Alane Hartley and Russell Braen, owners of Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton, Massachusetts, harmoniously blend into a single vision — their commitment to land conservation, sustainable farming, culture and community. While September through October are peak months for visitors of all ages to come to the 127-acre pick-your-own orchard, there also is the added treat of seeing the Art in the Orchard biennial (AIO 2019), which continues through November 24. There is no admission fee to enjoy this exhibition. The orchard has lots of picnic tables throughout its property to sit, take a break, relax, eat and perhaps discuss the art around you with friends and family.
The rolling orchard landscape has exquisite views of Mount Tom from its Pioneer Valley location, precursor to the Berkshires for those traveling from the east. The town’s large network of mills almost rivals the scale of the Sprague Electric complex that is now Mass MoCA in North Adams. Easthampton mills once fabricated buttons, tools and elastic thread. Now, that industrial space has been repurposed into working lofts for artists and related creative businesses.
Easthampton’s eclectic, artistic energy and identity are among the qualities that first attracted Hartley and Braen as they looked around the country for land to steward. During that process, they considered local food economy and environment before deciding upon what part of the country to call home. Because culture was something they wanted to integrate into their plan from the beginning, the Art in the Orchard biennial became a cornerstone of their stewardship concept.
Biennial trail guides help visitors find their way around AIO 2019. The maps are user friendly and free at the entrance to the Park Hill Orchard farm stand, which is visible from the road. This year’s trail guide and catalogue make it easy to find the biennial’s 30 sculptures situated throughout the orchard landscape. The juried selections were chosen from over 100 applicants quite a change from AIO’s first biennial when there were 12 applicants and 12 accepted artists. Word-of-mouth and calls for entries have increased the applicant number for each subsequent biennial. Along with sculptors from the Easthampton region and other parts of Massachusetts, there are artists included from Connecticut, New York State, New Hampshire and Maine. The 30 participating artists were given $500 honorariums to be used without restriction. It should be mentioned that donations to Art in the Orchard subsidize the artist honorariums and demonstrate community support for AIO biennials to continue.
Each sculpture in this year’s exhibition is pictured in the show catalogue with corresponding numbers to those found in the trail guide. This makes it easy to cross reference information about the artworks and artists. The catalogue lists sculpture titles, artist names, materials and prices when applicable, as well as this year’s jurors, special events, community partners and the types of apples grown that are ready to be picked at the time of your visit. Participating in apple picking and viewing outdoor sculpture on a beautiful autumn day makes for a great weekend experience.
Biennials reflect a cultural moment and convey new currents in art making. Each of the five biennials at Art in the Orchard has had a different tone. Hartley mentioned in our conversation that this year she saw more whimsy in the included sculptures compared to the last two biennials. “A Field of Hearts” by New England Mosaic Society (NEMS) covers a lot of ground in the orchard landscape and is an installation reminiscent of Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Nanas,” both in material and emotive sentimentality. Tim De Christopher’s carved stone “Bird, Bird,” located nearby, connects similarly. These sculptures play well against each other.
Across the road that bisects the orchard, Philip Marshall’s colorful mutant-like “Dream Pod” and “Fruit of Fancy” pieces are suspended from the branches of apple trees. They humorously engage fantasy like an animation in 3D. Nearby, “The Wayward Flock” by Bernard Zubrowski, made of shimmering aluminum, suggests Alexander Calder’s mobile sensibility as well as the kinetics of Jean Tinguely.
Weathervanes by Chris Woodman have made it into all five AIO biennials. “Chronos,” an airplane design, is his accepted entry this time around and one of only two sculptures in the show with a sound component. Attached to its main propeller are small spinners that act as sound makers.
A number of abstract metal sculptures in the biennial have a freshness of color and convey linear lyricism. Particularly interesting is the welded green painted steel “Lookout” by Walter Early and the equally strong bright red painted steel “Wheel Wall” by Matt Evald Johnson. These have a wonderful sense of movement in the landscape. Chris Plaisted’s monumental “Anabasis” is made of unpainted steel and explores opposing tensions in form and line. A smaller sculpture, “Weld-on, Kings of Tomorrow” by Kamil Peter, is a much smaller metal composition, a portrait that expresses a lovely linear quality.
Pasquelina Azzarello, whom I met at the orchard, has made “Local Lullaby,” a grid of paintings on cloth diapers that the artist has hung in multitiered fashion. At the diaper corners, small weights are attached to prevent the cloth from flapping excessively in the breeze. Azzarello explained that each time a baby is born at a nearby hospital, the speakers in her installation activate by computer to play an original lullaby written and composed by Marco Rosano.
Azzarello’s installation is about new life, but across the road, Michael Poole’s “Gun Violence Project” sculpture represents the 14,730 lives lost in the United States due to gun violence in 2018. “Persephone’s Dream: A Prayer for Peace” by Valerie Gilman, which is located in another section of the orchard, is an elegant figurative bronze that offers a conceptual counterpoint to Poole’s statement.
I spoke with Stan Stroh the day that he finishing working on “Desire 2,” which he made from saplings, straw, branches and netting. His vessel-like sculptures have the appearance of human weight. Hartley noted that there is an increased use of fiber as well as natural materials in this year’s entries. “The Reach Field Tree Project” by Binda Colebrook and “Abundance” by Pamela Matsuda-Dunn are examples of this trend, reflecting relationship to Orly Genger’s fiber wrap aesthetic.
“Tree of Life” by Ted Hinman depicts a baobab tree. Elephants like eating baobab bark, so it is fitting for Lindsey Molyneux’s “The Elephant’s Child” to be sited in close proximity. The life-size elephant and her calf are made of reclaimed driftwood that beautifully articulates bones and musculature interplaying with the soft gray color of the wood to suggest elephant skin. There is a great sense of movement as the two elephants seem to walk forward.
Figuration included in AIO 2019 connects with outsider art. “D’Arbus the Radiolarian” by Mark Fenwick, Michael Tillyer’s “Maureen” and the “Three (dis) Graces” by Elizabeth Stone and Eva Fierst are all related examples. Performative in nature, they may perhaps be incorporated into theatrical moments ahead. For a list of performances scheduled to correspond with this year’s show, visit the Art in the Orchard website at parkhillorchard.com.
Russell Braen, Alane Hartley, the AIO 2019 jurors, volunteers, sponsors, farmhands and Mother Nature all need to be thanked for this worthwhile show experience. It can be visited in the person, or virtually by using the Otocast App, which gives AIO 2019 a global reach. The Otocast App also enhances the trail experience for visitors by allowing them to hear Art in the Orchard artists talk about their work.