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'We, the Artists' opens Aug. 29 in Montpelier's Grand Salon
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'We, the Artists' opens Aug. 29 in Montpelier's Grand Salon

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A local artists group last summer made weekly treks to James Madison’s Montpelier to find inspiration, resulting in this weekend’s opening of “We, the Artists” in the Grand Salon at the Visitor’s Center on the presidential estate in Orange County.

Firnew Farm Artists Circle founder Trish Crowe, of Madison County, said having the opportunity to create on the grounds of Montpelier allowed artists the “chance to paint, photograph and explore and reflect on what it means to be an American, as well as an artist.”

Additionally, a spring show in the Baker Fine Arts Gallery at Woodberry Forest School “challenged us to consider the new normal and we embraced ‘Into the Light’ in that spirit,” she added. Another show opens Sept. 4.

The artistic endeavors came at the right time.

It has been a tough 18 months as the world faced the global coronavirus pandemic, natural disasters, political unrest and perpetual news of violence in the world.

During these trying times it can be difficult to see beauty in the world, but Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle members have created more than 100 pieces they’re going to showcase in two upcoming fall shows—a first for the group.

Crow created the Circle—named for her Hood farm just on the other side of the Conway River from Greene in Madison—almost two decades ago. She developed the group to give artists a place to create and support one another.

Last summer, artists were given the chance for outdoor creative time at Montpelier. And, the group was able to hold its usual spring show at Woodberry Forest in Madison County, but only virtually due to COVID-19.

Crowe can hardly contain her excitement about returning to in-person shows.

“We didn’t lose any artists,” she said. “I’m so excited and really happy about that. I think it was a combination of meeting at Montpelier and weekly critiques by Zoom. It was amazing.”

Deb Erickson said the Facebook online critiques also helped, but she didn’t believe Zoom would work with the group.

“I was dead wrong,” Erickson said. “And I think because people (couldn’t be together) and were lonely.”

This is the ninth year the group has held a show at Woodberry—and this year it’s two.

“I think that gives us a kind of credibility,” Crowe said. “What I realize is part of the story about the group, is how many years it’s been together. Our artists really did serious soul searching and found the art as almost a refuge and then we need one another for support.”

Erickson said she believes a lot of that success lies with Crowe.

“It’s a real testament, I think, to Trish’s vision,” she said. “A real testament about how much you care about the artists’ circle and the encouragement—not only from Trish, but from other artists. It’s amazing. I feel fortunate to be part of this group.”

Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle artists work in varied media, and settings.

“We, the Artists”

The Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle artists spent months working outdoors on the expansive grounds of Montpelier to craft pieces that can offer a different perspective from what is commonly known about the historic site.

The “We, the Artists” show will be on display from this Sunday, Aug. 29-Sept. 30 in the Grand Salon in the Montpelier Visitors Center.

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From 4-7 p.m. on Sunday, the public is invited to a public reception where, at 5:30 p.m., the artists will be introduced and available to talk about their work. Admission is free.

When the pandemic arrived in full in March 2020, prohibiting the artists from working together in the Firnew Studio, Roy Young, president of James Madison’s Montpelier invited artists to create plein air (out-of-doors).

“Typical of this group, they did not limit themselves to plein air,” Crowe said in a press release. “The photographers turned to tintypes, assemblages and the mixed media artists turned to weavings and basketry. Here they confronted not only a new landscape, but the real story of Montpelier. They faced the restored home of James Madison behind the reassembled homes of the enslaved persons.”

Chee Kludt Ricketts, of Greene County, the featured artist reflected on her experience creating at Montpelier: “My collection of acrylic paintings was created almost exclusively on site on the grounds of Montpelier during the spring, summer and fall of 2020. I would set up my easel beneath one of the majestic English oaks on the grounds and as I painted, I would become enveloped in a sense of reverence for my surroundings.”

Photographer John Berry, of Madison County, created a tintype photograph “James and Dolley Madison at Montpelier.”

“The COVID pandemic and ensuring shutdown, along with the ‘stay home’ recommendations turned out to be a gift to me—the gift of time,” Berry said in the catalog.

Wet plate creates a light sensitive plate (glass or aluminum), exposes it in-camera and develops it immediately to create a photograph, he stated.

“With Montpelier’s long history, the 150-year-old wet plate process seemed a fitting medium to capture the landscape there,” Berry said.

Artist Sara Schneidman, who ran a gallery on Davis Street in Culpeper for years, created “Sensemaking,” a pencil on rice paper piece as part of the plen air experience.

“George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020,” Schneidman said in the catalog. “On June 4, 2020 the Firnew Farm Artists’ Circle began meeting at Montpelier.

“I drove down from Rappahannock watching the seasons unfold and listening to podcasts about systemic racism and what it is to be Black. Arriving at Montpelier I am always struck by the dissonance of the beauty and the history of the place.

“The fact that enslaved people were being treated as less-than-human at the same time that their master was writing our Constitution is something I have been struggling to make sense of for all these many months.”


“Into the Light”

The group’s other upcoming exhibition will run from the end of August through the end of October in the Baker Fine Arts Gallery at Woodberry Forest. It will be open to the public 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, beginning Sept. 4.

Firnew Farm Artists’ will host its ninth annual reception 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3. All attending the reception must be vaccinated and wear a mask.

The name of the exhibition—“Into the Light”—was inspired from a piece by Firnew artist Pat Temples’ piece at Woodberry Forest called “Out of Darkness Into the Light.”

Crowe said it’s indicative of the country now—trying to come from the darkness (the pandemic) and into the light (normal life).

“Our artists have prepared and produced at least 100 pieces of art since last year that will be offered to the public and the work is so beautiful,” Crowe said.

Every one of the artists went deeper creatively than before, she said.

“The work is beautiful. It is provocative. It is thoughtful. It is also a testament of a group of artists coming into maturity in full blossom—textured, compelling and pushing their edge,” Crowe said.

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