As the subject of nature is so complex, there is more to see and more inferences to test out.
Pacific University’s Katherine Cawein Gallery of Art presents a virtual collection, Within the Forest: Nurse Logs,an exhibition by Nancy Helmsworth. The series of paintings — inspired by the Portland artist’s walks through Forest Park during the COVID-19 lockdown of Spring 2020 — debuted Feb. 1.
“Painting is a focus and meditative process, giving me hours to think and notice the details of the subject. A bond forms; certain trees and logs are now “special” to me and I find myself checking on them every so often,” said the artist. “Recently, I sought out a log that captivated my attention last summer. I was curious how it changed in the winter season. I found it…in July it had been a hot dry day, fragrant with the smell of fresh cracked wood; now it was sodden, a whole different color of raw and burnt umber. Seeing it was comforting; I like having these – familiars – in the woods.”
Each composition chosen for the collection explores contradictory images of the forest and its interaction with humans over time. Was that doll lost or snagged on a bush? Is that a mark from a logger harvesting timber? Sixteen bright mixed media paintings illustrate the ferns, leaves, and nurse logs that inhabit the forest layered with fiber or other objects to convey an extra layer of human disturbance.
“The embroidery floss represents the human intersection with the forest; it is a superimposed layer that frames our view,” said Helmsworth. “The floss in my first works reference how people want to bring “order” to the woods – to count, measure, confine or map. The floss is point to point straight, the opposite of the organic forms of nature.”
The forest is a constant reminder of the passage of time, with evidence of seen and unseen life all around. All through time people have entered and interacted with the forest as they journey, work, live and play. Threads and objects are snagged in passing, dripping like lichen or sometimes the string staked out to define and measure, as humans try to impose their will and interrupt nature’s circle of life.
Helmsworth is an artist and an award winning educator who teaches art to elementary school students. She credits her students and the natural, rugged beauty of the Pacific Northwest with broadening her exposure to human thought and expression.