The artwork has landed: Art in the Orchard returns to Easthampton for its seventh season

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 08-31-2023 5:17 PM

Along with its varieties of apples and other fruit, Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton now has some larger objects available, though just for viewing: artworks.

Art in the Orchard (AitO), the biennial exhibit of outdoor sculpture and installations, has returned for its seventh season at Park Hill, which first hosted the event in 2011 as something of an experiment: Put some art among the trees and fields and see what happens.

Since then, Art in the Orchard has become a fixture every two years on the Valley’s art calendar, bringing upward of 30,000 visitors to Park Hill, where they can wander a trail through the grounds to view a range of inventive installations: giant metal insects, mixed media pieces hanging from trees, wooden statues, stoneware, structures crafted from hay, and more.

This year, 32 sculptors, including a good number from out of state, are showing their work, which ranges from a giant “hornet’s nest” made from hay to a dog house that has wooden arms holding cymbals extending from the interior. Its title? “Ruff.”

“We’ve become a destination,” said Russell Braen, co-owner with his wife, Alane Hartley, of Park Hill Orchard. “We’re on the radar for visitors and for artists.”

Braen said July’s soaking rains saturated some parts of the orchard, especially toward the woods at the western edge of the property, making it inaccessible for a time to trucks and other heavy equipment bringing in a few of the larger pieces.

He noted that this year’s sculptures, on average, are a bit smaller than those in the past, though for no particular reason. “But it sure did help with the wet installation period. I don’t think we could have got heavy equipment on the grounds without leaving giant ruts.”

“We had the same problem in 2021, with all the rain we had that July,” added Braen, who with his wife has been a key organizer for AitO over the years along with others in town, including art gallery owner Jean-Pierre Pasche. “But we’ve gotten everything in now.”

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The exhibit will be in place until Thanksgiving weekend, and various special events are planned throughout its run.

One of the larger structures is titled “After the Fall,” a combined effort by metal sculptor Christopher Woodman of Easthampton (he calls himself a “junksmith” on his website) and Florence artist Dave Rothstein, whose work includes snow sculptures, photography, and more.

For “After the Fall,” Rothstein has crafted a giant hornet’s nest from hay and wire lacing; you can walk inside and sit on a hay bale and enjoy the shade. For his part, Woodman has added a giant metal hornet on top of the nest and a metal, hexagon-shaped frame on one end of the structure.

The piece marks Rothstein’s return to Art in the Orchard after he built a giant hay tower of owls — “Hoo Goes There?” — for the 2021 exhibit. Woodman has also previously exhibited at Park Hill.

Their co-creation, they say, is a juxtaposition of “the industrial with the natural” that celebrates “the continuum of nature — decay & transformation, construction & demise.”

Another returning AitO artist is Easthampton metal sculptor Matt Evald Johnson. He’s completed a piece he says he’s been working on for years: a giant globe forged from dozens and dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of old bicycle frames and other bike parts.

For what he calls “Cycle Circle,” Johnson says he slowly “rescued, foraged, and hoarded” old bicycles until he had just the right amount of parts, in different shapes and colors, to achieve a critical mass.

“(W)ith this sculpture,” he writes in exhibit notes, “I exercised a patience that has mostly not been a mode of operation for me as an artist.”

Insects at play

Humor has long been a key component of the works in Art in the Orchard. A newcomer this year, Kimberley MacDonald of Portland, Maine, has fashioned two large praying mantises made from copper, foam, cement, and mosaic glass.

MacDonald has positioned her giant insects on opposite sides of a “tetherball” — a metal pole with three half-globes of yellow, attached by wire to the pole, to imitate a ball in motion.

And, as the artist writes, why shouldn’t these creatures “take a break from hunting insects and protecting apples to play a quick game of tetherball?”

John Collins, a Ware sculptor, has found inspiration in the animal world as well, crafting a chubby ceramic beaver with metal coating that sits on a tree stump as it grooms itself, with its tail between its legs.

Collins says there are numerous beavers near where he lives, and when he noticed how they sit as they clean themselves, “I thought it was adorable and slightly hysterical.”

Hatfield artist Elizabeth Denny takes a page from Matt Johnson’s playbook: She’s welded and screwed together a mix of scrap wood and metal, some salvaged from Hatfield’s transfer station, to create what she calls “Miss Porters the Rolling Giraffe.”

That name? It’s a nod to a tony girls preparatory school in Connecticut that dates to 1843, says Denny. “I found a discarded sign for the prestigious girls’ school while mudlarking in the Mill River in Haydenville. It seemed right and she’s been called that ever since.”

A number of Greek gods, goddesses and myths get some exposure, too, in work by Vermont artist Mark Fenwick, who’s created the wood sculpture “Daphne and Leucippus,” and Cummington sculptor Beckie Kravtez, who depicts the faces of Iris, the Goddess of the Rainbow, and Zephyrus, God of the West Wind, in a flirtatious dance.

The orchard will host a visit by the artists Sept. 16-17 at which they’ll display smaller examples of their work, with some available for sale, alongside their installations.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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