En Plein Air – The Newburyport Ten
The Newburyport Ten set up their easels in a patchwork assortment across the grounds of Atkinson Common in Newburyport on a cloudless Thursday.
Their subject for the day? “Whatever,” says Dan Shaw, 79, the Ten’s organizer.
The Newburyport Ten is a group of painters who work en plein air, French for “in the open air.” The style came from 19th century impressionist painters who found inspiration in nature. Each painter chooses a subject that speaks to him or her, Shaw says.
“I always loved the outdoors, hiking and canoeing,” Shaw says. “This kind of just fits right in with the outdoor theme. That’s what makes me want to be out here.”
The group, which now includes 11 artists, was founded in 2000 by Newburyport artist Carol Reynolds and her mother, Marie Crone. They began showing their work at the Newburyport Art Association in 2001. Shaw says he saw one of these early shows and joined immediately. He took over leadership of the group in 2004.
The artists gather to paint in a new spot once every week, working in a mix of mediums, including watercolor, acrylic and oil. Many of the members have backgrounds in graphic art, illustration, oil painting, portraiture and other art forms. The only requirement is a love of painting outdoors.
“Every Thursday morning we go out and paint, and we usually go to lunch someplace afterwards and solve all the world’s problems,” Shaw says. “It’s part of the camaraderie of the group, as well as just getting out into a nice spot to paint.”
The group visits locations across the North Shore, southern Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Though they return to many favorite venues, they also add new places each year, Shaw says.
The group works year-round. In the winter, when plein air painting is difficult, the artists gather at the Union Congregational Church and at 14 Cedar Street Studios, both in Amesbury, creating still lifes, working from photographs, or painting their surroundings outside the windows.
But the crux of the group is the appeal of painting in the spring, summer and fall, says member Cynthia Cooper, 70.
“It’s just a challenge to go to a different place every week and find something to paint. You can always find something, even if you wouldn’t go there yourself,” she says. “You just look for design or color.”
Shaw says this unique setup is part of what attracts people to paint with the group, even if they are not members.
“People hear about our group and they want to know if they can paint with us, so we have about 60 people on our mailing list every week,” Shaw says. “You never know when somebody is going to show up. I think maybe some people want to just find out the good places to paint.”
Though the group welcomes painters to join them for a day, there is a benefit to being a core member. Each year, the Newburyport Ten puts on a show at the Newburyport Art Association.
This year’s show is titled “Au Naturel,” again borrowed from the French. Scheduled for July 19-31, it will showcase many of the members’ works from the past year, including paintings of the same scene by different artists. This is because each artist has a different interpretation of what he or she sees, says member Susan Spellman, 66, who is organizing the show.
“We’re responding to the environment that we’re in, so we don’t go to a place with a preconceived notion of what we’re going to do,” she says. “We let the place itself speak to us.”
For more information, visit NewburyportTen.com.