Flat stepping stones hang in the air. A small boy sits in the shadow of vast objects above him. The image looks impossible, out of scale, and out of gravity. And then the perspective shifts into place, and the image is a reflection — the stones sit at the edge of the lake, and the vast shapes are seeds floating on the water.
Colin Hunt has shown his charcoal drawings from the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston to the Teckningmuseet in Sweden, The Brooklyn Museum and The National Academy of Design, and this fall they are hanging an old New England space, in rooms of wood and stone in the newly renovated Center House at the Berkshire Botanical Garden.
His reflections appear among 30 artists in Ecophilia, the garden’s newly opened fall show — works in oils, acrylic and pencil, gouache and photography, ceramic and stone.
“We need beautiful, peaceful things made lovingly,” said guest co-curator Sue Muskat Knoll, as she and Phil hung the show at the garden.
She feels the need especially now, when so many in this country are afraid, she said, and she has seen artists pressing on with a new spirit of protest. And she finds this theme timely, as people understand more and more clearly how many ways the land may be vulnerable.
“Nature balances us,” she said. “It’s an integral part of being human. It’s imperative that we are connected to nature. It’s imperative for our health. Now more than ever — we had the largest hurricane to hit Florida in (the state’s) 160 years of keeping records. This is not a hoax. It’s no joke.”
Love of country
Sue and her husband, Philip Knoll, have made the natural world the theme of this show and named it for a love of land, a love of home.
All of these artists have come to the Berkshires, and most have shown here before, Sue said, though many live in city environments day-to-day. The Knolls also live and work in the Berkshires, as artists and co-directors of the Geoffrey Young Gallery in Great Barrington, where at least four of the Ecophilia artists will also appear in their November show, Be Still Life.
They have often shown artists from New York, Sue said, and independently they also curate shows in the city; they have just opened a group show at the Platform Project Space in Brooklyn.
Here they have some emerging artists and some who show extensively, and some who have won international recognition. The botanical garden asked them to pattern the show on work that holds the land at its center, without people.
“I know so many great artists who work on the theme of nature,” Sue said. “I wish I could fit in three times as many in this space.”
Some of the artists they have gathered are local and regional, like Stephanie Anderson, who shades a shining surface of peonies and imaginary birds in graphite pencil. In color in another frame, a tortoise carries pitcher plants and shelf mushrooms, its own rich ecosystem of lichens and ferns and a sky-blue owl.
Maggie Mailer layers abstract landscapes in oils — sunlit, green and shaded, autumnal — with “a kind of patina, a translucence,” Sue said.
Mailer has had a firm place in the Berkshire art world since long before she founded the Storefront Artists Project in Pittsfield and helped to fuel the city’s revival, and she now lives in New York State.
City and country blossom
Nearby, flowers bloom in sunset light. Mike Glier, Professor of Art at Williams College, enlarges a luminous hydrangea, and Margot Glass’ dandelions hover in gold in the dark.
Andy Mister, an artist in Beacon N.Y., washes his canvas with color and sets petals in deep shade. Phil Knolls feels a tension, a slight edge in the a dappled light, as he looks steadily into it, pausing in his work.
Some of these artists not only live on the land but work on it. Stone sculptor Jon Piasecki is a landscape architect who builds what he designs, he says in the description of his company, the Golden Bough, in West Stockbridge, focusing on native planting and connections between people and the land.
Not all of these artists have stood on the earth or grubbed in the mud as often as a man who has spent days in the fields building a stone wall. Piasecki works with local stone in his art, Sue said. His Berkshire marble and schist share this quiet room with contained and sunlit still lifes and ceramic sculpted bananas, photographs of abandoned houses in the western desert and landscapes that have been flooded, cleared for building sites or painted with an abstract geometry, turning mountains as slick as monorails.
But artists here feel for the detail and texture of the land even in a sprawling city. Lucas Reiner in L.A. paints the portraits of urban trees.
Tara Tucker grew up in San Fransisco, Sue said, and her mother was a curator at the natural history museum. As a girl Tara would come with her mother to work, and while her mother worked she would draw. She lives in Berkeley, Calif., now, and still draws in pencil on paper, detailed twinings of plants and animals, a rabbit bearing a wild orchid with a bee climbing the stem.
Nichole van Beek dyes canvas in psychedelic color overlayed with images of sweet fern, as bright as Sabrina Marques’ Cuban scenes in shades of gold and fire-orange, deep purple and saltwater blue.
Marques lives in New Haven, Conn., and visited Cuba for the first time recently, but she grew up listening to family stories.
“She lives with Cuba in her mind,” Sue and Phil said — and she enjoys New England with energy. Last year Marques won her age group in the Gould Farm 5K in Monterey, lining up at the start with a friendly group of farm goats.
Close look …
What: Ecophilia group show in the Center House Gallery
Where: Berkshire Botanical Garden, Routes 102 and 183, Stockbridge
When: Through Nov. 21
Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays
Information: 413 320-4794, berkshirebotanical.org