Two artists contemplate Thoreau in Concord Art Association exhibit

Franklin photographer Art Donahue tries to make his images look “as if they could be from Thoreau’s time.”
Franklin photographer Art Donahue tries to make his images look “as if they could be from Thoreau’s time.”

Possibly no resident of Concord, past or present, has influenced as many artists, writers, and thinkers as Henry David Thoreau. And if the current exhibition at the Concord Art Association is any indication, that distinction is not likely to change any time soon.

“Thoreau’s Natural World,” painting and photography inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, showcasing the work of Acton painter Nancy Savage and Franklin photographer Art Donahue, reflects the two artists’ very different, but equally compelling, responses to Concord’s famed 19th-century Transcendentalist.

The idea for the theme came up when the association’s board was brainstorming possibilities for its next members’ show, according to director Lili Ott.


“Every year we put out a call to our 900 members to ask for submissions,” Ott said. “When we looked at Art’s and Nancy’s submissions, with Nancy’s incredibly detailed paintings and Art’s larger-scale landscapes, we started saying, wouldn’t it be great to put these two together? It’s as if one is the micro and the other the macro, and both so connected to Concord.”

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For Savage, who began the series in the show as a project for her certificate program in botanical art at Wellesley College, the discovery of Thoreau’s “Wild Fruits” was a revelation. The author’s last manuscript, it was begun in late 1859, and comprises a series of chronological observations and musings on the fruits of New England. It shows Thoreau’s fascination with the tiny details of berries and other edible wild plants.

“I live in Acton, not far from Walden Pond. I just stumbled across the “Wild Fruits” manuscript and was so taken with the level of detail and description in it,” Savage said. “For the certificate program, I needed to do five paintings, but I decided I loved the topic so much I would stay with it. I read through Thoreau’s manuscript and selected out references to specific plants I thought I could find around here with relative ease. Then I chose quotes from the manuscript to use as labels with the paintings.”

Donahue first made an artistic connection to Thoreau years ago, when he discovered photographer Eliot Porter’s 1962 book, “In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World,” a compilation of studies of the New England woods illustrated by quotes from Thoreau’s writing.

“That book introduced the concept of the intimate landscape, and when I looked at it, I said, ‘This is the style I’d like to work in,’ ” Donahue said.


“Once I started reading the quotes more closely, I realized Thoreau was walking through the same woods I was — Mount Greylock, Mount Monadnock — only I was looking for photographic composition and he was looking for detail.

“Then I came up with the idea of trying to make my photos look timeless, as if they could be from Thoreau’s time. So I use black and white, and shoot in fog when I can. What Thoreau has made me understand is that it’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see. I walk around in nature observing, just as Thoreau did; only he wrote down what he found and I take a picture of it.”

Both of the artists, who were not previously acquainted, say they believe the pairing of their projects has enhanced each one’s work.

“It’s interesting that we were both inspired by the same source but with very different approaches,” Donahue said. “And the black and white of my photographs contrasts so nicely with the color of Nancy’s paintings in this exhibition.”

“Thoreau’s Natural World” is on exhibit through next Thursday at the Concord Art Association, 37 Lexington Road. Admission is free. For hours and more information, call 978-369-2578 or go to www.concordart.org.


CHAMBER RECITAL: Indian Hill Music School opens its new season of chamber music at 8 p.m. Saturday with a solo recital by a Russian-American pianist, Sergey Schekpin, at the Kalliroscope Gallery, 264 Main St. in Groton.

His program features works by Bach (French Suite No. 4), Beethoven (Sonata No. 31 in A-flat), and Schubert (Sonata No. 20 in A).

Admission, which is $32, or $15 for students, includes a post-concert reception with the performer.

For tickets or more information, call 978-486-9524, ext. 116, or go to www.indianhillmusic.org.

OPEN DOOR POLICY: The artists of Holliston Mill hold an open studios event on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 24 Water St., Holliston.

The display will include works in oil, acrylic, and watercolor; sculpture and mixed-media pieces; photography and digital media; textiles; drawings; printing; and quilting. For more information, go to www.hollistonmill.com.

RIEDEL TALK: Author and illustrator Jerry Pinkney will give this year’s Leslie Riedel Memorial Lecture at the Concord Free Public Library on Saturday at 7 pm.

Pinkney has been illustrating children’s books since 1964, with more than 100 titles to his credit. His accolades include five Caldecott Honor Medals, a Caldecott Medal, five New York Times “Best Illustrated Books” awards, and five Coretta Scott King awards, an honor given annually to outstanding African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values.

A reception will be held after the talk at the library, 129 Main St. in Concord.

Send ideas to nancyswest@ gmail.com.