ORONO – Esther Taylor crafts her artwork around the realism and simplicity of the natural world. Her daughter, Sally Gilbert, focuses on engaging nature through more raw media.
“Generations,” the current exhibit at Art Etcetera in Orono, running through Dec. 25, represents not only the artistic ties between mother and daughter, but also the rich heritage of the pair.
In her childhood, Taylor frequently drew on the walls of her family’s camp at Pushaw Lake, a hobby she likened to “the caveman drawings of long ago.” Looking to satisfy a creative itch, she studied art education at the University of Maine, later going on to teach in the art program at Orono High School. One of her most avid students would be her daughter.
“I remember watching her paint and being so fascinated by creation,” Gilbert said. “I was 3 years old when I drew her a picture of Pooh and Piglet.”
Gilbert went on to hone her artistic talents at UMaine before moving to Portsmouth, N.H., in 1992. In recent years, she has shown her work at galleries in Maine, as well as Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
“My daughter’s talent is more developed. She was around more educated interests,” Taylor said.
That development could be interpreted as a move away from the traditional art surfaces. While Taylor makes use primarily of canvas and paper, Gilbert enjoys the incorporation of “found objects.” Included in her works are corrugated cardboard, a closet door and driftwood.
“I like the concept of recycling junk,” Gilbert explained. “Most of my apartment is furnished with found junk.”
“He Thing/She Thing,” an oil painting on primed cardboard, examines one of Gilbert’s more common themes: Duality of the sexes. Layered hues of red and orange flesh out the basic differences in the human form. Separated into two distinct figures, the work depicts her self-described “fascination with the relationship between male and female images.”
Gilbert ventures further into the nontraditional with her piece, “Shrine to My Grandmother.” Featured by the Kittery Art Association last month, the sizeable wall hanging is a collection of symbols relating to Gilbert’s grandmother, Florence Hayes Goodine.
Copper nails line the outside edge of the shrine, as copper was once believed to be a home remedy for arthritis. On the inner section, Goodine’s affection for nature shines through the placement of striking feathers, shreds of birch bark and even a bird’s nest. Located toward the bottom half of the shrine, next to a small picture of Goodine, is a rolled-up note – a sweet reminder of her place in Gilbert’s life.
“I wrote that note in 1993, the day she passed away,” Gilbert said. “It’s a kind of thank-you note for everything she’s meant to me.”
The artistic legacy between Taylor and Gilbert actually grew from an indirect nurturing by Goodine. While not as outwardly artistic as her descendants, she was a prime influence in the work of both mother and daughter.
“She wasn’t an artist like you might think,” Gilbert said of her grandmother. “She used to knit and crochet Christmas ornaments for craft fairs, but really she had a lot of creative energy going into functional purposes – like taking care of the kids,” Taylor added.
In Taylor’s works, her mother’s impact is easily distinguished. “Pushaw Diaries” is a set of 12 ink-and-watercolor portraits capturing Goodine at Pushaw Lake. Taylor employs soft contours and subtle shading to portray her hard-working and compassionate mother. Each piece in the “Pushaw Diaries” focuses on nature and Maine’s particular flora and fauna.
“My mother had great interest in the outdoors, and especially in birds,” Taylor said.
A good deal of Taylor’s work also focuses on nature’s winged inhabitants. For much time, she did “experimental” portraits of ravens in a process known as “ink and wash.” The paper starts out wet, allowing the ink to be constantly moved with a brush before drying. The result is the empty shell of the majestic black bird, full of thick, imposing curves.
“Life is gritty and these pictures are kind of a microcosm of this,” Taylor said. For Esther Taylor and Sally Gilbert, their art has been a means of personal growth.
“It’s a validation of life’s experiences,” Gilbert said.
“There’s a lot of guts going into what you create,” Taylor added.
“Generations: A Mother & Daughter Art Exhibit” will be on display through Dec. 25 at Art Etcetera, 19 Mill St. in Orono, 866-3221.