Vermont Arts Council

The Group in “Group Exhibit”

“Distinctive” is the word Petria Mitchell used.

She was talking about the pieces in “Group Exhibit 2016” at Mitchell • Giddings Fine Arts. This Brattleboro gallery—now open about eighteen months—is Petria’s first business venture after forty years of painting. The other part of Mitchell • Giddings is another painter, Jim Giddings.

Fifteen mid-career and established artists are showing blown glass, stoneware, drawings, and paintings through April 17. Petria also chose the words “diverse” and “innovative.” The artists’ own descriptions of their work back up Petria’s words:

  • 3 dimensional mixed-media assemblage with gilded printmaking elements (Michele Ratte´)
  • drawings in pencil and ink, aerial views, American Midwest (Scott Nelson)
  • vessels to hold invisible things (thoughts, ideas), exploring layers, colors, and materials (Jackie Abrams)
  • representational watercolor still lifes, large scale (David Rohn)
  • color woodblock prints made using the Japanese “hanga” method (Matt Brown)
  • etherial, atmospheric backgrounds with a foreground of enigmatic lines and marks (Susan Osgood)
  • dyed silk and wool wall hangings based on biomorphic imagery (Karen Kamenetzky)
  • monumental stoneware vessels suitable for the landscape or home (Stephen Procter)
  • Michelle’s “Cherry Knot” carved cherry burl vase. David’s pedestal end table, “Stella della Sera”, of spalted maple and birch burl (Michelle and David Holzapfel)
  • mixed-media wall sculpture which are assemblages of dissimilar materials (Lauren Pollaro)
  • decorative and sculptural unique hand-blown glass (Josh Bernbaum)
  • a study of fluid motion and form carved in plate glass (K. William LeQuier)
  • a selection of my favorite forms and craziest glazes (Will Finkel)
  • colorful flowers celebrating the hidden in nature (Margaret Shipman)

How it’s Done

Donald-Saaf's Church Fair. Mixed media on panel. 36" x 40"
Donald Saaf’s “Church Fair.” Mixed media on panel. 36″ x 40″

Access to fifteen solid artists opened the door to inquiry. How does this work get done? Where do ideas come from? We did a quick question/answer session, first asking, “How much of your success is inspiration vs. perspiration?”

Most responses indicated equal measures of each; even when it means giving 220 percent (that is, from one of the artists, “110 percent of both”).

There were outliers. “10% inspiration, 90% sticking with it to discover what arises.” “80% inspiration.” “25 of the former, 75 of the latter.” One master mixed apples and oranges with the answer, “40 plus years of perspiration. 20% inspiration.” One broke it down to this: “They amount to the same thing. One without the other yields 0.”

On Inspiration

And where does the inspiration come from?

Inspiration is not found, but it arises out of complete dedication to ones work, it grows with the work. It is a mystery.
Everywhere. It percolates. Dreams, half-dreams.
It grows
from previous work, other art, books, materials, travels.
By looking-first at a motif in nature, then at what is happening as I paint.
It usually is out there waiting somewhere in the space between my inner imagination and the world I seem to be traveling in.
I stay open to all possibilities and follow my curiosity.
Microscopic/cellular imagery and textures and patterns in nature.
introspection, museum visits, connecting with joy in any way
Inspiration happens.  I don’t have to look for it, fortunately.
Usually my materials give me inspiration and I build from there. Also, color!
Mostly from what I like of designs from the past, in blown glass or otherwise, as well as color combinations all around us that I find intriguing.
My work is inspired by nature and natural events, so I draw on what I observe and experience. Sometimes it just falls in my lap, other times I have to go looking for it.
Contemplating the world around me and galaxies above.
Though sitting quietly with a blank canvas. Through sitting quietly in nature with a sketchbook, and through studying photos and illustrations of plants.


Will Finkel's Luminescent Plate. Porcelain and white stoneware with layered glazes. 23" diameter.
Will Finkel’s “Luminescent Plate.” Porcelain and white stoneware with layered glazes. 23″ diameter.

The number of hours in the studio varied widely. From “5 if I’m lucky” to “When I am in the studio full time, 60-70 hours.” Some artists make their living through something other than art. Others were quick to distinguish that  “…those are ‘making’ hours in the studio not the other essential parts of the overall equation, home and studio maintenance, business aspects, family and friends.” One artist responded, “Lately it seems that more of my time is needed to run my business than actually making art.” Another, “Time is a material in my work and I am never surprised by the amount of it that I use.”

Many tasks take away from making art.

Making money. COMPUTER WORK!!!! Finding mislaid tools and sketches. The rehearsal-work and proof printing in my process is…close to endless. Staying organized, staying in touch, applying for grants and shows, keeping abreast of what is happening outside my studio. Percolating ideas. Marketing/client relationships. The business parts. PROMOTION.

Some technical aspects of making art are demanding. That was well expressed in this image of running and maintaining a hot glass studio: “…(it’s) like being a parent to another child in terms of responsibilities and constant monitoring and maintenance demanded by glass melting furnaces and other equipment we use.”

The Joy is in the Journey

Petria Mitchell’s “Winding in Crimson.” Oil on canvas. 60″ x 48″

Our last question was, “If you had it all to do again, what would you change?” Not a lot! Several said “nothing,” two replied “not much” and two said “I can’t think of anything.”

There were practical regrets, such as, “I’ve lost track of several pieces. They’re just gone. I would have paid more attention.” There were wishes for more support including, “Trying to understand who I am and what I want from an earlier age,” “I would have gotten more training in a variety of different fields related to what I do,” and “I would opt for more support and creative role models from day one.”

The Results

This is clear: The show is inspired, finely tuned, and varied. It’s up through April 17 at 183 Main Street in Brattleboro.

Top left image: Josh Bernbaum’s goblets in many colors, approximately 8″
Photo album
Mitchell • Giddings Fine Arts website

Susan McDowell