NORTH FORK — More than a dozen artists gathered in a local native garden this week, tools of their respective trades in hand, poised to capture the magic as a soft breeze blew and the Sierra sunlight gently dappled the grounds around them.
When we heard that members of Yosemite Western Artists would convene for a plein air day at Sue and Larry Langley’s place, I felt certain it was a winning scenario: talented people, delightful garden, beautiful day. Let’s go.
Founded in 1969 by a group of artists and enthusiasts who wanted to share their work, experience, and passion for learning more about the arts, Yosemite Western Artists (YWA) has flourished and continues today as a good-sized group still dedicated to the on-going development of the visual arts in our area. Regular meetings are held at the historic Gertrude Schoolhouse in Ahwahnee, and activities include live model sessions, photography, and plein air workshops, along with an annual portrait show and other special events throughout the year. It’s known locally as a warm and welcoming group.
Also of the warm and welcoming sort are Sue and Larry Langley, who moved to the area about 14 years ago from the southland. Married 26 years, they proudly occupy some seven acres of incomparable land facing Peckinpah mountain in the North Fork area.
Photos by Kellie Flanagan
Larry is an expert level enduro rider who won a National Enduro back in the day, among other achievements, and has successfully organized dual sports rides for the industry around the region for many years — which is how the couple came to arrive in the Central Sierra.
Sue, many will recall, is the force of nature behind Sierra Foothill Garden, once the chronicles of a new gardener, and now the voice of experience. She either knows or will productively research any and all questions pertaining to our local beds. Sue is an artist who paints in dirt. Even before the Langley’s built their home here, when a shed was the only telltale sign of human habitation, Sue was plotting her plots. Now, and especially at this time of year, it’s exquisite. Positioned across from a mighty waterfall, under the careful watch of pine, oak, ceonothus and manzanita, Sue’s all-native foothill garden thrives.
Sue’s mom was a gardener and what we see today had its roots, fittingly, in Garden Grove, California. This time of year in the Sierra, with a full and still-growing garden abloom with spring, Sue spends a lot of time weeding. For her, the chore is a meditative one, in which she judiciously chooses the non-native weeds one by one. It’s time to quit, she says, when her hands grasp too many at a time and her Zen quest becomes one of desperation.
Fortunately, no one was desperate on this particular day. Far from it. The artists were spread about the property in a comfortable way, each with a good view and a plan to preserve it in some way, whether in watercolor, oil, pastel, or through the lens of a camera.
Organized by YWA member Barbara Liss, who is active in a dinner club with the Langleys, the plein air outing produced a number of works and enabled people from as far away as Fresno and Mariposa to participate. Barbara suggested that this sort of outing was exactly what she moved up here to do.
New member Aleli Kelton was on site, taking photographs with her husband Dr. Gerry Sullivan, and YWA president Kirby Smith. Aleli also wants people to know about the Yosemite Iris Society show at the Oakhurst Library on Saturday, April 20. In fact, the next YWA plein air meeting is in an iris garden.
Terry Robinson worked quickly in acrylic, occasionally stopping to clean his palate as the breeze dried the paint prematurely for the artist’s preference. Terry has been a YWA member for quite a while, and was thrilled on joining to find that a most-admired artist was also onboard. Donald “Put” Putman was a teacher of some of Terry’s early teachers and a strong influence on his work. For more on Terry, he is the subject of a recent This Is Us on SNO, curated by Jennifer Moss, who is also a YWA member — in photography.
Mary Beth Harrison was working in oil on this particular day. She says she hadn’t painted from the time she was in high school until around the time she turned 50, when her husband bought her a nice set-up, noting correctly, “you said you always wanted to!” That’s when she joined YWA, began taking classes with Linda McCoy in Clovis, developing her talent.
In the roughly eight years since, she’s had her work featured in various ways including on the back of the Ponderosa phone book, on an ad for Valley Public Radio, and with the Logger’s Jamboree. She shows her work at Jenny’s Garden in North Fork, and will be there again this year, for her second Sierra Art Trails open studio tour.
Artist Annie Mahle was working colorfully in soft pastels, with plans to go over her work in hard pastels once she got back home. She’s been a YWA member for about a decade and was pleased to be observing the natural light and colorful foliage at Sue’s garden at about 3,500 feet, compared with Annie’s lower elevation in Ahwahnee. Teresa Sharp was sketching with ink and painting with watercolors. Botanical artist Vicki Thomas drove in from Mariposa.
Lee Pounds is another new YWA member, she’s from Coarsegold. Lura Schwarz Smith was working in what she calls a fractured style, contemplating a magnificent ghost manzanita which Sue had seen toppled over during a storm earlier this year.
In the end, we left before the work was finished. Cookies and bananas were produced, as those present took a break with a sack lunch and prepared to settle in further for the afternoon. All in all, it was a gorgeous day in the garden with the added privilege of seeing local artists at work. Want to see some of the finished work? Check out Yosemite Western Artists on Facebook and scan the page for more inspired local art.