‘Art of Winter’ inspiration found in forests to the kitchen

Jessica Phinney, curator at the Thousands Islands Art Center stands in the Winter Art Exhibit Friday in Clayton. The exhibit runs February 3 through March 17.


For about 15 years, artist Greg Lago looked at a pile of old cedar fence post stumps on his property and was stumped himself.

What, he wondered, would he do with them?

Those stumps now make up 5-foot-tall “Forest Mann,” who will greet visitors Friday at the opening reception to the “Art of Winter” exhibit at the Thousand Islands Arts Center, 314 John St.

Mr. Lago, a wood engraver, printmaker, painter and sculptor, lives south of Clayton where miles of alvar spread across the landscape. Alvar is a biological environment — a limestone plain with thin soil and sparse grassland vegetation.

“It was scraped clean by the glaciers,” said Mr. Lago. “It’s all limestone and clay.”

Mr. Lago often explores the acres of his and his neighbor’s property, containing alvar and forest.

“It’s a testament to the different things you can find when you take a walk in the woods,” Mr. Lago said of “Forest Mann.”

The artist said “old-timers,” after clearing their fields of cedar trees, would take the cedar stumps and make fence lines out of them.

“You find these fence lines after the woods have grown up around them and the stumps are still there,” he said.

His “Forest Mann” creation, Mr. Lago said, is in the tradition of the Green Man, a ubiquitous medieval motif/character that has a green face of leaves with branches and leaves making up the rest of the body.

“This is sort of my version of that,” Mr. Lago said. “But there’s another precedent for this kind of work around the lumber camps in the Adirondacks and all up and down the Black River. A lot of times, the lumberjacks would make these little characters, which would be of themselves sometimes.”

Mr. Lago, who owns Winged Bull Studio on House Road, said the fence stumps were in good shape when he pulled them out of the ground about 15 years ago.

“Cedar doesn’t rot much,” he said. “They probably rotted more at my house than they did out there in the woods in 150 years.”

In the back of Mr. Lago’s mind, he harbored a thought to create such a forest creature.

“Around Christmas time, something got into me and that’s what I made,” he said. “For about three weeks I went out into the barn and put it together.”

“Forest Mann” has a linseed oil finish. For a highlighted complexion on the face, the artist used water-soluble stains.

The creation’s last name, Mr. Lago said, is in honor of the German novelist Thomas Mann (1875-1955), whose themes often explored the psychology of artists.

Like the majority of the works at the “Art of Winter” exhibit, which runs through Friday, March 17, “Forest Mann” is for sale. Mr. Lago said he’d take $800 for it.

Mr. Lago, as a volunteer, co-curated the “Art of Winter” exhibit with Jessica M. Phinney, curator at the Thousand Islands Arts Center.

Ms. Phinney said there are about 105 entries this year from about 50 artists. The annual exhibit debuted in 2009 as “The Glass River.”

A share of the proceeds from exhibit sales will benefit the arts center and the artists. Some artists will donate 100 percent of their proceeds to the center.

Artwork at the show represents a wide variety of mediums such as painting, photography, jewelry, pottery, glass and weaving.

“We see the quality going up each year,” Ms. Phinney said. “The submissions get better and better and we talk to a lot of artists who do pieces specifically for the show, which is something we always encourage.”

Elizabeth M. Murphy, Sackets Harbor, was inspired to create something for the art show after she saw a Here & Now brief in the Currents section of the Watertown Daily Times. It’s her first art piece. She clipped out the article, headlined “Winter art sought,” and made it part of her three-dimensional sculpture she titled “Winspiration.” It combines her love of board games and repurposing objects.

Mrs. Murhpy, a family consumer science teacher at Alexandria Central High School in Alexandria Bay, collected lids from food cans. Her students also assisted in that collecting.

“Winspiration,” she said, has elements of an actual game. Its base is made of empty boxes of mixed nuts and diced tomatoes. It starts with the Here & Now newspaper item, glued to one of the boxes.

“I had to be creative somehow,” said Mrs. Murphy, who, when not working, cares for her 92-year-old mother at home. “It was kind of an epiphany. It all came together. I didn’t really tell anybody because I thought they would be like, ‘That is so goofy.’”

But Mrs. Murphy counters those feelings by reading, such as the book she recently finished, “The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky,” by Holly Schindler.

“One of my winter loves is to read. It’s a book about a girl and her grandfather who take junk and turn it into artwork,” she said. “There’s many points in the book where people chide her for that. But at the end of the book, they win an award for folk art and their house becomes a tourist destination.”

WHAT: Opening reception for the annual “Art of Winter” exhibit at Thousand Islands Arts Center, 314 John St., Clayton. (Exhibit continues through Friday, March 17. )

WHEN: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the center

AWARDS: To be presented in four categories: best story, most original, people’s choice and staff picks (three). Light hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be provided at the opening.

COST: Free and open to the public.

ON THE WEB: www.tiartscenter.org

OF NOTE: The exhibit will feature new LED lighting made available by an anonymous donor in the Catherine C. Johnson Gallery.