How do you paint a poem? The exhibit “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey just may have answered that question. Sixteen artists, most from Northern Michigan, were each given the task of interpreting a line from Robert Frost’s Pulitzer-prize winning poem. MyNorth’s Mary Ellen Geist stopped by to check it out and talk with curator Gail DeMeyere.
MyNorth: This exhibit was your idea. What is it about this poem that means so much to you?
Gail DeMeyere: My mother is a retired high school English teacher from the Detroit Public Schools, so the love of the written word and poetry has been instilled in me since I was a little girl. This is something I’ve envisioned for years, and now the time was right.
MyNorth: This poem is something we’re introduced to in elementary school and stays in many of our psyches. Why?
Gail DeMeyere: It resonates with so many people. Some people come in and recite it to me. It’s one of those poems that children and adults are often asked to memorize. It strikes a common chord. People often put deep psychological meanings to it. But Frost actually wrote it in about five minutes in the middle of June. He had been up all night writing another work and he looked out the window, and he said he wrote this poem as if he had had a hallucination. It was a breath, and a moment. It harkens back to not only the rhythms of the earth and the cycles of the seasons but our own life cycle. “And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”
MyNorth: How did you get the idea for this show?
Gail DeMeyere: Multifaceted. I have always just loved poetry. But also my job as a curator is to come up with ideas and incorporate the different arts. I’ve always tried to incorporate music, the written word, painting, poetry, different media: photography, glass. To be honest, a lot of different factors came into play when I was deciding to do this exhibition. One of them is that we’d bring schoolchildren through here. I always try to do something really exciting in the middle of winter. This year, I thought, in the dead of winter, wouldn’t it be beautiful to create a virtual poem? To take this poem by Robert Frost that strikes a chord with so many of us, and assign sixteen different artists one line. I wanted artists working in different media. I wanted stained glass, textiles, painting, pastels, and photography. What I experienced as I started asking people to become part of this project was: “an honor.” I wrote to Rick Ford in Harbor Springs, saying, “This is my concept. Rick, what do you think? Do you want to be part of this show?” And I got “Gail, it would be my honor.” From there, artists by artist by artist, everybody just dropped everything and said, “Yes. I want to do this.” There’s a glass artist, Penny Kristo, in Petoskey, and when I went to her studio and asked her to be part of this show, she said, “I’ve been saving winter glass for three years, and I didn’t know why. Now, I know why.” Every painting in here, every piece of art here, seems to have a story. It’s become so emotionally powerful to all these artists.
MyNorth: Hundreds of people showed up at the opening of the exhibit. What was it like to see your idea come to fruition?
Gail DeMeyere: At the opening, just to see the majority of the artists, many who don’t know each other, just comparing notes - what they went through in creating these works - the process, how seriously they took it. The last eight pieces in the show: they’re coupled. You have two horses, side by side. They’re turning in the same direction! Then you have an abstract painting and a quilt piece, and they both have strong black verticals going to gray. These artists haven’t seen each other. They haven’t worked together. The last two pieces - “and miles to go before I sleep/ and miles to go before I sleep” - by two different artists - look almost like the same work, but one’s a close- up and one’s a pull- back. These artists never spoke to each other. As the work started coming into the gallery, and I’m opening and I’m uncrating, and I’m looking at these things, it was very emotional. There’s something cosmic going on! It’s really wild. I mean, look at the color palates, the strange greens, the unusual lavender browns. Some look like big snow clusters in a deep dark woods. The sweep of the snow, with browns and greens in Kate Marshall’s painting. Something has taken this to a higher level. Just getting these artists together…. they’re a great cast of characters. These are people you wouldn’t normally see at a dinner party together. Just getting them together was an absolute treat. Someone asked me if I’m proud of this show. What struck me is that these ideas and these relationships came together and the show is taking on a life of it’s own and that’s the greatest satisfaction I could have.
More about the exhibit:
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is a poem written in 1922 by Robert Frost, and published in 1923 in his New Hampshire volume. Frost had been up the entire night writing the long poem "New Hampshire" and had finally finished when he realized morning had come. He went out to view the sunrise and suddenly got the idea for "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." He wrote the new poem in just a few minutes and later stated that "It was as if I'd had a hallucination." "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was Frost's favorite of his own poems and Frost in a letter to Louis Untermeyer called it "my best bid for remembrance."
Crooked Tree Arts Center has invited 16 artists and assigned them one line each from this poem. The artists have been asked to create a piece of fine art to illustrate what their line means to them. The Edith Gilbert Gallery at CTAC will be transformed into a poetic space, in the dead of winter and the words of Frost will come to life. Artists have been asked to absorb the rhythm and the mood, the silence and the sound of his words. Artists working in different media from glass to painting to textiles to photography have joined together in this experience.
Here's each line in "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" and the artist who painted it.
Whose woods these are I think I know. - Rick Ford
His house is in the village though; Joyce Koskenmaki
He will not see me stopping here- David Pickett
To watch his woods fill up with snow. - Penny Kristo
My little horse must think it queer - Elizabeth Pollie
To stop without a farmhouse near - Alan Maciag
Between the woods and frozen lake - Marcia K. Hales
The darkest evening of the year. - Bill Schwab
He gives his harness bells a shake - Kelli Snively
To ask if there is some mistake. - Doug Melvin
The only other sound's the sweep - Kate Marshall
Of easy wind and downy flake. - Diana Gilmore
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. - Kim Aikens
But I have promises to keep, - Cynthia Rutherford
And miles to go before I sleep, Peg Keeney
And miles to go before I sleep. - Betty Beeby