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




The landscape is the inspiration

Artists rally to help preserve working farms


Contributing writer

The open fields and rolling hills of Rensselaer and Washington counties have provided inspiration to artists for generations, and every October for the past 10 years, local artists have banded together to give something back.

The annual Landscapes for Landsake art show and sale, scheduled this year for Oct. 8-10, is the biggest fund-raiser of the year for the Agricultural Stewardship Association, a land trust working to preserve working farmland in the two counties.

Teri Ptacek, the agricultural group’s executive director, said the event has raised more than $119,000 over the years for local farmland conservation efforts. Participating artists donate 50 percent of their sales to benefit the association.

Money raised from the annual art show has helped the land trust to conserve 11,970 acres of farmland so far, Ptacek said. That total represents conservation efforts at 83 separate properties.

“We’re in the process of protecting another 4,000 acres,” Ptacek said. “We’re just waiting for state funding. That’s why fund-raisers like this one are so important to us.”

In a region that faces development pressures from the spreading suburbs of the Albany and Saratoga areas, the stewardship association has been working since 1990 to preserve a future for agriculture, which in turn benefits the area’s quality of life by providing fresh food and scenic vistas.

The group works with farmers and landowners to protect their properties from future development, usually through the use of conservation easements, Ptacek said.

“They donate an easement to us or sell it as a recorded deed,” Ptacek explained. “When landowners put an easement on land, they give up those rights to develop for commercial purposes -- meaning that the land is forever used only for farming purposes.”

Farmers who take part are still allowed to build farming-related structures, such as barns and livestock areas. But developments such as residential subdivisions or commercial structures are prohibited on lands covered by the easements.

A ‘thank you’ to farmers

The concept of using art to benefit the group’s land conservation efforts has proven a successful one over the past decade.

“The art show has provided us a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the beauty of farms and rally our community to help protect them,” Ptacek said.

More than 88 artists have participated, and thousands of people have supported Landscapes for Landsake by attending the annual exhibit and buying some of the featured artwork.

Ptacek said the show has grown considerably over the past decade.

“It started in 2002 as a way to promote awareness,” she recalled. “Our message was: The beautiful landscapes in Washington and Rensselaer counties that we appreciate are brought to you by farmers. Thanks to them, these regions continue to have a fabric of cultivated fields and woodlands.”

Serena Kovalosky, an artist based in Whitehall, said she takes part in the benefit show partly to show her gratitude to farmers, but also to celebrate the land that inspires her artwork and provides the natural materials she uses in her work.

Kovalosky is known for her carved gourds, which are often gilded with gold leaf and alloys.

The Washington County landscape, she said, inspires her with its peaceful rolling hills and spectacular sunsets. So taking part in the benefit show is a way of paying that landscape back while also providing “cultural food” to her community in the same way that farmers provide edible food, she said.

“It’s a mutual thank you,” Kovalosky said. “And I realize how fortunate I am to live in an area that respects and supports its farmers as well as its artists.”

This year’s show, curated by Barbara Sussman, features works by 31 area artists: Deborah Bayly, Gigi Begin, John Begin, David Brown, Paul Chapman, Adrien Colt, Valerie Craig, James Daly, Alexandra Eckhardt, Kathryn Edwards, Stella Ehrich, Dietrich Gehring, Ari Gradus, Ken Karlewicz, Sarah Keyser, Carolyn Kibbe, Serena Kovalosky, Annie McNeice, Bob Moylan, Harry Orlyk, Leslie Peck, Christoper Pierce, Dawne and Dean Polis, Steven Sanford, Brian Sweetland, Shira Toren, George Van Hook, Takeyce Walter, Lawrence White and Regina Wickham.

This year’s Landscapes for Landsake also includes a special 10th anniversary Legacy Exhibit featuring work by nearly 30 additional artists: Corrina Aldrich, Constance Alexander, Paul Baker-Porazinski, Jean Clark, Ian Creitz, Julie Duggan, Stu Eichel, Susan Harding Merancy, Lisa Haun, Clarence King, Lynne Knobel, Stephen Lack, Leah McCloskey, Patricia McEvoy, Virginia McNeice, Cliff Oliver, Reed Olsen, Judith Lee Page, Leslie Parke, Art Poulin, Mallory Rich, Jim Schanz, Rebecca Sparks, Arlene Targan, Mark Tougias, Frank Vurraro, George Wilson, Rod Wilson, and Helen Young.

The Landscapes for Landsake art exhibition to benefit the Agricultural Stewardship Association will take place from Saturday through Monday, Oct. 8-11, at Maple Ridge, at 172 State Route 372 in the hamlet of Coila, just west of Cambridge. An opening reception is scheduled for 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8. Admission is $5; children and students are free.

The gallery will also be from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Oct. 9 and 10. Participating artists will donate 50 percent of their sales to the Agricultural Stewardship Association, a land trust that works to preserve working farms in Rensselaer and Washington counties. For more information about the exhibit or the association, call (518) 692-7285, or visit www.agstewardship.org.