hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture June 2021


Healthy food and fine art

Painter draws inspiration from herbs, ancient cultures


The artist Laurie Goodhart worked at painting ceramic shards in her Cambridge, N.Y., studio last month in preparation for an upcoming exhibit. Joan K. Lentini photo


The artist Laurie Goodhart worked at painting ceramic shards in her Cambridge, N.Y., studio last month in preparation for an upcoming exhibit. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


Just up the hill from a blossoming magnolia tree sits the lifeblood of Laurie Goodhart’s 8-acre property: the garden.

Stepping inside the ring of deer-proof fencing, she surveyed the herbs and vegetables arranged in three-tiered rows like curvaceous highways. Girded by borders of cinderblocks were thatches of chives, thyme, sorrel and sage, thriving in the sunlight.

Goodhart and her husband, Raynald Hebert, will dine on the greens until early fall. Toward summer’s end, the harvest for a nearby root cellar will begin, ensuring that their supply continues after the garden goes dormant for the winter.

“My current favorite are the dandelions,” Goodhart said. “I use them on salads and as a tea.”
She pointed to nearby nettle and raspberry bushes, noting they also make excellent teas.
As devoted as she is to the garden, though, it’s only a sideline. After stopping to see it, she would soon be hunkered down in her nearby art studio, sketching and painting the foliage she tends.
Herbs, in all their wild, nutritious wonder, have been her muse for years. In one long-running project, Goodhart’s artistic interpretations of chard, parsley, stinging nettle and cassis (blackcurrants) are vibrant against their black backgrounds. Each plant is encircled by a swirl of her calligraphy; the text explains how to care for them in the earth and eventually get maximum benefit from them in the kitchen.

Stinging nettle, for instance, lends itself to being dried and crumbled into everything from soups and sauces to desserts. She compiled it all into a book, “Sustenance for a Wild Woman,” with cooking tips for herbs and other greenery, and now she’s publishing it in weekly installments on her website of the same name.

“My work is all about eating wild and homegrown food while moving away from the kitchen and not being so centered around it,” Goodhart explained. “I appreciate good food, but I eat to live, not live to eat. … I don’t love to cook and often don’t have the time.”

The weekly blog entries and recipes, for those subscribe to her site, are an amalgamation of what she’s learned along the way.

“I’ve figured out how to do the processing of the food in a time-efficient way,” she said. “I wish I’d known all this in the beginning; I learned by trial and error.”


Goat cheese to still lifes
One could say that trial and error was the method in which she came to be so enamored of herbs, both as food and medicine. Goodhart, who grew up in the Albany region, became chronically ill in 1982, when she was in her early 20s.

“I had a health collapse, which in retrospect was probably Lyme,” she recalled. “But no one knew what to do about it back then.”

Discouraged by her utter lack of energy and sleeping away the day, she decided a more proactive approach was necessary.

“I realized the medical community didn’t have all the answers and started researching nutrition,” she explained.

What she discovered was that herbs, especially wild ones, were nutritionally dense and, when eaten with regularity, began to make a difference in how she felt. Goodhart said it took seven years for her health to return to normal, and once it did, she had no desire to give up the garlic mustard, lamb’s quarters and wild violets she’d grown to love.

As she recovered, Goodhart immersed herself in art studies at the College of Saint Rose, Syracuse University and the State University of New York at Albany, where she completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1985. That same year, she and Hebert married and moved to the New York City area. For the next three years, she pursued both art and a love of artisanal foods, working for two years in eastern Long Island as assistant manager at the Village Gourmet Cheese Shoppe in Southampton.

Over the previous decade, Hebert had owned a farm in the Adirondacks and harbored a dream of making cheese.

“It dawned on me while working at the cheese shop that people are willing to pay more for goat cheese, and it all came together in my mind,” Goodhart said.

Soon they were back upstate in the town of Thurman, where they opened Nettle Meadow Farm in 1992, and she saw to it that their herd of Nubian goats also ate a variety of wild herbs and greens. The final touch for their brand of cheeses was Goodhart’s herbaceous artwork and calligraphy on the labels. The business grew and prospered until they sold it in 2005 to relocate to Hebert’s home province of Quebec.

During their 12 years just outside Montreal, Goodhart focused on her art, producing bright still-life oil paintings of food as well as decorative bowls, pitchers and urns inspired by the ancient cultures she’d studied in college.

They were drawn back to upstate New York in 2017 after becoming grandparents, and they chose Cambridge as their new home.

“We always loved driving through the area when we took our daughter to dance lessons at Hubbard Hall,” Goodhart recalled. “For me, there was no other place in my mind but Cambridge to live.”


Conjuring an ancient past
For the past two years, Goodhart has collaborated with the pottery artist Stephen Procter. They met at an exhibition opening at his studio in Brattleboro, Vt., and they developed a mutual respect for each other’s work.

Procter is known for his outsized “vessels as sculpture,” pieces of large-scale pottery often displayed in gardens, public spaces and architectural contexts. Although they worked in different media, the two artists saw a connection in their mutual love of ancient vessels.
“I thought it was very interesting to me how Laurie was portraying in 2-D what I was portraying in 3-D,” Procter recalled.

So he asked Goodhart if she would paint on some of his recent works.
“I thought I would desecrate them, but Stephen really wanted it,” she explained.
The results are now displayed at his Brattleboro gallery, which is open by appointment.
This summer, the two will collaborate again as part of a show at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., where “Land of Enchantment” will be on exhibit from July 10 through Oct. 31. The show includes a large outdoor piece that coordinates with an exhibit inside the museum.
Procter described the sculpture, which as of mid-May was still a work in progress, as inspired by past images Goodhart created of a circle of cranes supporting a large font-like vessel.
“I haven’t done anything like this before,” Procter said. “My work is almost entirely thrown. This will be a combination of wheel-thrown pottery with the hand-built forms of the cranes.”
Goodhart said she’ll be inscribing something on the vessel at the center of the work.

“When Stephen and I first talked about the project, I started hearing the meter of a poem in my head,” she explained. “I wrote the bones down, but I’m still working on it.”

When she’s not working on her collaborations with Procter, Goodhart continues to fill her website with food-related art, unusual pairings for recipes (such as her recent banana-chevre omelet) and concise weekly primers on herbs.

In a recent meditation on lovage, she described its virtues: “It’s an extremely hardy and prolific perennial with an assertive flavor somewhat reminiscent of celery. A little goes a long way, but grab a sprig to chew on whenever you walk past it.”

This fall she’ll be exhibiting at “Landscapes for Land’s Sake,” the annual art show that benefits the Agricultural Stewardship Association, a conservation group that serves Washington and Rensselaer counties.

Goodhart also is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund a project called “The Cuisine Cards,” a deck of playing cards with her painted images celebrating food and its cultural origins. She’s in the process of expanding it into a 78-card tarot deck.

“It’s going to be salt-of-the-earth type of tarot cards -- how the mundane world gets interwoven with the spiritual,” Goodhart said.

“I work on something every day in my studio,” she added. “I love to be here.”

Visit sustenanceforawildwoman.com for more information on Laurie Goodhart’s art. Visit www.nrm.org for more information about the upcoming “Land of Enchantment” exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum.