Three Artists in the Working Forest

In my experience, it is extraordinarily rare to hear such honest and searching accounts of the hard work of actually paying attention—to the world and its inhabitants, to the different times of day and all that remains unspoken in the lives of people carrying on their daily business.
— Program Attendee

Such was the response to Three Artists in the Working Forest: Conversation on art, documentary, and representation with Kathleen Kolb, Verandah Porche, and George Bellerose. The panel conversation and Q&A session sought to illuminate how these three working artists approach the representation of their subjects from the vantage point of artistic creators, storytellers, and ethnographers—and thanks to the honesty, and at time vulnerability of the three speakers—illuminate it did.

The conversation took place against the backdrop of Kolb and Porche’s exhibit, “Shedding Light on the Working Forest,” which was on display at the Vermont Folklife Center through April, and came on the heals of Bellerose’s exhibition, “Portraits of the Forest: Men and Machine,” which had been exhibited through the winter. Both exhibitions explore and celebrate Vermont’s working forest through the eyes of the people who have honed their skills and made a living there—loggers, foresters, and others. 

The panelists brought with them extensive experience and personal practice as artists working in diverse mediums: painting (Kolb), poetry (Porche), and photography (Bellerose). Kathleen Kolb evokes what is solid, luminous, yet ephemeral in the scenes she gathers and painstakingly paints. She talks about a moment of “emotional ignition” kindling a work of art. As a writing partner, Verandah Porche befriends, questions, and listens to unearth and preserve the poetry embedded in lived experience. She calls this process “finding the verse in conversation.” George Bellerose’s photography is in many ways an extension of his persona—gentle and direct: “I show them [subjects] past work and explain my working process, both photography and text. I stress that this can be a long process, but that I strive to make it mutually enjoyable.”

The work of the Vermont Folklife Center is founded in the academic discipline of ethnography—which can best be understood in practical terms as attempting to understand an experience from the perspective of the person to whom that experience belongs. In other words, “stepping into someone else’s shoes.” 

The three participating artists are not only fine practitioners of their respective art forms—they are also out in the world attempting to “step into the shoes of others.” 

Watch the Full Program Three Artists in the Working Forest