What would Grandma Moses do if gas pipelines suddenly appeared in the countryside she loved to paint?
Linda Finch, a Gloversville native, thinks about the famous American folk artist every time she sets her brush to a canvas.
In fact, Finch believes that her artwork, which depicts the impact of fracking and gas pipelines on New York farmland, comes to her through the spirit of Grandma Moses, who died in 1961 at the age of 101.
“Channeling Grandma: Fracking Paintings by Linda Finch,” 17 of her colorful and opinionated folk-art-style paintings, is on exhibit through July 26 at the Bennington Museum in Vermont.
Grandma Moses, also known as Anna Mary Robertson Moses, was born in Greenwich, in New York’s Washington County, and lived most of her life in Eagle Bridge, near the Vermont border. The Bennington Museum has the nation’s largest public collection of paintings by Grandma Moses.
Finch grew up in Gloversville and graduated from Gloversville High School in 1961.
She has a master’s degree in art from SUNY at New Paltz and degree in industrial labor relations from Cornell University.
In 1972, Finch left the area when her husband got a job near Elmira.
The couple currently live in the Finger Lakes region, but their house is for sale and they hope to move back to Fulton County later this year.
Q: Where do you live now?
A: I live in a little town south of Ithaca called Sullivanville in Chemung County. And it looks like I’m going to be living 1,300 feet away from a gas compression station. It looks like it’s going to be approved by FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). They are OK-ing it to be built and spew out something like 55,000 tons of particulates and toxic fumes per year. We’re wine country. We have wonderful wines. But because we have shale, we’re also being attacked by all of these out-of-state companies, from Texas, Arkansas, Ohio and Virginia.
Q: What does a compression station do?
A: It increases the pressure and moves gas along the whole series of pipelines that are going through Madison County, Chemung County and Montgomery County.
Q: You spent many years in Fulton County when the leather industry was still going. Has that influenced your art?
A: That’s one of the basic reasons why I’m so sensitive to this whole issue. Growing up in Gloversville, next to the Cayadutta Creek, and watching it change colors every day, from all the dyes poured in it. And then, over the years, watching one by one, family, relatives, neighbors, dropping like flies from very strange cancers.
Q: How did your connection with Grandma Moses begin?
A: I was just thinking one day, if Grandma Moses were alive and she was here and she was under attack by the gas company, how would she approach it? I can’t see her standing up at meetings but I bet she would be painting. I did the first one and it was kind of like a little country quilt, with a pattern and the landscape. When I start a canvas, they are all done in my head. I just put it down. It just comes.
Q: You feel the spiritual presence of her? You really feel like she is expressing herself through you?
A: Yes. I feel like she’s guiding me.
Q: Tell me about one of the paintings.
A: It’s called “Girls, Girls, Girls.” It’s bright orange and shows some of the social aspects of what happens when 22,000 men move into a county. On a Friday night, you go shopping at a grocery store and you can’t find beer or a steak because that’s what these guys live on. We have thousands of strangers in town and we have to lock doors, we have to lock garages.
Q: Do you feel that people can relate to your paintings no matter where they live?
A: I think so. It’s not just New York. It’s in Ohio, it’s in the Dakotas and unfortunately, it’s heading to Vermont, and that’s why they were interested. Not so much that they are going to have fracking but they are looking at pipelines facing them, too, because the gas companies want to get to these ports.
Q: What’s it like to work in Moses’ folk art style?
A: I do paintings in all styles, I mostly like impressionism but there’s a lot to be said for the folk art genre. You don’t have to pay any attention to perspective and it’s a wonderful way to tell a story.
Q: But is there something insidious in every painting?
A: Oh yeah. The whole thing is really tongue-in-cheek. There are all kinds of different puzzles in there.
Q: Do you have had trouble getting your artwork into galleries?
A: It’s been horrible. Business people just hate it. They are getting the benefit: the hotels, the restaurants, the clothing stores. They are putting up these thousands of men. The people on the boards, even nature preserves, I go and I talk to them. They are all thrilled. They go and they present to their board, and someone on their board happens to sell pipes to the gas companies. Or welding supplies. All of a sudden, I’m turned away.
Q: What basic message do you hope to convey in this exhibit?
A: I just think there really is a dedicated attack on the rural environment and agriculture in New York state. No matter how much they protest, these small communities don’t have the means to protect themselves or hire these high-priced lawyers. They are just at the mercy of big giant conglomerates. When I come home to visit I am amazed at how little people know about this horrific attack of out-of-state gas companies on New York state’s rural communities. I am very passionate about protecting our water, soil and air. It is so shortsighted to sell our beautiful New York to outside corporations who could care less about our quality of life.
Q: What about New York’s ban on fracking?
A: I was really thrilled when they did the ban. But it doesn’t really offer a great deal of protection from these gigantic dumps. Niagara has a huge dump, Allegany has a dump, Chemung County has a dump and we accept thousands of tons of frack. I think New York state should step up and be a leader as far as alternative energy. It’s just crazy that we’re stuck in this fossil fuel thing.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or [email protected]
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