For the last few weeks, the community of Jeffersonville has been playing host to a group of Russian painters, and their presence in our midst has been a form of painterly détente.
Viktor, Maxim, Irina and Oleg have come to Vermont from Moscow to paint en plein air – in natural light – and despite 3 major nor’easters they’ve been scraping snow off their palettes and painting outdoors up to 10 hours a day. Good humor, aesthetic determination, and the occasional vodka chaser to warm the inner painter, have kept them laughing and marveling at the sights we take for granted, each and every day.
They’ve been joined in Vermont by American counterparts from all the New England states and from as far away as California, Colorado and Maryland – more than 30 plein air painters have been sharing the experience. Many of them already knew each other, as this privately organized and personally funded exchange of painters between Russia and the US has been taking place for a few years, now. Last fall, six US painters spent 3 weeks in Kostroma, 200 miles northeast of Moscow, and before that, a group of Russians joined Americans painting in Maine and Sag Harbor, New York.
This is the first time they’ve been in Vermont, and their focus is on the practice of plein air painting - especially fitting for Jeffersonville, which for at least a century has been a mecca for plein air painters.
Even before this group of painters arrived in Vermont, it was clear that the American painters were dedicated in their determination to provide for their Russian visitors. Accommodations were arranged, transportation scheduled, painting locations suggested, and logistics solved by the American artists, who were also protective of the welfare and intentions of their Russian friends.
If that sounds thoroughly and precisely organized, the reverse was also true. It was as organized as a family reunion, as controlled as an opening night, as structured as the first day of vacation.
But what stays with me is the realization that together, these Russian and American painters live a shared belief in the power of art to stir souls and bridge cultures. So we Jeffersonville villagers have been honored to help them set up their easels and paint together, and we’re proud to support this brief but exquisite moment of international understanding – courtesy of brush, paint, canvas and plenty of fresh air.