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Painters blend to bring beauty of river to Westfield Athenaeum

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD A reception was presented July 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Westfield Athenaeum for the Plein Air Painters who will be exhibiting their artwork of the Westfield River Watershed in their paintings at the Library this month.

"When people see how beautiful the Westfield River Watershed is then they will be concerned with its development," said Kathy Meyer, board member and former president of the Westfield Watershed Association(WRWA) that sponsored the reception.

For the last three years seven local artists, who call themselves the Hilltown Plein Air Painters, met once a week, packed up cars with easels and canvases, and headed out to paint beautiful places in the Westfield River Watershed, Meyer said

"'Plein air' means plain air- painting outside," said Karin Cook, one of the artists residing in Huntington. Cook is a watercolor teacher and painter who studied painting and printmaking at the Graduate School of Rutgers University. Her paintings have been in juried shows.

"In third grade you learn that water is blue, in these paintings," said Cook in pointing to one of her works, "you see subtle colors in the foliage, purples, yellows or oranges; the water is not just blue this time of year," she said.

Alma LaFrance, a watercolor artist who received her early art training at Westfield State College with Professor Arno Maris, was joined at the reception by her daughter-in-law, Jacqui LaFrance.

"I have really enjoyed the progression (of the artists)," said LaFrance.

LaFrance talked about one of her favorite pieces done by Alma, "Summer Mist."

"I love the atmosphere, the suggestion of mountains beyond...the softness," said LaFrance.

"I like the encouragement that you get in working in a group," said Mary Montague, another of the artists, of Westhampton. "I love to be in a group because if something isn't working and I'm not sure why then I ask the other artists," she said.

Montague has exhibited her work at Cooley Dickinson Hospital where she is a surgery nurse. This year she had a piece accepted in the Academic Artists Association national show.

The other four artists of the Hilltown Plein Air Painters include Carolyn Avery of Southwick, who studied oil painting with Mario Vincenti at the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum for 11 years. Her paintings are also on display at the Springfield Museum of Fine Art.

Natalie Birrell of Huntington studied at George Washington University and the Corcoran Museum Art School. She spent many years as an illustrator for Stonewalls Magazine.

Carol Chandler, also of Huntington, studied classical painting with Barbara Johnson in Hadley, has displayed her work at shows such as the Southwick Cultural Council Juried Exhibition, and received numerous awards.

Ann Kusiak of Northampton works in oil, watercolor, pen and ink, and pastel. She studied at the University of Massachusetts, Syracuse University and the Guild Art School. She has studied in the United States as well as in Italy, Mexico and France. She has additional work on display at the Art Express in Whately.

The exhibit will run during the month of July with the Museum open Mondays through Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

"Visiting so many beautiful places in different parts of the Westfield River Watershed has given us a great appreciation for the watershed. We paint what we have seen, felt, heard and even smelled. Hopefully those who see our paintings will have a sense of this and also treasure the Westfield River," said Cook.