Art

Country roads and apple blossoms

Elizabeth Lockhart Taft
Elizabeth Lockhart Taft explores the Island's prettiest places and paints them with a loving touch. Photos courtesy of the Dragonfly Gallery

By Pat Waring - July 12, 2007

On these sunny summer days one may tire of the beach's glare and the bustle of down-Island shops and yearn for quieter pleasures - an afternoon in a garden or a ramble through a meadow. A trip to the Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs this week will satisfy both cravings and without any worry about sunscreen or tick bites.

Vineyard artists Elizabeth Lockhart Taft and Peggy Turner Zablotny have turned the cool, cozy gallery into a country oasis. Splashed with Ms. Zablotny's vibrant flowers, soothed by Ms. Taft's serene Island vistas, the Dragonfly is a place to catch your breath and soak up the beauties of nature.

The love with which both artists treat their subjects is striking. Ms. Taft seems to caress with soft brushstrokes the landscapes which she clearly knows so well, while Ms. Zablotny arranges her flowers with tender care. They both palpably luxuriate in their work and the objects they present - just as the viewer is welcomed to do.

Ms. Taft's scenes most often include an invitation to enter the landscape - a dusty dirt lane, a grassy pathway, or a narrow paved road turning a hilly curve towards a pond. One is quick to imagine being on that path or road, and at once can smell the air, feel the soft grass or crunchy sand under bare feet, the breeze as one bikes down the hill.

Peggy Turner Zablotny
Peggy Turner Zablotny's flower collages with a fresh-from-the-garden look are in full bloom at the Dragonfly Gallery.

A dedicated plein air painter, Ms. Taft can often be found out with her easel and paints. Though mostly off the well-traveled path, her places are familiar ones to adventurous nature-loving Islanders. Her palette is an intriguing one, all greens and golds and ochres, each of these hues appearing in myriad variations. If Eskimos have any number of words for snow, as it is said, Ms. Taft's painting vocabulary has infinite names for green. Because she paints outdoors she shows the subtle changes in a color depending on time of day, quality of air and cloud cover, angle of sunlight. A green tree may be nearly black in the shade, a glowing light green-gold when the sun gilds its leaves. So do her fields change from straw to pumpkin, from lemon to apricot.

Ms. Taft sets her meandering summer tone on the front wall with the panoramic "Autumn Fields," a wide vista of moors, shrubbery, a stand of low pines gnarled by sea breezes. In two canvases, the Gay Head Cliffs are molded with color as green grass atop gives way to swirls of bright colored clay streaking gray stone. At the base, red clay stains tropical blue water ruddy.

In a springtime scene at Long Point, gold and amber grasses are tinged with lavender shadows and a green walkway tempts us to venture in. The sky is nearly white with heat in "Dry June Meadow" and one can almost taste the dusty air, feel the crisp, sere grass underfoot, hear the stillness.

The collection includes several two- and three-piece paintings, interesting for their ability to extend a wide view while offering separate paintings framed as one. Among these, "Tashmoo Boats Study" has a heavy mid-summer atmosphere. A canopy of leaves is reflected in the dark lake water on one side; on the other is open water, a bevy of small boats gleaming near shore.

A floral feast

Flowers are the focus of Peggy Zablotny's art, flowers in all their variety of color, texture, shape, and size. Many art lovers are already familiar with the painstaking process by which Ms. Zablotny presses fresh flowers (usually grown in her own Vineyard Haven garden) then fashions them into collages. A Philadelphia photographer, with whom Ms. Zablotny has worked for 10 years, photographs the compositions, producing a film transparency which goes to Boston for printing. After the artist reviews the proofs for accuracy, the image is printed on handmade 100 percent rag archival paper using non-toxic vegetable inks. Whether one is familiar with the process or not, the results continue to be breathtaking and always a sight to lighten the heart and soul.

The sophisticated technology and carefulness of the reproduction process allow the artist to show the plant materials in finest detail, with a precision and clarity hardly discernable to the naked eye.

Growing up on a farm with a big orchard out back, I was enchanted by the burst of delicate white blooms that blanketed the apple trees every spring. Ms. Zablotny's work brings that same delight, especially when she chooses apple blossoms as in many pieces here. A single apple blossom, petals washed with pink accents, floats in a big frame, front and center. Each vein is visible, each tiny hair along a petal's edge. A dozen smaller blossoms are arrayed in a companion piece, each one winking brightly, prom-fancy and bright-eyed, and among them a fluffy pink cherry blossom. In these as in many of the collages, the tactile sense is strong. One can clearly imagine touching these translucent petals, their cool moistness, their tissue-paper delicacy, how they would stick to the fingers.

As earthy as the apple blossoms are ethereal, another featured flower, a deep purple, near-ebony pansy is robust and regal. The blossom is shown supersized in all her glory in a large print and appears as a supporting player in several collages too. A trio of frames gathers gossamer apple blossoms with delicate deep violet iris petals, the darkly contemplative pansy.

"Glorious" lives up to its name, an abstractly sensuous study in vibrant fuchsia, purple, and gold, the essence of flower in all its vitality. "Listen to What the Flowers are Saying" inspires daydreams about just what this deep yellow blossom may be whispering to the purple pansy that nestles close. And is that little white blossom with frilly petals eavesdropping?

"Habitat for a Dragonfly" stands out for its sheer riotousness. Flowers of every color and shape are multi-layered, laid out on a background of green grass blades woven together basket-style. The artist will donate $500 of the purchase price of this resplendent print to Habitat for Humanity. Aiding another local charity, Ms. Zablotny arranged woodsy elements in her large piece, "Little Miracles," using crisp autumn elements - seedpods bursting with wispy seeds, dark oak leaves, several small crimson leaves, a single bright feather. The piece is owned by the winning bidder for Ms. Zablotny's contribution to the 2006 Possible Dreams Online Auction. She offers "Peggy's Dream" at the online auction again this year, pledging to create a botanical collage from the winning bidder's garden.

Two more abstract pieces are brimming with graceful, dynamic energy. The aptly named "Jitterbug" is a lively spiral of yellow petals; "Frolic" is a swirl of dancing red stems and yellow blossoms on a clear green background.

Dragonfly Gallery, 91 Dukes County Ave., Oak Bluffs. Gallery hours 12 noon to 7 pm Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, call 508-693-8877 or visit mvdragonfly.com.