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Art in ‘The Valley’: Artists find a home — and a place to paint — in Keene Valley

October 28, 2010
ERIC VOORHIS, News Staff Writer
KEENE VALLEY — Ed “Bear” Miller came to Keene Valley over Columbus Day weekend to paint: “I like to try and get a week or two in October of solitary, monastic painting time in the fall,” he wrote in a recent entry on his blog, Bear’s Reflecting Pool.

In a phone interview Tuesday, he said it was well worth the trip.

“I worked on a few paintings and I’m pretty happy with the way they’re turning out,” he said.

Parts of the week was spent painting on trails and small peaks in the area.

“Carrying my gear around comes with a risk, but it’s usually worth it, no matter what,” he said. “Painting in nature is sort of a Zen discipline — it reflects the moment. I love going back to the same spot a few times to see how the light and wind play differently into the canvas.”

Miller calls home Washington D.C., but said Keene Valley has always been his favorite place to be. He started coming up from the time he was born with deep family roots in the area.

“My grandmother was very much into the painting scene,” Miller said.

In the long-lasting tradition of landscape painters dating back to the mid-1800s, Miller visits Keene Valley a few times a year to paint, and reflect on the beauty of the Adirondacks.

He said he connects with the tradition of the area, especially with the work of Harold Weston (1894-1972) — an influential American modernist painter and landscape artist who spent much of his life painting in Keene Valley.

“I definitely admire that tradition,” Miller added. “Looking at the primal forces of the mountains, stones, the passing weather.”

Artists come, and stay

Artists were among the first outsiders to “discover” Keene Valley as early as the 1840s and ‘50s, writes Robin Pell in “Two Adirondack Hamlets in History: Keene and Keene Valley.” Most came with the passing of the Civil War, along with a circle of East Coast intellectuals and leading philosophers of the day. “It was this critical mixture of artists and intellectuals that would shape the course of the valley in the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century,” Pell writes.

In many ways the long tradition of painters visiting Keene Valley from far and wide, while resident artists continue to fill canvases with visions of the High Peaks, has never ended.

“I think people are drawn here because of of the rootsy-ness of the area,” Miller said. “There is a well established tradition of oil painting, and so many characters in the valley ... people who appreciate the elements and how they combine during different times of the year.”

Miller rattled off a number of painters in the area who continued the traditions of painters like Harold Weston including Frank Owen, Paul Matthews, Vry Corscaden, and Linda Fisher, artists who drew from famous area painters such as John Marin, Rockwell Kent and George Luks.

Through the 19th century these artists painted in Lake George, Lake Placid, Elizabethtown and Schroon Lake, but why did Keene Valley become such a permanent colony for artists?

“It has all the elements dear to painters,” writes Pell. “A beautiful valley flanked by dramatic mountains, with a tranquil river and farms meandering down (its center).”

Bill Evans, a painter living in Jay, said he started doing Adirondack paintings in the 1980s and “more seriously” in the ‘90s. Although he thinks the old tradition often goes unnoticed Evans said the link is there.

One day he brought a canvas down to Gill Brook, a tributary of the AuSable River, and worked on an oil painting. He later realized, while flipping through an art book that the famous artist Alexander Lawrie — whose most famous landscape is called: “A Valley in the Adirondacks” — had painted the same exact scene more than a century before.

“I think there’s a lot of that that goes on,” Evans said. “The trees grow up but some things stay the same.”

A meeting place

A small barn, tucked off state Route 73 one and a half miles south of Keene Valley may be the closest center of the painting culture in the hamlet — The Corscaden Barn.

First opened in 1971 by the well-known painter Vry Corscaden the art gallery is now operated by her sister Martha Corscaden.

“When my sister passed away six years ago there was a big reaction from the community. People didn’t want to see this place go,” Corscaden said. “And it seemed like something I could do, so I renovated it.”

Through most of the summer the barn showed an art exhibit called “Landscape Paintings Near and Far” and although the gallery is now closed for the season, the show was a meeting place for artists such as Robert Stark, Stephanie DeManuelle, Michael Gaudreau, Edward ‘Bear’ Miller.

“A lot of artists ask if they can come here, which is incredibly flattering,” Corscaden said. “I think people are drawn to the art barn because there’s a simplicity to it, tucked back in the woods. It’s relaxing.”

Along with the Corscaden Barn, other galleries and organizations in the area such as High Peaks Artists, founded in 1955, help to carry the tradition of painters who started spending summers in the Valley long ago.

The following is a portion of an email sent by Baltimore-based artist Michael Gaudreau to Corscaden after her most recent show. It perfectly illustrates the strength of the community, the deep and long lasting effect the Adirondacks and the High Peaks of Keene Valley can have on an painter:

“The show you put together (was) not a room of separate artists doing their own thing. It seemed like a unified installation of a much deeper exploration of what the Adirondacks is to the people who encounter this part of the world. ... You put together a show that goes right to the essence of the stunningly beautiful, hard, sometimes dark, spiritually nourishing, and always changing landscape of the Adirondacks.”

Article Photos

Artist Ed “Bear” Miller works on a painting mountainside, during a recent trip to Keene Valley. Miller is one of many artists who continue to visit the region to paint, a tradition dating back to the 19th century.

Photo provided



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