Autumn is coming and we can easily see the signs — back-to-school supplies on store shelves, fashion magazines showing woolens, and comforters coming out of storage at night. In nature, we see different constellations decorating the evening skies; on various species of trees, the foliage is just starting to show its brighter tones; and among the birds in central New Jersey, we see and hear a change in plumage and song.
“The Feathered and the Field,” a new exhibit at the Marie L. Matthews Gallery at the D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Johnson Education Center off Rosedale Road, is celebrating this transition from summer to autumn with artwork depicting birds, barns, crops, and flocks in a variety of mediums. On view through Saturday, October 5, and curated by Diana Moore, “The Feathered and the Field” celebrates the beautiful spirit of birds and the expansive fields and open spaces where they soar. In addition, it encourages people to preserve and plant bird-friendly habitat. A free opening reception on Thursday, August 15, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., also features a sunset nature walk.
There are more than 30 types of birds represented in the exhibit and the works range from straight nature photography, to crisp watercolors by Beatrice Bork, to Charles David Viera’s abstract paintings. In addition to Bork and Viera, exhibiting artists include Francesca Azzara, Bill Dix, Carolyn H. Edlund, Brenda Jones, David Robinson, and Rye Tippett.
In her curator’s statement, Moore reflects on the visual, literary, and scientific nature of our avian friends noting that “there is a balance between the poetic and the factual in this exhibit. The information provided goes beyond educational elements about cultivating an ideal bird habitat and mitigating environmental threats.”
“It also includes things like a birder’s description of waiting in waist-deep water since dawn to capture a perfect image of a Roseate Spoonbill feeding,” she says. “It cites poetry, such as Emily Dickinson’s use of bird imagery, to symbolize the very nature of hope. And, the most fun, it invites viewers to learn the names of groups of birds. A charm of goldfinches, a Vatican of cardinals, a museum of waxwings, and a flamboyance of flamingos are some favorites.”
“The Feathered and the Field” was a natural opportunity for Bork to display her more recent work, including loving portraits of regional birds, such as “Red Flyer,” which captures a Northern Cardinal on the wing.
With nearly 25 years of experience as a professional artist, Bork is a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists, an association of international artists devoted to promoting excellence in the portrayal of the creatures sharing our planet. Among her many honors is the Don Eckelberry Award for achievements in bird art, which has allowed her to travel to Trinidad, and record the island’s fantastic avians in watercolors.
Last spring she also completed “Through the Shoals,” which features a “flamboyance” of Caribbean/American flamingos, perhaps a sight she enjoyed in the tropics.
“The flamingos were one of my latest pieces, and that was a painting that had been rummaging through my mind a lot,” Bork says. “There was just something about the pink color and the ribbon-like necks.” Pink ribbons may have special meaning to Bork, a Flemington resident, since she had been fighting a battle with breast cancer for the last year, a battle that she has happily won.
“The outcome has been positive, and though nobody wants to go through this, (the illness) gave me time off to reflect, it got me to stop and really think,” she says. “I think I have a deeper appreciation (for life), maybe more clarity. It’s brought me more passion, and there’s a sense of some sort of deep urgency. It was almost like hitting the restart button. I’m feeling really good now, and when you go through the bad, you see the good even more. I did lots and lots of sketches, ideas that will last me for a long time. As for painting, I am really excited to get that going again.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing the difference in my work,” Bork adds. “I think there’s been some rejuvenation in my work and it’s hard to pin point, but I do sense something gelling. It’s an emotional thing for me: the colors are a little different, maybe a bit brighter these days. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it will be interesting to see what happens. The more I paint, the more I can see (the changes).”
Although she employs photography as a resource, Bork most enjoys walking around in nature, carefully watching, and then sketching. “When I’m out in the field, I get a lot of characters and information,” she says. “I do walk around with a camera, but my imagery doesn’t necessarily match my photography. Once I’ve gotten the research material together, I’ll have a thought (about the image) whether it’s while I’m observing, or as I’m driving or maybe even as I’m going to sleep. There’s always a little bit of a narrative.”
Bork reflects that her works are not just detailed portraits of the birds, such as something Audubon might have created (beautifully, by the way); there is also a sense of the essence of the creature in her paintings.
“My interpretations are definitely in the work,” she says. “There’s a mood and an emotional connection to the work, maybe in the bird’s movement, maybe in the background. There’s a lot I’m thinking about when I’m doing a piece. I like birds especially because they’re so versatile. Birds are big and small, with an array of attitudes and character. It’s all there. There’s also the symbolism: so, when I want to do something courageous, I’ll look to an owl or a hawk. If I want something sweet, I’ll paint a chickadee. Chickadees are quick, sweet birds and it’s a whole different feeling from a hawk.”
Growing up some 40 years ago in White House Station, Bork recalls her family’s house butting up against a farmer’s field, and times when the family car might be the only vehicle on the road driving along Route 543. She says she’s been interested in making art since her mom, a busy homemaker, put a pen or crayon in her hand.
It was Bork’s father, Guenter, who has been her main artistic influence. Father and daughter even had a show together, of his jewelry and her paintings. Their works were shown together in the exhibit titled “BORK,” at the Soul Made Gallery in Point Pleasant Beach, in June.
“He’s an engraver, so he did a lot of work with mold making,” she says, noting that he did detailed work for fine watch and jewelry makers such as Bulova and Tiffany. “He’s retired and now exploring his creativity fully. He’d always done jewelry, but now I wear it — I’m proud to show it off.”
In 1988 Bork earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design with a specialization in illustration from the College of New Jersey (Trenton State back then), and basically became a professional artist soon after, participating in hundreds of exhibits since. She had thought for awhile about becoming a veterinarian, but a career in the arts won out.
“It was always either art or animals,” she says. “The two interests always came together, so it was an easy path for me, and I’m very lucky in that regard. I couldn’t ask for anything better than to be able to combine these two passions.”
Having traveled to Trinidad, where it feels like summer year ‘round, Bork enjoys the transitions between the seasons.
“Although, it’s nice to get away from the seasons sometimes, I like all the transitions, maybe especially the transition to fall,” she says. “Here, there’s more of an awareness of the time, it’s more obvious in this area than, say, Trinidad. I’m there only a week and I forget.”
“The Feathered and the Field,” Marie L. Matthews Gallery at the Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton, through Saturday, October 5. A reception and sunset nature walk, free and open to the public, will be held Thursday, August 15, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Gallery hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 609-924-4646 or go to www.drgreenway.org/art_galleries.htm.