For the past year or so, the Deerfield Valley Art Association has had a gallery and gift shop at 105 Main Street in Northfield.
Particularly at this time of year, downtown Northfield may offer more to those driving through than those who actually stop and walk around. Northfield Creamie isn’t serving ice cream yet. Highland BBQ remains closed for the season. And the old churches and historic buildings seem made for driving by as you pass from point A to point B.
And yet, there is a Northfield oasis for art lovers in the form of the Deerfield Valley Art Association gallery and gift shop. Established last year, the gallery is open Fridays through Sundays, and holds exhibitions featuring local artists as well as events.
Currently on display is an exhibition called “From Fields to Table,” a celebration of farms and foods that features many Franklin County artists as well as some further afield. It runs through the end of this month with a celebration of National Farm Workers day on March 31 with the Farley String Band, based in Franklin County, playing farm songs.
Franklin County is a wealth of many types of homegrown items. Food is one. Art is another. The “From Fields to Table” exhibition is a perfect representation of both. Arranged around the space with artists’ works mixed together, one sees the wide variety of how these artists see the farms that surround them.
The first painting that arrested my attention was Cosmic Chicken #4 by Patricia Little of Leverett. A whimsical representation of a chicken, all legs, head and tail feathers, fills the frame. It looks large and out of scale, as if ready to trample the small silos and farm buildings in the background.
Almost right next to that is another painting of birds called “Landing at Salt Water Farm,” by Eva Leong. In this painting, whimsy has been replaced by a mystical beauty. Pinks, purples, and light blues, reflected from a shimmering sky, find their way on the feathers of birds flying over an orchard. It’s almost too perfect that the farm is located in Mystic, Connecticut.
Food and animals abound in the artwork, along with the rustic buildings we all think of and find comfort in when thinking about farm life — even those of us who have had fleeting, tenuous connections to farms in general.
From Kimberley Sebreg’s tiny oil paintings of pumpkins and pears to a basket of “apples” actually made of gourd vegetables along with ink, paste, and wax by Linda Keech of Gill, many of the pieces pay homage to the beauty of fruits and vegetables. Like the farms they represent, one can easily see the utility of some of these pieces, even though they are made to specifically be pieces of art. One can imagine many of them hanging in the kitchen as ingredient inspirations, or fun reminders that, yes, you should eat your vegetables.
A love of animals comes through for many of the artists, as with Northfield artist Kimiko Donohoe’s “Jorge Donkey.” The animal is leaning into the painting, as if ready to give the viewer a kiss. The close up nostrils, eyes, and whiskers — which appear a bit close for comfort — display the intimacy we have for animals. In the donkey’s tender eyes, we see a loving gaze.
Similarly, a playful connection exists between a dog and a sheep in Shutesbury artist Edith Hunsberger’s “Working Dog.” It is work on the farm, but these different species get along and coexist together.
Jenny Tibbetts of Northfield captures the beauty and simplicity of a man working on a tractor with golden trees and rolling hills behind him in “A Farmer’s Life.” The impressionist style of Joan Morawski of Turners Falls comes through in “Farm-Ashfield” and “Clarkdale.” These elevate these Franklin County farms to feel as if they were subject of great French works.
And then there is the rugged grace of Leverett artist Bill Rathbun’s work. He has multiple pieces of paint on cardboard in his “Barns Fall Down” series. As the name suggests, the series evokes the temporary nature even of great structures — and the sights we’ve all seen of this indication of the change in our New England lifestyles. Barns fall down as the world goes on.
The pieces are mostly black and white, with small splashes of color. A couple of spots of red give the idea of birds in tree branches in one while ragged white and black give an idea of faded history of the majority of the image. The cardboard back further illustrates the disposable nature of these bygone buildings.
From Fields To Table, Deerfield Valley Art Association, 105 Main Street, Northfield. Fridays-Sundays through Mar. 31. Info at www.deerfieldvalleyart.org.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.