‘The Hidden Gem’ in the Orchard: Easthampton exhibit focuses on two artists

  •  “Sheena, and the Fight Over the Last Fish” by Mark Fenwick. Photo by Steve Pfarrer

  • Detail of “Climbing Sustentaculum” by Mark Fenwick, which depicts the proverbial “race to the top” as a race to nowhere. Photo by Steve Pfarrer

  • “Time Machine” by Mark Fenwick Photo by Steve Pfarrer

  • “Rise & Shine” by Chris Woodman, a steel and metal piece inspired by the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE PFARRER

  • “Now Here — Through the Looking Glass Ladder,” by Eileen Jager, with mirrors, wood and paint, reprised from a former show. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE PFARRER

  • “Chimes,” by Matt Johnson, made of forged and fabricated steel, is one of a handful of works from past “Art in the Orchard” exhibits that’s part of this year’s “Invitational” show. Photo by Steve Pfarrer

  • “Pomona in Harvest Home” by Mark Fenwick Photo by Steve Pfarrer

  • “Warlord” by Mark Fenwick, a meditation on how orderly stacks of cannonballs shield the reality of war’s disorder and horror.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • “Neptaur, or Babe the Blue Ox” is Mark Fenwick’s variation on the companion to the American folklore figure Paul Bunyan. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • “Girl in a Winter Setting” by Mark Fenwick at the current Art in the Orchard exhibit in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Wood sculptures by Vermont artist Mark Fenwick are a key feature of a new outdoor exhibit at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Wood sculptures by Vermont artist Mark Fenwick are a key feature of a new outdoor exhibit at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS


Staff Writer
Monday, September 12, 2022

Consider the pleasing symmetry of a stack of old cannonballs, the kind you see at Civil War battlefield parks and other historic settings. Wood sculptor Mark Fenwick relates that when he was growing up, and would “romp through the ruins of antebellum warfare,” he found the “orderly stacks of cannonballs satisfying to the eye.”

But in notes he provides for an exhibit of his art in Easthampton, Fenwick says his piece “Warlord” — a pyramidal stack of large, black wooden balls, the top one carved with a crude face — was inspired by learning when he was older that “war was not so orderly, nor satisfying to the eye.”

Work by Fenwick, who lives outside Brattleboro, Vermont, is at the center of a new outdoor show at Park Hill Orchard, site of the biennial Art in the Orchard exhibit. For that showing, a jury selects pieces from about two dozen artists every other year, with the artwork then displayed from late summer through Thanksgiving amid the orchard’s trees and fields.

In some recent “off years,” organizers have begun hosting the Art in the Orchard Invitational, which is focused on the work of two chosen artists and thematically titled; some selected pieces from past biennial shows are also brought back for the Invitational, which like the biennial exhibit runs through Thanksgiving.

The 2022 show, called “The Hidden Gem,” is dedicated in part to work by Fenwick, who’s previously exhibited at Art in the Orchard. It’s a good choice: Fenwick’s wood sculptures blend humor, a theatrical sensibility, and intricate craftsmanship and presentation. He’s prolific as well, with a career that stretches back to the 1970s, when he designed sets for outdoor theater productions in Vermont.

Work by Springfield artist Gerald Clark, whose medium is stone, is also featured, but in a different way: He’ll be constructing an elaborate labyrinth of stone and flora on site over the next several weeks.

“We’re calling the show ‘The Hidden Gem’ because both these artists are really brilliant but not that well known,” said Russell Braen, a co-owner of Park Hill Orchard and a key organizer of this year’s installation. “We’ve worked with them for several years now, and we want to give them some more exposure.”

On his website, Fenwick writes that his general artistic approach hasn’t changed much over the years: “I do as I did when I was ten. I go into the woods, find a stick … though now a log ... and take it home to carve.”

Visitors to Art in the Orchard typically can follow a loosely defined trail that begins in a field on the east side of Park Hill Road, and Fenwick grabs your attention at the beginning of this walk with “Corn City,” a colorful — yellow, green and blue — mix of corn-shaped columns, like skyscrapers, that emerge from or are mounted on blocks of wood.

It’s a “Fenwick folly,” as the artist describes it, a commentary on the pervasiveness of genetically modified crops in a food supply dominated by corporate agriculture — here a symbolic city made of genetically modified corn, or a “corny rendition of big agriculture,” Fenwick writes.

Nearby is another sculpture offering a sardonic view of modern life. “Climbing Sustentaculum,” made of wood and burnt wood with painted coatings, depicts dozens of small humanoid figures climbing a tower — and sometimes climbing over each other — in a race to the top.

The top of what? Good question, Fenwick says. He sees the piece as “a monument — nay, a protest against! — relentless capitalism as the defining spirit of the Anthropocene … in the climb to the top … there is no place further to go and no return.”

Then there’s “Neptaur, or Babe the Blue Ox,” in which the artist mixes two legends: the giant ox that was a companion to Paul Bunyan, the mighty lumberjack of American folklore, and ancient Greek myths about sea-bulls.

Neptaur, a name Fenwick coined by combining the root word of “Neptune” and “Taurus,” is quite the delight, a goofy blue figure with the head and curved horns of an ox and the tail of a mermaid. He stands upright — on his tail, actually — gesturing with one “hand” and using the other to support a small angelic figure to his left.

It will be up to viewers to make what they will of other Fenwick works such as “Sheena, and the Fight Over the Last Fish,” a busy, vibrant tableau built around a sort of warrior woman framed in a doorway, standing above a huge fish; Sheena holds a long spoon in one hand and a pistol in the other.

Along with Fenwick’s work, Art in the Orchard 2022 includes “Rise & Shine” by Easthampton artist Chris Woodman, a giant steel and metal flower with an eyeball in the middle of the blossom and lots of kinetic energy.

It’s a pandemic-inspired piece, the artist writes in exhibit notes, one that touches especially on the “unrelenting feeling of dormancy” COVID-19 engendered; the sense of waiting for a return to normalcy and an end to isolation.

Other older pieces include Eileen Jager’s “Now Here — Through the Looking Glass Ladder,” a ladder made from mirrors, wood and paint that stands up amid the leaves of a tree, much as a wooden one would be used by someone harvesting fruit in an orchard.

Art in the Orchard 2022 can be seen through Thanksgiving weekend. Signage is still being added in anticipation of the heavy visitation these exhibits typically begin experiencing by mid-September, Braen says.

More information on the show and on Park Hill Orchard can be found at parkhillorchard.com/art.