Janet Fredericks’ view of her earth: ‘Land Marks: The Land We Mark, Marks Us’

Arts Correspondent

The eagle’s eye: That’s the view of American topography Janet Fredericks presents for our consideration. “Land Marks … The Land We Mark, Marks Us” is the title of the Lincoln artist’s new exhibit at Town Hall Theater’s Jackson Gallery in Middlebury.

The works on paper that are collected in this exhibit, with just a few exceptions, are looking down at our land. Her work spans the continent from east to west, and began as a group of sketches and photos she made during airline trips across the country. The finished work is a memorial to the impact of human work on the topography.

Janet Fredericks: “Untitled (City)”

Fredericks’ wall works, both woodcut prints and drawings/paintings, are abstracted, with the blurred quality of things seen from a very high altitude. Looking at them, it wouldn’t be out of line to compare them to the mystical overhead views painted by the aboriginal people of Australia. Fredericks’ pieces have the same remote sense of the land looking up. Who is looking down?

The signature piece of the exhibit is “Land Marks.” This piece is a gridded collection of woodcut prints, giving the viewer an aerial view of land, traveling from the verdant and wet eastern zones of our country and slowly moving across the rivers, plains, mountains and dry deserts of the American west. The idea for this piece, Fredericks explains, is to show our marked land all of a piece. The geological marks of time and weather make up part of “Land Marks,” but the viewer will also see the marks of humans: roadways, collected dwellings, irrigation.

Fredericks’ enthusiasm for considering the impact of human mark making animates all of this work, and her aerial point of view is necessary to illustrate her concerns.

In one of my favorite pieces, Fredericks shows the marks of branching water upon brown soil. At first glance, I wondered, “Roots? Rivers?” But, in fact, the artist explains that these old marks reveal irrigation: humans directing water to moisten a broader expanse of soil than the streams might have done on their own. Regardless of what the picture actually shows, this untitled piece has the fluid grace of branching waters draping themselves across an expanse of land, carving its surface.

Other works give a detached view of human endeavor: highway systems, a housing development in the middle of farm fields, a city with its grids and congestion. The view is extremely lofty, though, so Fredericks’ marks on paper are subtle and suggestive of what she saw while flying.

This exhibit is a peaceful experience; its colors belong to the Earth, sea and sky; its perspective is distant. This collection gives the viewer the large picture and reminds one of the deep time involved in marking the Earth: the ages and eons of nature’s marks, and the mere centuries of human beings’ impact.

When you have the large picture, you can appreciate the spectacular beauty and meaning of mark making.

Take a nice drive to Middlebury. You’ll find the Jackson Gallery on the lower level of the Town Hall Theater. This exhibit will be on view until Sept. 9.

Town Hall Theater

Town Hall Theater presents “Land Marks … The Land We Mark, Marks Us,” sketches of human interaction with the ever-changing landscape by Vermont artist Janet Fredericks, through Sept. 9, at the Jackson Gallery, 68 S. Pleasant St., Middlebury. Hours are: noon to 5 p.m., and one hour before events; call 802-388-1436, or go online to www.townhalltheater.org.