For nearly two decades, Stone Barns Center and Blue Hill at Stone Barns have partnered to push the boundaries of sustainable farming and eating. This past year has demonstrated that abundant, nourishing food and a thriving farm economy are essential—and that our work has never been more urgent. Our current program, Chef in Residence, brings together culinary and agricultural pursuits across the Stone Barns Center and Blue Hill restaurant to activate a food culture rooted in ecological, human and community health.
But regional farming systems and the cultures that support them are about so much more than food. The land and soil yield the materials that make up the visual and aesthetic experiences of our lives, from cut flowers to building materials to clothing to works of art.
The Arts & Ecology initiative at Stone Barns sets out to accelerate change in these elements of our regional farm system by collaborating with and supporting artisans whose work and materials highlight the inextricable links between craft and farm sustainability.
OBJECT & THING
Object & Thing reimagines the art and design fair concept, by bringing together both disciplines through a focus on the object. Launched in 2019 as an exhibition in New York City, as well as through a corresponding e-commerce site, Object & Thing presents object-based 20th and 21st century works, collaborating with artists’ studios and leading international art and design galleries.
Member and public visits will be available through carefully-coordinated, limited reservations Wednesday through Sunday throughout the exhibition. Appointments are free, open to members and the public and conducted in accordance with New York State safety guidelines and restrictions on capacity. Reservations will be available to be booked HERE beginning on March 31st.
JOHNNY ORTIZ (b. 1991, Taos, NM, USA) digs deep in his work — literally. His primary ceramic material is micaceous “wild clay,” found in his home state of New Mexico. When he first discovered this resource, his first instinct was to leave it in the ground: it seemed, he says, “too stunning to do anything with.” But he gradually came to grips with it, seeing in the clay a means of connecting to his own ancestral past, as well as to present-day aesthetic possibilities. He makes the material his own through an elaborate series of procedures, first burnishing the pots with rough sandstone and then smoother river stone, pit firing them with red mountain cedar, and finally, “curing” them with grass-fed beef tallow from Stone Barns Center and beeswax. For this presentation at Stone Barns Center (concurrent with his time as Chef in Residence at Stone Barns), he is extending his series of “field studies” working with clay from New Mexico, fired at Stone Barns during the late March Worm Moon.
Japanese noren hangings are used to mark transitions: liminal states, not just of place, but also of time. What more appropriate greeting could visitors have to the gallery at Stone Barns — a new space, opened at a new season. And not just any season, but one that marks many people’s emergence from a long, unusually sequestered winter. This welcome is offered by MEGUMI ARAI (b. 1989, Portland, OR, USA), who specializes in boro textiles, whose dynamic abstract patterns are composed of many re-used fabric scraps. Though spectacular in their palette, their beauty is patient and hard-won, paying implicit tribute to the historical originators and custodians of the tradition. For her Stone Barns noren, Arai incorporates found fabrics, as well as fabric with natural dyes developed from plants from the farm — another kind of salvage, another way of honoring.
FRANCES PALMER (b. 1956, Morristown, NJ, USA) has been thinking about Giorgio Morandi lately. And well she might. For her art, like that of the great Italian painter, is an art of placement — of getting things just right, not just the things themselves, but the intervals between them as well. The vessel forms she has been making are fired in a wood kiln and sheathed in shimmering Chinese-style glazes. To the knowing eye they betray Palmer’s deep technical expertise. And yet, at the same time, they could almost have been plucked, by her magical fingers, from Morandi’s canvases — an impression reinforced by her use of them to hold branches and blooms from the Stone Barns farm. It’s a humble enough gesture, pitchers with flowers in them. But in Palmer’s hands, that commonplace conjunction becomes artful performance. Still life tradition itself seems to take a bow, crowned with laurels. A little victory for what matters most.
Since the inception of Object & Thing in 2019 — on its travels from Brooklyn to Connecticut, and now to the Hudson Valley — the project has had a few regulars, whose visions have informed and shaped its creative direction. Foremost among these is GREEN RIVER PROJECT LLC. Founded in 2017 by Aaron Aujla (b. 1986, Victoria, Canada) and Benjamin Bloomstein (b. 1988, Hillsdale, NY, USA), this New York City workshop is research-driven, both in its use of materials and in its relationship to design history. Each Green River creation is unique, while expressing a single common set of principles. Forthrightness is Aujla and Bloomstein’s prime directive; they employ straightforward, often massive joinery and carving techniques. The apparent simplicity is, to some extent, deceiving; their forms draw in a sophisticated way on precedents in the canon of modernism, like Gerrit Rietveld, Alexandre Noll, and Constantin Brancusi. Yet their work is also completely right for today — today, when just about everything is inflected by spin, experienced through some filter or other, at a distance from the actual. Green River remedies this through the simple fact of encounter (in the present exhibition, using wood found on the Stone Barns property). Every one of their works is an anchor for experience, solid and assured. And goodness knows, we could all use more of that.
“The trees are coming into leaf,” wrote poet Philip Larkin, “like something almost being said.” It’s a wonderful line, which captures the articulateness of nature — its potential to communicate with us — but also the way that it stands apart from us. Nature nurtures a language that is not quite our own. Art at its best can be a kind of translator, bridging that space of the “almost said.” Case in point: the work of KIVA MOTNYK (b. 1977, New York, NY, USA). Since 2014, she has been the head of Thompson Street Studio, drawing on a background in high fashion to create textiles infused with natural dyes derived from foraged plants. The linen designs she shows here at Stone Barns feature the colors of the surrounding countryside. Each is a little metaphorical map, a piece of the landscape made eloquent. To quote Larkin again: “Last year is dead, they seem to say / Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.”
For six of the seven artists in the current exhibition, Stone Barns is a site of new exploration. But not GREGG MOORE (b. 1975, Hackensack, NJ, USA). He has been collaborating with Chef Dan Barber and the rest of the team at Blue Hill for several years, integrating his practice as a potter with the rhythms and philosophy of the place. Their collaborative experiments have ranged widely: china made of calcined bones from the kitchen, plates textured by pecking hens and rooting pigs, platters cast in farmland furrows. The most essential (a foundation, as it were, for the other, more elaborately conceived pieces) is a series of “soil plates.” They are composed of half Stone Barns dirt, dug up by Stone Barns’ head farmer, Jack Algiere, from the most clay-rich level of the fields’ stratigraphy. The other half is Moore’s own black porcelain recipe, which was itself developed in response to a plate that Barber had given him early in their collaboration. Given this composition, Moore considers the pieces to be “half farmer, half chef…an invitation for discussion of the role of humans with food and ecology.”
A trug, traditionally, is a shallow basket made from wooden strips, intended for light duty — marketing or gardening, perhaps. While this narrow description does fit JANE CRISP’s (b. 1980, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK) reinvention of the form, it leaves a lot unsaid. To the conventional repertoire, she has added skills drawn from her own experience as a furniture maker who has also been inspired by boat-building practices and materials: steam-bending, copper nails, and an overlapping “clinker” construction. These techniques allow her to create shapes that are indeed somewhat redolent of a ship’s hull, or perhaps a bird’s wing, folding in upon itself. Crisp, who has also lived on a narrow boat, cites riverbank reeds as an inspiration for her forms. But the real value in these elegant objects is not so much in their references, the technical aspects of their construction, or even the personal experiences that they reflect. No: it is the way they sit within space and time, poised and confident. In their vertiginous spiraling lines, we see the trajectories of past and present intersecting.