Nature never sleeps. Even on a quiet winter night stars twinkle, streams ripple, winds sigh, pines rustle and snow falls.
Winter days are no less lively as seen in “Winter Wonderland: Beauty Revealed,” a charming show of intimate paintings on view through March 31 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska.
Ranging from postcard scale up to 3 feet wide, the 42 paintings are an inviting introduction to a variety of techniques and media — oil paint, watercolor, gouache — by five accomplished Minnesota artists: Andy Evansen of Hastings, Tom Foty of Minnetonka, Charlotte Laxen of Winsted, Neil Sherman of Grand Marais and Kathryn Mussack of the Twin Cities.
All of their subjects are familiar and easy on the psyche, pleasant vistas of snowy meadows or marshes, woodland paths, barnyards, fog-shrouded fields, abandoned buildings, small town vistas, birds, grasses. Like 19th-century Impressionist painters, the artists mostly work outdoors in all weather, so their images are a record of ever-changing light on Midwestern buildings and landscapes, including vignettes from the arboretum itself.
Each has a distinctive style or subject. Internationally known watercolorist Evansen is a wizard in his challenging medium, applying a loose, almost calligraphic hand to impressions of snow-topped bales and sheds in a barnyard illuminated by wintry sunlight; muting the stubble of a befogged field with moody evening shadows; catching the neighborly welcome of small-town restaurants before a “Friday Night Fish Fry,” and sparking a morning “View to the Bridge” with two eye-catching red arches.
Foty, an illustrator by profession and painter by training, obviously loves putting brush to canvas outdoors. His subjects range from a huge train barreling through an intersection to a flock of wild turkeys feeding at the edge of a Cargill pine woods and Minnehaha Creek undulating through a snow-drifted marsh. His most arresting picture, “Deep Snow,” depicts a house apparently buried up to its eaves in snow. The building’s bronze roof angles above a narrow band of yellow walls nearly engulfed by blue-and-lilac shadowed snow. The picture’s striking design, vivid colors and claustrophobic concept bear favorable comparison to the lonely pictures of the late Edward Hopper.
Sherman romances Minnesota’s northern woods and lakes in keenly observed paintings of “Morning Sauna” smoke rising from a log cabin nestled between a snowy field and a conifer forest; a colorful tepee improbably planted on a frozen lake; a dog sled heading home, and the craggy bluffs and abandoned cabins that punctuate the frozen landscape.
Mussack, a frequent arboretum visitor, offers affectionate images of snow-drifted paths in the woods, sun flares through the trees, and a colorful flock of cardinals feeding on the restaurant’s terrace.
Laxen also finds inspiration at the arboretum, whose grasses and trees she renders as abstract gestures springing from fields of white. In “Winter Jewelry,” she effectively enlarges a branch of frozen berries whose moist skins soften in anticipation of spring. With their non-naturalistic colors, her blue trees, yellow ground and red branches nicely inject contemporary design into this fine display of mostly traditional art.
Nature and art
The exhibition is part of the arboretum’s effort to revamp and strengthen its long-running art program. To entice more of its 400,000 annual visitors to engage with art, it is sponsoring a free meet-the-artists event from 1 to 4 p.m. Jan. 23.
It also has, through April 3, a display of close-up images of arboretum plants and flowers taken by members of the Arboretum Photographers Society, an informal group of amateur and professional artists who are holding drop-in photo clinics every Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. throughout the exhibition.
“We really want this to be a place people think of when they want to go to see nature-inspired art,” said Wendy DePaolis, the arboretum’s new art curator.
Since joining the staff in November, DePaolis has donned snowshoes to lead tours of the Arb’s popular sculpture garden. The 3-acre Harrison Sculpture Garden, which is a brisk 20-minute walk from the art gallery in the visitors center, is a permanent installation of 25 pieces by an international coterie of important 20th-century abstract and representational sculptors including Mimmo Paladino (Italy), Barbara Hepworth (Britain), Antoine Poncet (France), Rudolf Belling (Germany), Alicia Penalba (Argentina) and George Rickey and Paul Granlund (United States).