NorthWind combines poetry with visual art

Susan Whiteman reads a poem to an audience during the NorthWind Fine Arts gallery’s poetry opening in Saranac Lake Friday. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

SARANAC LAKE — NorthWind Fine Arts gallery held its third annual poetry opening Friday. In a combining of media, poets and artists collaborated and expressed both written and visual art.

David Crews collaborated with painter Heidi Gutersloh and read a poem called “Still Life.” This is Crews’ third year at the poetry opening. In “Still Life,” Crews describes aspects of nature such as pine needles, white-tail deer antlers and pheasant feathers that eventually fall and become dirt.

Gutershloh’s accompanying painting shows deer antlers surrounded by pine cones, pine needles and berries, looking almost like a centerpiece at an Adirondack wedding.

“She shows all these things that fall off, and low and behold, here’s a poem about dirt because everything goes back to dirt,” Crews said.

The poem has real authenticity when Crews starts to describe a glacial period in the Adirondacks that ended nearly 12,000 years ago or when he mentions the chemical and mineral make-up of dirt in the Blue Line — quartz, potassium, feldspar and garnet.

Poet David Crews reads a poem during NorthWind Fine Arts gallery’s poetry opening in Saranac Lake Friday. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

“It’s really a curiosity and wonderment that’s been taking over for me,” Crews said. “In order to speak to something, say the environment or nature, part of me feels like I need to approach it with all the knowledge of a scientist.”

Crews teaches English at West Morris Central High School in Chester Township, New Jersey. He said if he could go back and do things over, he’d like to teach science, too.

“I’m kind of marrying the two subjects.” he said. “The science world has infiltrated my poetry work and vise versa.”

Crews started hiking the 46 High Peaks in 2012 and became obsessed with the region. It lead him to write two books of poetry on the Adirondacks — “High Peaks” and “Wander-Thrush.”

His love for the Adirondacks extends to more than just his poetry. Crews works with the Northeast Wilderness Trust, a nonprofit out of Vermont that buys land for the purpose of preservation. NWT is currently trying to acquire the Eagle Mountain Wilderness Preserve in Essex County. Proceeds from his two books, which can be found on his website, davidcrewspoetry.com, will go toward helping NWT purchase the land.

Crews said he loves the concept of blending media. He works with an organization called Arts for the People that does similar projects to the one at NorthWind.

“It’s basically just about getting art out into the public, but a lot of what we’ve been doing lately is overlapping media. I’m a workshop leader for a project called ‘Moving Words,’ where we take spoken word pieces and we send them to universities around the world and they’re turned into animated films. Another project is called ‘Bridging Gaps,’ where we have spoken word pieces and jazz bands improv in response to the poem. It’s a lot of really neat genre-mixing work.”

Nancy Scheffel Morse of Ray Brook read a poem called “The Peanut Man.” It describes a moment when she was a young girl, experiencing her first sensations of empathy. At 6 years old, she and her father walked through Central Park in Manhattan, when a man in raggedy clothes appeared, selling peanuts for 10 cents a bag. The man was a far cry from the suburban world she was used to.

“This is what sustained him, defined his place in the social picture.”

“‘Dad, I want a bag of peanuts…please.'”

“‘Ignore him, no, no, come away, you don’t even like peanuts.'”

“‘But I really want a bag of peanuts now…'”

As Morse sat in the backseat of her family car, she looked out the rear window and saw the “Peanut Man” disappear into one of the park’s many tunnels, still hawking his legumes. She said that experience made her look at everybody differently.

“It makes you realize everybody has a story,” she said. “Everybody has happiness, and everybody has sadness, and everybody has trials and tribulations in their lives. I realized when I was little that that man lives a life completely different from my own, and it made me so sad. I felt like I need to touch him, and I couldn’t. The image of him going just stuck with me forever.”

Morse later became a physical therapist and also does volunteer work, citing the “Peanut Man” as her motivation to help people and give back to the community.

The accompanying piece was a photographic essay from Ed Williams. It shows seven images of his brother-in-law walking toward a tunnel. As he gets farther away, he starts to vanish into the background. Meanwhile, in the foreground, a little girl turns her head and watches the man disappear.

“‘The Peanut Man’ reminded me of some personal experiences,” Williams said in an press release. “When I was a toddler I had an experience of leaving a place and having something disappear forever.”

Morse said collaborating with artists from other media is transformational.

“You’ll come up with a thought, and to see someone else’s interpretation of your work, is very enlightening,” she said. “You have your own vision, but often what comes out is so different and wonderful.”

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