Local artists share moments from around the world

Last modified: 4/1/2013 7:40:01 PM
The Kenyan safari tour guide drove the Range Rover too close to the lone elephant. The aggravated animal took notice and was beginning its charge towards the approaching vehicle. Among the handful of tourists on the Range Rover that July day in 2012 was photographer Jim Thomas of Temple. He was on a trip of a lifetime to Kenya with his wife and fellow artist, Sydney Thomas. Their adventure turned sour, though, when the animal’s aggressive behavior caused the couple to fear for their lives.

But just as quickly as the Thomas’s fears surfaced, they dissipated because the elephant changed its course and aborted its charge, Jim said in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Saturday. “One second before this photo was taken, the elephant was heading straight towards us,” Jim said, recalling the elephant’s ginormous tusks. But a second later, when the camera’s shutter clicked, the elephant halted its course — the moment forever frozen in digital form.

In the end, everything turned out OK, the couple said. In fact, it turned out more than OK, they laughed, explaining that the safari provided them with so many beautiful memories and sources of inspiration for their latest exhibition at the Jaffrey Civic Center.

Jim and Sydney, along with Mary Phillips of New Boston, a friend and fellow artist, will exhibit works from their individual collections that capture a fleeting, yet notable moments in time. Their show, “Moments in Time: Realism x 3,” includes oil paintings, drawings and photographs taken in Venice, Indonesia, Africa, Maine, the American southwest and more. The civic center will host an opening reception for “Moments in Time” on Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The show is on display through April 20.

“Rather than be political or polemical in any way, we are saying this is a moment that we found beautiful and we hope that you do too,” Sydney said.

Jim’s photograph of the elephant in Kenya, which he titled “Aborting Charge, Masai Mara, Kenya,” is among his African wildlife prints featured in the show. A second print, “Dust Bath, Amboseli, Kenya,” captures two zebras rolling in the sand, while a herd of about 100 other zebras around Jim and Sydney at Amboseli National Park were caught up in a fight.

For Sydney, the Kenyan safari gave her insight into the local culture and its people, including the Masai, a semi-nomadic people who are known for their distinctive customs and bright dress. “At one time only do the young men drape themselves in black or deep purple — after they have undergone their circumcision rite [of passage]. Having survived that harrowing ordeal, they are now warriors,” Sydney said. “I was struck by the face of this young warrior and in my painting of him I’ve sought to capture his penetrating and haunting expression.”

Sydney said she was also inspired by the young man’s grace and his tall and slender figure, which she worked to replicate in her oil painting, “After the Rite: Young Masai Warrior.”

During another recent trip abroad, but this time to Venice, Sydney said she was awed by the beauty of a lagoon visible from the balcony of her hotel room. “Across the lagoon lay an island glowing in the late afternoon sun and of special radiance was the façade of a magnificent church facing the water,” she said.

Sydney took a lot of photographs of the view so that she could paint the scene when she returned home to New Hampshire. But little did she realize at the time the history of that location in the art world.

“Only after completing [the painting] did I discover that San Giorgio Maggiore has been a favorite subject of painters for centuries,” Sydney said, naming French Impressionist painter Claude Monet and Italian painter Canaletto, or Giovanni Antonio Canal, both of whom have also replicated the scene.

While the Temple couple has chosen to include work inspired by experiences from around the world, Mary Phillips’s work brings the exhibit back home to the U.S. with figurative paintings of local people. In “Esther Preparing to be Queen,” Phillips paints the daughter of a close friend, known for her gorgeous hair.

“Her mother called me, saying that I needed to hurry with the sitting. Her daughter was going to donate her hair to Locks of Love,” Phillips said, referring to the nonprofit organization that provides hair pieces to those facing long term illnesses. “It occurred to me that she was like a young Queen Esther from the book in the Bible, who must have been able to perform selfless acts long before she had to risk her life to save her people.”

A second portraiture painting by Phillips, “Turn Again to Life,” tells a story of hope inspired by Connecticut’s first practicing female lawyer, Mary Lee Hall, who was admitted to the bar in 1882. Phillips said she heard the poem, “Turn Again to Life,” by Mary Lee Hall, which was read at a 9/11 memorial service in Pennsylvania in 2011. Hall’s words offer comfort and promises of better days ahead after the passing of a loved one, and Phillips said she wants her painting to provide similar support to those facing challenging times.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.


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