Sabra Field

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(HOST)Commentator Tom Slayton says that a new book allows us to experience Vermont through the eyes – and words – of one of our most iconic graphic artists.

(SLAYTON) In the pastoral art of Vermont printmaker Sabra Field, landscapes are more than just pretty. For her, farmed landscapes quietly symbolize the harmony that can exist between humanity and nature.

In her new book, In Sight, Field quotes the landscape historian John Brinkerhof Jackson, in words that could be her own credo: “The beauty that we see in the vernacular landscape is the image of our common humanity: hard work, stubborn hope, and mutual forbearance, striving to be love.”

That quotation is juxtaposed in the book with Field’s sweeping color print, “Farms in Addison County”, and her sketchbook version of the same farmed scene in western Vermont. This large and beautifully printed book offers many such juxtapositions.

In Sight is an elegant, generous book, a collection of more than 100 of Field’s recent works, presented along with the sources of her thinking and inspiration. The result is a striking journey into the creative mind of this artist and the subtle complexities of her work.

Although her woodblock prints are realistic and often deceptively simple, Field’s art is actually quite complex and makes frequent references to her intellectual models and mentors: Piero della Francesca, Milton Avery, Ando Hiroshige, Fairfield Porter, Leonard Baskin and many others. She is deeply educated in art history and often crafts her own prints with the work of her artistic predecessors in mind, either consciously or unconsciously.

For example, in the sweeping landscape, “Upper Valley”, Field tells us she was inspired both by a helicopter ride she took up the Connecticut River valley and by many of her favorite historic landscape paintings. One of those, “Wheat Field”, by the 17th-century Dutch artist Jacob van
Ruisdael, is reproduced on the facing page, and we see in it some of the same sort of broad, sweeping curves that Field uses to draw the viewer into “Upper Valley”.

Her influences are many and various. The blue shadows-on-snow in Field’s print, “Shadow Trees”, are echoed in a wintry Adirondack landscape by Rockwell Kent. The driving rain in her print of a red Vermont barn, Field shows us, was inspired by a similar technique in a Hiroshige print.

But the inspiration for her work also often comes from her own personal experience: “Boiling”, her depiction of a sugarhouse emitting steam and a shower of sparks on an early spring night, was inspired by a moonlit walk Field took with a friend to a neighbor’s sugarhouse. “Silos, East Montpelier” is an amalgam of images that Field collected on a visit to Austin Cleeve’s farm in that town.

Field calls her style abstract realism, “by which I mean that I choose to stylize, to simplify, to reduce to essence.”

Whatever her work is called, Field’s prints resonate with meaning. It’s a rare book that offers visual and intellectual insights and delights. But this book, In Sight, just published by University Press of New England, does both.

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