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Luskin: The Working Forest

Like most Vermonters, I spend a fair amount of time driving though Vermont’s beautiful and largely forested landscape. As a result, I tend to think of the woods as scenery, not as a natural resource. But I live in a wooden house, work at a pine desk, dine at a table of oak and sleep in a cherry bed, and I heat my home with wood. It’s one of life’s ironies that I had to go to a museum to understand where all this wood in my daily life comes from, how it’s harvested, and by whom.

Shedding Light on the Working Forest is an exhibit of paintings by Kathleen Kolb and poems by Veranda Porche, and it helped me see past Vermont’s scenery and into the woods where loggers harvest the raw materials for so much of my domestic comfort.

The inspiration for these luminous paintings of logging came into Kolb’s life twenty years ago, when she was sketching a pile of logs and realized both the charcoal and paper she was using were products of the very subject of her art. The result of this epiphany is an exhibition of stunning drawings and paintings that honors loggers and sawyers at work in the woods. Kolb’s composition and detail bring the viewer right into the scene, but it’s the light of dawn and dusk and mist, of fall, winter and early spring, that illuminates both the majesty of the trees and the dignity of the work. Many of the paintings include portraits of loggers for whom this hard and dangerous work is a calling, and Veranda Porche retells their stories in the poems that accompany the paintings.

Most of the loggers and sawyers are Kolb’s friends and neighbors in and around Lincoln. Verandah Porche is also Kolb’s friend, and as collaborator for this project, interviewed the subjects who appear in the paintings and retells their stories in what she calls “told poems.” This narrative technique allows the stories to sing in the subjects’ own voices, and to amplify the poetic light and tension of the paintings, just as the paintings illustrate the poems.

The same interconnectedness between the artist’s tools and the forest that inspired Kolb’s art is echoed in the collaboration between artist and poet, and between them and the people who work in the woods. This exhibition amplifies how artists and loggers – how all of us, really – are connected to one another through the landscape itself.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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