The Pandora Suite

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(HOST) Sabra Field has produced a new and very unusual series of prints. Here’s commentator Tom Slayton with a preview.

(SLAYTON) The violence and cruelty of our times was beginning to get to artist Sabra Field. And so she began looking for a way to express through her art her concern about this beautiful, damaged world we live in – and our own human responsibility for it.

Perhaps the most profound western exploration of nature and human nature is found in the ancient Greek myths. And so Field began considering one of them, the myth of Pandora. You remember Pandora’s Box, the legend of a curious young woman opening a forbidden container and thereby unleashing all the world’s troubles? Well, that was just one version of the story a version promoted by the Greek scholar, Hesiod. Earlier versions of the Pandora myth hold that Pandora gave us not just our troubles, but all of our complex humanity the good as well as the bad. Compassion as well as warfare; love as well as hatred; wisdom as well as greed and anger.

Oh and Pandora brought these various gifts in an amphora an earthenware jar, not a box. A minor point, but one that resonated with Field as an artist.

Printmaking is what Sabra Field does. Most Vermonters are familiar with her beautiful depictions of the Vermont landscape. However, the Pandora Suite, a series of prints that Field just completed, is something very different.

The world was in such a mess that I couldn’t ignore it any more, she said. And so she created a series of 12 prints in which she uses the Pandora myth to explore human nature and the nature of our human relationship with the world.

There are subtle references to other artists in these prints: to Goya, Picasso, Mary Cassatt, and the artists of ancient Greece. Fields concern for state of the world and our future is sharply evident here. Instead of full-color pastoral landscapes, we see stark black-and-brown figures and patterns. Instead of a balanced and beautiful farmed countryside, we see simple, stark images, some of them brutal: a hanged man dangles from a rope; disfigured legs and crutches present a sad wartime composition.

There are other images as well a lovers embrace, the health of a growing plant, a woman’s compassion for a child. But the overall effect of the Pandora Suite is stark. This who we are, these images say. Take a look.

The tone changes subtly with the final print after the harsh images of war, inequality and injustice, we are shown a soft-figured woman, kneeling on the earth. She looks with gentle interest upon a tiny sprouting plant: a single sprig of pure white; the gift of hope.

It is hope, Field tells us that is Pandora’s final gift: hope that gets us through the hard times, that keeps us going when the night seems very dark and dawn very far away.

Somehow, in this November of 2006, it is an appropriate gift both from Pandora and from artist Sabra Field. The Pandora Suite is on exhibit at the Wood Art gallery in Montpelier.

(Host) Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine.

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