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A lost year, chronicled through art

Artists (from left) Brent Mathison, Peggy McClure, and Judith Stein stand outside the temporary home of 6 Bridges Gallery in Maynard where their artwork is currently hung in the show 'Anthropause.'
Artists (from left) Brent Mathison, Peggy McClure, and Judith Stein stand outside the temporary home of 6 Bridges Gallery in Maynard where their artwork is currently hung in the show 'Anthropause.'Erin Clark/Globe Staff

MAYNARD — Jean D’Amico has been getting her hands dirty for years. She’s a ceramicist.

The pandemic, she says, has changed her relationship with the natural world. When our public spaces began to shut down almost a year ago, she felt a sudden urge to shape her clay by hand, not on a pottery wheel.

The microscopic images of the coronavirus itself, a knobby spheroid, inspired her.

“It looked dangerous, but also beautiful and primitive,” says D’Amico, one of five artists who have contributed new work in response to the pandemic in a monthlong exhibit here at 6 Bridges Gallery. “I thought about our early artisan ancestors.”

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“Anthropause,” as the exhibition is titled, is a new term, coined last year, which describes the reduction in human activity that has accompanied the pandemic. The show, which runs until March 27, features paintings, photographs, and mixed-media works that express a wide range of emotions, most of them on the somber side.

“I wanted to work in black clay, " says D’Amico, a semi-retiree who has worked with nonprofit poetry organizations. “That’s the mood I was in.”

"Let's Play" by Jeanne D'Amico.
"Let's Play" by Jeanne D'Amico. Jeanne D'Amico

The five artists, all associate members of the gallery, quickly agreed on the theme for this year’s group show. Three of the artists — Natalie MacKnight, Peggy McClure, and Judith Stein — found themselves prompted to capture some sense of the walks in the woods they were taking more frequently, with nowhere else to go.

Another, photographer Brent Mathison, found that he was actually making less time to get outside.

“My photographs usually celebrate the beauty of nature,” he says, showing a visitor a few of his pictures as they lean against the wall, waiting to be hung. Instead, he began spending more time in his basement after work, teaching himself new printing methods. With everyone else seemingly reconnecting with nature while they can’t be social, Mathison says, he was inclined to stay indoors.

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“I used to be able to walk the trails and not see another person,” he says. “Now the basement is my refuge.”

"The Goldfinches Have Returned" by Brent Mathison.
"The Goldfinches Have Returned" by Brent Mathison. Brent Mathison

For the photos he did take on the trails of the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge — which stretches through Hudson, Maynard, Stow, and Sudbury — he used a special-effect lens that blurs the image outward from its central focus.

“It’s almost a surreal effect, with muted colors,” Mathison explains. He named one shot of a thicket in the woods “The Goldfinches Have Returned.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek title: In the middle of the photo, there’s a tiny burst of yellow, a bird you can barely see.

Mathison, a native of North Carolina, moved with his family to this area for his job in the biotech field in 2015.

“We fell in love with Maynard,” he says.

The town, nestled between Acton and Sudbury, has become a haven for artists. More than 80 of them, including several members of the 6 Bridges collective, rent studios at ArtSpace, a repurposed former middle school located a short walk from Main Street.

The 6 Bridges Gallery opened on Main Street in 2014. In October, a fire broke out in the business next door, causing smoke damage in the gallery. The collective took up temporary residency in a nearby former jewelry store, operating an artists’ marketplace through the holidays. They’ll remain in the temporary location until April, when they can move back into the gallery.

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It was a tough year.

“We all did our work, or tried,” says D’Amico. “I was up and down.”

"Sorrow and Comfort" by Natalie MacKnight.
"Sorrow and Comfort" by Natalie MacKnight. Natalie MacKnight

With the onset of the pandemic, MacKnight — a graphic designer who lives in Bolton — was drawn to some of the local trails she hadn’t visited in years. Thinking about New England’s stone walls and the souvenir rocks that hikers often pick up along the way, she became obsessed with the huge glacial erratics that loomed over her walks.

“They’re the rocks you can’t take home,” she says.

Eventually, she began painting those boulders in stark black and white, using gouache, an opaque watercolor paint.

“I tried ink, charcoal, acrylic,” she says. “But I wasn’t finding the effect I wanted. I hadn’t worked with gouache since college, but now I’m loving it.”

The boulders and the trees that surround them, she says, remind her of community.

“This one is titled ‘Sorrow and Comfort,’” she says.

"Fossils" by Peggy McClure.
"Fossils" by Peggy McClure.Peggy McClure

McClure, a former technical writer who lives in Framingham, has spent a lot of time walking near the city’s high school. With the parking lot mostly empty, she’s shared the area with a good deal of resurgent wildlife.

She uses Photoshop to create layered images from her photographs. One piece features an extreme close-up of what appear to be feathers.

“I took this shortly after George Floyd was killed,” she says. “This is a dead bird.”

Judi Stein has been walking the loop trail at Kendrick Pond near her home in Needham. She paints with oil and cold wax, a thick, pliable mix that lends itself to plenty of texture.

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Stein, a retired psychologist, makes abstract paintings. She’ll start with a color that grabs her eye, she says, and then “see what emerges.”

One of her latest paintings coalesces around a blue streak that runs through the middle.

"View from the Arava" by Judith Stein
"View from the Arava" by Judith SteinJudith Stein

“It reminds me of the Dead Sea, one of my favorite places,” she says. She uses tools to add texture to her compositions.

“This one has a lot of scratching,” she says, holding up another of her paintings. She thinks she knows what the abrasion represents, she says with a smile: Her anxiety.

“Anthropause” runs through March 27 at 6 Bridges Gallery, 63 Nason St., Maynard. A virtual reception will take place at 7 p.m. March 6. For more information, visit 6bridges.gallery.

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.

Natalie MacKnight's work hangs in the show "Anthropause" at the temporary home of 6 Bridges Gallery in Maynard.
Natalie MacKnight's work hangs in the show "Anthropause" at the temporary home of 6 Bridges Gallery in Maynard. Erin Clark/Globe Staff