Baltimore Woods Nature Center Art Gallery explores Woodland Magic
by Karen Jean Smith
Take a moment and imagine that you are sitting by a lovely brook in the forest and a shaft of sunlight suddenly bursts through the colorful leaves overhead. Perhaps there is a flash of red as a cardinal flies by and then a bit of a rustle nearby. Is someone there? Who could it be? A stirring awakens inside of you, something akin to enchantment: you are in the magic of the woods. Now imagine that feeling interpreted by artists with similar experiences.
“Woodland Magic,” featuring photographs by Rod Best and wood carvings by Arlie Howell is an exhibit of work with this in mind. It will be on display in the Art Gallery of the John A. Weeks Interpretive Center at Baltimore Woods Nature Center, 4007 Bishop Hill Road, Marcellus, from Sept. 8 through Oct. 28.
T the show will be available for viewing on Monday through Friday, 9 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 to 4 p.m. There are no admission or parking fees, and all art work will be for sale.
Magic in the woods, it can be argued, may be real or imagined, and both aspects are represented in this exhibit. For the “real” magic, i.e. the color, the intricacy of the tree branches or the sparkling water in a stream or waterfall, we have the photographs of Rod Best which depict the natural beauty of our northeastern woodlands at various times of the year. If you ask Rod Best about his favorite places and season, he will tell you that it’s the Adirondacks in the fall, and this is evident in this display. Visitors to the show will also be delighted to discover photographs of favorite local places, and may find themselves inspired to explore new ones.
When you really love something, you find time for it. Rod Best, gets up very early some mornings to capture a sunrise before he goes to work at a non-profit human resource company. He also makes time after work and on weekends to pursue his interest in outdoor photography. While he has enjoyed taking photographs with a high-quality camera for years, Best says that it has been in the past three or four that he has really grown in his knowledge, specifically with composition. His inspiration he says, comes from people. He likes nothing more than to reconnect people with a time or place that they fondly recall, sometimes even from childhood.
As a photographer, Best states, “I love being outdoors capturing my next favorite image, but unlike a lot of other photographers, I equally enjoy sitting down at my computer to process the images I have captured. I like to say, I am bringing the photographs to life! Sometimes I will process an image or set of images multiple times to get it the way I want it to be, to reflect how I felt or what I had in my mind’s eye when I was photographing the image.”
For the imaginary part of “Woodland Magic,” we have the whimsical carvings of wood spirits and gnome homes by Arlie Howell.
This sculptor has been retired since 2009. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Howell has a lot of free time, but he probably has more control over how he chooses to organize it and one of his favorite pastimes is working with wood. Hand carving is a skill that his father introduced him to about 40 years ago, when he started with deep relief landscapes, a form of carving that Howell still does on occasion.
Arlie Howell’s medium is cottonwood bark found close by in the Cayuga Lake area and as far away as Montana. When he can, he enjoys taking the wood from start to finish which means beginning with the discovery of workable pieces in the out of doors. For him, finding the wood can be almost as rewarding as carving and seeing the final result.
Howell’s work is based on the woodland spirit lore of the high mountainous areas in Western Europe including Austria, Switzerland and Germany, where in past centuries the wood spirits were believed to protect the people from evil spirits brought to town by their cattle that had been grazing in the countryside.
Each of the characters created by Howell is unique and is given a description, including a name. They all look out for some aspect of the environment such as approaching danger, fish (Jonah) or “critters” with small injuries (Doc). All are said to bring good luck.
For Arlie Howell, the uniquely shaped pieces of cottonwood provide the needed inspiration. Howell explains that “The wood will tell you what it wants to be.”
And why does he deal with fantasy subject matter? “Because it tickles my fancy and brings out the inner child.”
This exhibit complements a very popular event at Baltimore Woods Nature Center – the Autumnal Fairy Fest to be held on Friday Oct. 14 from 12 until 4 p.m. During this community event, families can explore the enchanted woods, meet the Fairy Queen, build fairy houses in the gardens, and enjoy the Woodland Magic art exhibit. For more information, visit baltimorewoods.org.