BY NANCY P. WEISS
“Beavers are the Shiva of the animal world. Who knows how a beaver chooses where to make her pond?” The first line of Leila Philip’s poem “Water Rising” sets the tone for a collaborative experience between the reader and the creators of a remarkable work of art, crafted by Philip, an author and professor, and her husband, Garth Evans, a British sculptor with an international reputation. _
The couple wanted to work together to express through their art their responses to the world by using Woodstock as the jumping off point for reflections on change, nature, transcendence and permanence. They decided to push themselves to create outside their traditional media. Philip, a writer of literary nonfiction, would craft poems. Evans, a sculptor, would create watercolors.
“Garth and I wanted to do something together and push ourselves creatively. I had received a Guggenheim Fellowship to write and used some of that time to work on poems. Part of the fun of living with an artist is exploring another media,” Philip said.
We worked for twelve months on the theme of “here and now,” Philip said one late summer afternoon from the porch of the home she shares with Evans and their son. Noting with a sweep of her hand that a turtle lays eggs on their lawn every year and the wetlands near their home brought her in close contact with the beaver in the title poem.
Evans and Philip set out the rules of engagement for their project. While they were producing their work, they would not share it with each other. The poems would not be written to illustrate the watercolors or vice versa. When 12 months were over, they would bring their work together. “I didn’t go into Garth’s studio for a year,” Philip said, “I had to call to him from the top of the stairs. We had many funny moments negotiating ways to keep our distance.” At the end of the year, they invited a friend to come to their home where they laid out Evans’s watercolors and Philip’s poems on the floor of the studio. “Certain pieces went together as if by magnetism,” Philip said, “We knew we had something.”
“Water Rising” was born out of their collaboration. The watercolors next to the poems reinforce the texts. The poems, read before the watercolors, ground the images. Their idea of working in different genres on a common theme emerged as they selected twelve watercolors and eleven poems to create a book that is a work of art in itself, printed on watercolor quality paper, cloth bound and sewn on the edge. The result is a beautiful book that will connect back to the community that inspired the work.
“One of our goals is to inspire people to make art in response to where they live. Garth gave time to making watercolors and I felt excited every day when I sat down to write,” Philip said.
Proceeds from the sale of the book and the watercolors will go back into the community in form of donations to local preservation and conservation groups. Evans’s New York art dealer, Johannes Vogt has agreed to donate proceeds from the original watercolors to support the publication of the book. One hundred percent of the funds from the sale of the broadsheet, a limited edition of fifty numbered and signed pieces, will also be directed toward the realization of the book. Then proceeds from the finished book will be directed to organizations in the “Quiet Corner” working to preserve the landscape, natural beauty and sustainable development.
“By making “Water Rising” affordable, people will have the opportunity to participate and support our community while coming away with something beautiful,” Philip said.
Philip’s writing and Garth’s watercolors have ignited another artistic spark. Internationally renowned composer, Shirish Korde, has begun composing music in response to the project, setting some of the poems to music and writing music to respond to the watercolors. These performances will accompany exhibitions of the watercolors and the poems.
Philip never directly mentions Woodstock, the town where she lives with her family, because she did not want to ground the poems too firmly in one place and limit their outreach. Instead, she hopes to inspire people to look around their own neighborhoods, to take stewardship of the places they live and undertake creative projects now rather than later.
“When I am writing, I feel more alive and more human. Our work celebrates the power of the arts to communicate, and create in the human community,” she said.
“Water Rising” will be introduced at events in the area starting this fall. To experience a taste of “Water Rising,” stop by the Silver Circle Gallery in Putnam where a display about this adventurous art project will be on view from October 1 through November.
For more information, see www.silvercirclegallery.com. Readers can also find out more about the project, by visiting its website: www.water-rising.com