Mickey Rathbun: A artist’s natural sculptures grace Northampton’s Laurel Park

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    SUBMITTED PHOTO"Three Sisters" by Gary Orlinsky

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    "Three Sisters" by Gary Orlinsky SUBMITTED PHOTO

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    "Three Sisters" by Gary Orlinsky SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 7/14/2016 8:11:38 PM

Back in April, I wrote an article about Laurel Park, a residential community in Northampton that grew out of a 19th-century Methodist summer camp meeting. That piece focused on the history of Laurel Park and its historic summer “cottages” that have been lovingly and creatively transformed into year-round houses.

In addition to its interesting historic and architectural legacy, Laurel Park has a rich natural tradition. Camp meeting visitors spent some of their time singing and praying in the tabernacle. But they were also encouraged to find respite and recreation walking the trails through the Nine-Acre Woods that wound up and down hills and through stands of mature trees and majestic outcroppings of stone.

Leverett sculptor Gary Orlinsky, Laurel Park’s third annual artist in residence, has created a sublime natural sculpture park in these woods that will be featured in Laurel Park’s Chautauqua Festival Friday through Sunday. A well-known public artist, Orlinsky has crafted a series of installations using intriguing combinations of natural materials — leaves, trees, roots, rocks — with occasional manmade objects that surprise and delight.

Some of Orlinsky’s pieces are constructed of materials found within a few feet of the installation. His first creation, “Three Sisters,” is towering trio of old hemlocks transformed into a rustic enclosure for fallen leaves. It’s like a sculptural composting arrangement.

Further along is moss-covered log garnished with a zigzagging strand of slender twigs that wind — like a bridge for ants — through the broken spikes of branches. It’s so subtle you might walk past it without noticing it. But once you see it, you can’t take your eyes off the patterns Orlinsky has created with the simplest of materials.

In a small clearing in the woods, an ethereal gateway, created of woven fragomites — tall reeds resembling bamboo — gives you the sense you’re walking in an ancient Japanese forest.

So bewitching are Orlinsky’s creations that the whole forest comes to seem enchanted.

Everywhere you look are serendipitous groupings of elements that are greater than the sum of their parts.

“As an artist, I’m always looking at things in terms of positive and negative space,” said Orlinsky, who teaches art at the University of Massachusetts and elsewhere. As we walked through the woods, his talent for instruction and explanation was evident as he pointed to empty spaces framed by rocks, tree trunks and fallen branches.

Orlinsky will give a guided tour of his work at 4 p.m. Saturday. I highly recommend this show to anyone who is interested in seeing the natural world through the eyes of a gifted artist. You’ll come away with a greatly enhanced notion of the visual pleasures of taking a walk in the woods. You might even be inspired to try something similar in your own garden. As Orlinsky has so gracefully demonstrated, the materials are all around you.

Living in the culturally rich Pioneer Valley, we sometimes take for granted the abundance of spectacular art that’s created here. Laurel Park’s Chautauqua Festival, which will also feature music and a variety of activities, is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the natural and artistic treasures in our midst.

Laurel Park is on North King Street (Route 5 & 10), about three miles north of downtown Northampton. The entrance is about a mile north of Big Y supermarket and River Valley Market, across from the State Police barracks. It’s just south of exit 21 off Interstate 91. Look for the stone gates with a Laurel Park sign above them. The entrance to the visitor parking lot is south of the main entrance (just before it coming from Northampton, just after it coming from I-91).

Williamsburg Garden Tour

A self-guided farm and garden tour to benefit the Meekins Library in Williamsburg takes place July 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There will be nine stops on the tour this year including the greenhouse at the town’s elementary school.

Tickets, which come with tour maps, are $20 per family and are on sale at the library, 2 Williams St., Williamsburg.

For more information contact Eileen Stewart, 268-3525 or Becky Houlihan, 588-1149.

Daylily show at Tower Hill

The New England Daylily Society will present an afternoon of daylilies at Tower Hill in Boylston Saturday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Daylily enthusiasts from all over New England will show their extraordinary, best-grown, best-groomed daylily flowers. There will be educational programs in the theater, daylilies for sale and a membership table to join the American Hemerocallis Society. The show is free with Tower Hill admission. For more information, go to www.towerhillbg.org.

Hobbit Garden at Quonquont Farm

Quonquont Farm in Whately is a fabulous pick-your-own orchard and event venue. In addition to getting the freshest fruit available, now there’s a new reason to patronize the farm: a hobbit garden. The main path begins at a small-scale “Bag End” with its own miniature garden, and follows Bilbo’s journey to Mirkwood, with flower-related features along the way. The garden should be open in time for the opening of Quonquont’s blueberry season, the second week of July.

For hours and directions, go to quonquont.com.

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115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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