the orchard trail. Sadly, the day we observed them was still, but it was easy to imagine the piece fluttering and dancing.

Easthampton artist Eileen Jager installs her piece, Through the Looking Glass at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton on Wednesday, August 2, 2017, for the biennial Art In the Orchard show which opens Saturday, August 12.

Easthampton artist Eileen Jager installs her piece, Through the Looking Glass at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton on Wednesday, August 2, 2017. Kevin Gutting photo.

Eileen Jager played with perspectives in her piece Through The Looking Glass. When approached the first time, mirrors incompletely filling suspended squares reflect the viewer while also revealing what lies beyond. As you move on to other pieces, a look back reveals the rainbow-colored backside of the piece, an unseen perspective lurking out of sight the whole time.

The interactivity of TRANSMISSION: FREE SPEECH MEMORIAL, which consists of metallic megaphones, was a fun way to shout across the fields, and I loved the color of Laurie Frazer’s mosaic Shelter.

My two favorite pieces were Refugees, by Michael Melle, and Our Tribe, by Michael Poole. The first piece looks like a crowd of people walking along in the orchard ahead of you. You can see their backs. It is only when you overtake them you see they are made of wood, burlap, and wire. Fragile, yet determined, these ghostly figures are on the move to something better, and you really hope they get there. Our Tribe is about those closer to home — people you might recognize in your community, reduced to steel and copper stick figures. Wearing political slogans and wielding funky instruments, these musicians, activists, and families are definitely unmistakable creatures of the Valley.

The one piece that mars the orchard jaunt is called Sheena: At the fight over the last fish by Mark Fenwick. The colorful wood-carved piece depicts a female character with a gratuitous “camel toe,” undercutting what would have been an excellent piece depicting a strong female character. Instead, the result is one of leering lewdness. Fenwick would have done better to take a cue from Chris Woodman, whose orchard piece, A2, is a superheroic woman encased in metal as she blasts off of the ground. It is dedicated to the artist’s mother.

Since that first viewing, I’ve been back to the orchard for the Pioneer Valley Ballet, and hope to return again for the surrealist Royal Frog Ballet performance. Without a doubt, Park Hill Orchard is a haven for artistic expression and an important Valley institution. They also sell great fudge!

Art in the Orchard. Through Nov. 26. Park Hill Orchard 82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton. Suggested donation $5. http://www.parkhillorchard.com.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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