Schantz’s work inspired by Berkshires

About this time of year, the Berkshires warm us in the evening with their subtly-changing orange glow. Stepping out into the valley of Williamstown is like walking into the scene of a panoramic painting; the green of the earth flows upward into the leafy autumnal mountains, which break off into fluid blue waves of sky. It is an environment that inspires almost all of us in one way or another, whether to sing hymns in its honor, tackle its heights on foot or pick up some pastels and put oneself to the task of reproducing the ethereal splendor of the moment. Since moving to the Berkshires, artist Jim Schantz cites the powerful call of these beautiful mountains as his main inspiration for creating beautifully-rendered pastel works, a fine selection of which are currently on display at the Harrison Gallery on Spring Street. The exhibit, entitled “Jim Schantz: Berkshire Landscapes,” opened Oct. 2 and will run until Nov. 15.

The artist was present at the gallery this past Sunday to sign copies of his recently published book, “The Spirit of Nature: The Berkshire Landscapes of Jim Schantz.” The coffee-table book is a collection of pieces currently for sale at the Harrison Gallery, as well as many others from Schantz’s broad Berkshire repertoire. It captures the feel of living in the Berkshires in their many seasons and will be available for purchase at the Harrison Gallery throughout the run of the show. The show also includes commentary by Richard Nunley and Brother Thomas Bezanson.

Harrison Gallery proprietor Jo Ellen Silipo described how Schantz’s Williamstown visit was prompted by a connection between her and Bernie Pucker of the renowned Pucker Gallery in Boston. Silipo’s partner Laurie Thomsen first noticed Schantz’s work in the home of a friend, which both led to the discovery of his representation at the Pucker Gallery and furthered the relationship between the two galleries. The Pucker Gallery currently sends the work of three of its artists out to Williamstown, allowing the young Harrison Gallery, which opened in the spring of 2001, a stature in the gallery world it might not yet otherwise have obtained.

The front room of the Harrison Gallery is filled with Schantz’s illustrious pastel pieces, some of which are large enough to cover an entire wall of a living space. Though they work beautifully together in a larger sense, each piece also draws the viewer in on its own terms, into rolling green fields featuring lone hazy trees and mountainous backdrops, or stark barren winter branches against a smooth blue sky.

Schantz says that despite having grown up in the “New Jersey industrial belt,” he was “always drawn to nature.” He first came to the Berkshires in 1982 as a graduate of Syracuse University, where he had originally gone to study architecture and ended up finding an interest in drawing. However, Schantz says it wasn’t until graduate school that he began to work with pastels.

This late start with pastels is surprising given his obvious mastery of the medium, which he uses in a range of applications by blending and building up layers while leaving a hard edge on certain forms to provide precision. Schantz has studied art at the Hornsey School of Art in London, the Brooklyn Museum School in Brooklyn, New York and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine, but says the techniques he employs today in his work come mainly from his own attempts. “I really discovered pastels quite by accident, and I created my own ways and means of doing it,” Schantz said in an interview in the journal The Artful Mind.

The most intriguing aspect of the collection currently on display at the Harrison Gallery is the spiritual quality of Schantz’s scenes. Though the landscape presents what could be a common mountain on the backdrop of sky, his use of color and light draws in the viewer, giving the work a feeling of magic, mystery, serenity and sometimes isolation. Schantz relates that he prefers “that magical twilight time of day” for his scenes, which he recreates in the studio from a combination of photographs taken at one moment from a variety of angles.

Currently residing in Glendale, Massachusetts, Schantz says he never tires of his subject of the Berkshire landscape. “There are at least 12 seasons in the year — each month has its own character,” he said. “It is really the science of looking. Through observation you develop a keener sense of the color that’s there. Your awareness only becomes clearer over time.” The clarity of vision in Schantz’s work is unquestionable. Now, at the Harrison Gallery, visitors can experience the ever-changing world of the Berkshires as seen through Jim Schantz’s eyes.