Exhibit promotes conservation, appreciation of waterways

In a new exhibit, two local artists will display their love of nature through their artwork for an exhibition at the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County.

The exhibition, “Waterways: An Artistic Exploration of the Streams and Rivers of Central Pennsylvania,” is a joint painting project between artists Alice Kelsey and Jeanne McKinney.

While most of the paintings are done in pastels, some are done in oils. The exhibit will include a map highlighting the location of each scene painted, as well as photos of the painters and notes about their experiences painting “en plein air.” The exhibit will run in conjunction with a number of outdoors-themed activities for families and children.

The main idea of the exhibition was to include a year-long series of paintings that spans four seasons along various regional waterways and to bring attention to the natural state of the water and its environment in the areas of conservation, protection and improvements.

“We are hoping to elicit thoughtful and helpful responses,” McKinney said. “We are deeply concerned about the quality of our water and how the results of our current activities will impact future generations.”

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., McKinney has lived in Pennsylvania for 40 years. Her earliest artistic influence came from her grandfather, Baltimore artist Edward S. Black.

“I grew up surrounded by his beautiful paintings and I fondly remember him making drawings for me and my brothers when we were young,” she said.

The majority of McKinney’s landscape paintings are “plein air” pieces, meaning “painted in the open air.” Many of her paintings are of areas of central Pennsylvania rich in beautiful scenery, including woods, mountains, streams and farms.

“I have always been drawn to the natural world and appreciate its beauty, so I feel comfortable and happy painting outdoors,” she said. “In my work, I try to express the essence or spirit of a particular scene for others to enjoy.”

Kelsey grew up in Chester Springs and makes her home in Warriors Mark.

“My budding artistic skills were also nurtured by sketching together with my grandfather as a young child,” she said. “I remember sitting on his lap, probably 6 years old or so, and drawing together on the same piece of paper, with the image emerging from the scratchy marks of both of our pencils.”

The majority of Kelsey’s paintings also started on location outdoors, which comes from being deeply and consistently inspired by the natural world.

“Places in the everyday world reach me visually and viscerally, sparking an urge to put these connections, inspirations, and observations on paper or canvas,” she said. “My journey through developing a painting involves entering into the unknown as well, and the challenges of trying to distill a scene to its essence, or do justice to its beauty and nuances, which can be daunting.”

The inspiration for the group project came from Kelsey and McKinney’s love, appreciation and respect for our natural environment.

“Jeanne and I both enjoy fly-fishing and plein air painting, and began going out to streams with equipment for both activities,” Kelsey said. “The ‘Waterways’ project emerged from these mutual interests and a desire to know and share the watershed as a whole; to travel to remote mountain streams, and larger ones in the valleys, largely within the water basin of the West Branch Susquehanna.”

For the “Waterways” exhibit, Kelsey and McKinney painted “en plein air” over four consecutive seasons at 22 streams in eight counties, creating 88 paintings in an artistic exploration of the watershed. The painting sites ranged from areas of Huntingdon County to World’s End State Park in Lycoming County. About 40 of these paintings will be displayed and offered for sale. The paintings feature many area streams known for world-class fly-fishing including Spring Creek, Spruce Creek, the Little Juniata River and Penns Creek.

As the project came together, Kelsey said she and McKinney wanted to be able to exhibit this series of works as a group, to share with others a sense of overview of our watershed - the beauty, diversity, and interconnectedness of regional waterways. “The Bellefonte Art Museum seemed like a wonderful venue, with the beautiful exhibit area and location near Spring Creek,” she said. “We also wanted to find a way for our paintings to give back to the land which inspired them, and together with the museum, have partnered with area groups to support conservation and environmental education.”

McKinney said she hopes her art will help to inspire and educate people with its familiar scenery, which in turn may help in selling her work.

“Perhaps it’s the place itself that may evoke a particular experience or memory,” she said “It’s very rewarding for an artist to have someone appreciate their work enough to select and purchase a painting and know that it will be enjoyed for years to come.”

More importantly for this exhibition, McKinney said she and Kelsey hope to prompt thoughtful consideration of the future of our waterways and awaken a desire in the viewer to take that first step to do more.

“I hope that people will see something in a particular scene that moves them in some way,” she said. “We have a responsibility to the next generation to maintain and improve the ecological well-being of our natural resources.”