The Mohawk Valley is illuminated in the latest exhibition to open at the Arkell Museum.
“Water-Marks: Etchings, Monotypes, & Paintings by Deborah Geurtze,” fixes its focus upon the glowing aspects of the local landscape, from the idyllic fields to the flowing waterways.
“It’s so dramatic,” Geurtze said of the Mohawk Valley.
Though the printmaker and painter grew up in Delmar, many of her weekends in her teenage years were spent at the Fort Plain Standard-Canajoharie Courier working with her uncle Bill Clarke. She would make offset plates and spent time in the print room learning the ropes.
However, she didn’t realize she could translate those skills to an artistic process. So when she headed to the Rhode Island School of Design she wasn’t quite sure where her artistic focus was.
“I really didn’t have an idea of [what] fine art printing was. I took a leave of absence and I was hiking in the high peaks and wandered into the print shop at SUNY Potsdam. It was an incredible print shop and that’s where I stayed and learned to do what I do,” Geurtze said.
Thus, she found her medium, working with artist and professor Robert Bero, who became her mentor and friend in the ensuing years.
She’s known across the region, particularly in Cooperstown where she lived for more than two decades and Saranac Lake, where she recently moved, for her etchings and monotypes, both of which are on display in the show.
From the glow of the flowing water in “Spring Stream” to the sweeping views of fields in “Farm Fields of Palatine, NY,” the exhibition reveals the artist’s visual roots.
Suzan Friedlander, the executive director and chief curator of the Arkell Museum and Canajoharie Library, first asked Geurtze about exhibiting at the museum about two years ago.
“After she asked me to do this show I realized how connected I was to Canajoharie. Living in Cooperstown, I would always go through there on my way to the North Country,” Geurtze said.
During those drives, Geurtze would often stop to capture sunlight bathing the fields or trickling through wooded creeks. She took quick sketches or a few photos before heading back to her studio to start the etching/monotyping process.
“A long time ago, I started making multiple-plate etchings, which seems kind of crazy. I made some huge ones with three gigantic plates over printed, generally with three primary colors and then I started working with secondary colors, orange purple and green, and that was fun too,” Geurtze said.
A prime example of that can be found in “Cabbage & Corn,” which stands out in the exhibition, with its distinct coloring. Surrounded by dark fields and trees are glowing purple cabbages and young pumpkins that seem to glow from within. The three-plate etching creates a view of Christian Hill, near Toddsville.
Across the exhibition, a larger view of the Mohawk Valley’s farmland hangs on the wall.
In the monotype “Farm Fields in Palatine, NY,” Geurtze captures the livestock among the rolling hills of the area.
“Monotypes, are what I call a printmaker’s approach to painting. I did more monotype printing than I have done painting. As I get older and I want more immediate results, I use a monotype approach to painting. When I draw on a plate, I lay down a layer of translucent color, pull that away with cotton balls or Q-tips and then add more paint. I’m certainly not going for the representational image, I’m going for the suggestion of something, the wild and enthusiastic approach to the image,” Geurtze said.
While the exhibition leans into Geurtze’s printmaking background, it also celebrates her paintings.
In “Canajoharie Creek,” the exhibition’s bright anchor, shades of pink mix with whites and blues and greens, all zig-zagging to the foreground of the painting. Then, not too far away, Geurtze uses paint to highlight an important geological aspect of the region in “Between the noses,” showing the Mohawk River cutting through two tree-speckled mountains.
The exhibition text quotes author William Least Heat-Moon, as does Geurtze in a recent interview, “. . . an opening at least as important to the westering of America as the Cumberland Gap, for without it the Erie Canal would have been more difficult to build.”
“Between the Noses,” is one that visitors are going to want to spend some time with, viewing it from different angles and taking in the historical importance of the region.
Geurtze also delved into downtown Canajoharie, etching a view of the village’s street-level traffic light. In the gritty “Factory Town — The Dummy Light,” Geurtze uses etching and watercolor to capture that central light, which has become so rare in the state that it sometimes brings unsuspecting visitors to a screeching halt.
According to the exhibition text, there are just three of the street-level traffic lights left in New York state and Canajoharie’s has been in use for more than 90 years.
“Water-Marks: Etchings, Monotypes, & Paintings by Deborah Geurtze,” highlights some of the iconic aspects of the Mohawk Valley, along with some spots that even locals may not have had a chance to see. It will be on exhibit until December 29. For more info visit arkellmuseum.org.