The grandeur of the forest, the comfort of being surrounded by nature, a sense of vibrant energy of trees — a walk in the woods is filled with experiences, and may open new directions of contemplation.

A new installation at T.W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center in Montpelier draws visitors to that forest experience and invites exploration of that universe.

“Botanical Ornaments” by Patty Hudak fills the Nuquist Gallery at T.W. Wood. A fabric structure of translucent painted panels hanging from the ceiling fills the center of the gallery, with visitors welcome to settle into its interior space. On the gallery walls, large-scale digital prints burst with energy of arboreal growth and patterns. A set of segments of sapling trunks evoke a sense of the quiet dormancy of winter.

“So many people walk in and gasp and breathe it in. It’s really rewarding to watch people encounter this installation. It’s immersive,” explained Margaret Coleman, the T.W. Wood’s executive director.

“People may be used to coming here and seeing paintings on the wall or seeing sculpture, but this takes it beyond sculpture. It really becomes an environment, something you experience,” Coleman said.

Plans for an installation by Hudak were in the works just before the COVID-19 shutdown, with Hudak originally conceiving an installation relating to spring. The experience of the last 16 months shifted her direction.

Philosophy and processes of Ireland, China and Japan inform Hudak’s artwork, her materials and her approach to imagery. A 2020 Vermont Artist to Watch, Hudak, who lives in Underhill, is a participant in several global residencies and has spent 12 years working in China and Japan. Hudak sees humankind as one with nature rather than separate from it.

“Botanical Ornaments” emerged from Hudak’s experiences and explorations in the last year.

“As the year went on we were all going through changes. For me, Yeats has been a really big influence on my work,” Hudak said, noting especially, “his connection to nature and to folk wisdom.”

Walking daily on trails by her home, “My mind would go to a kind of ancient place … I felt a kind of boundary leaving between me and the trees. First of all, they looked even more magnificent, and then a combination that they felt more grandiose and also very intimate. I felt like I was being included in this world,” she said.

In her artist’s statement, Hudak notes that, “Turning to nature for answers to existential questions transforms the solitary experience. Is the sense of energy emitting from the plants and trees real or imagined? How do we receive these messages?”

For the Wood installation, “I wanted to create a shelter. You know, we’ve all been a little emotionally wrecked. The shelter tries to give that sensation of the canopy of the forest — having both the grandiosity of the forest and the intimacy of the space.”

Inside the shelter, visitors are immersed in color. The overhead panel softly hangs down, light glowing through it. Yes — it’s OK to lie down and soak it in.

Hudak’s colors — greens, pinks, yellows, really across the whole spectrum — have an organic feel. There is a sense of looking through foliage. Drips of paint evoke a sense of light rain.

A trio of Hudak’s large-scale digital drawings fill one wall of the gallery. The forest canopy offered Hudak a starting point for these multi-layered images. From a distance, their large shapes and lines emerge. Up close, interconnected and overlapping shapes in rich deep planes of color evoke patterns of fresh growth. The two lighter green panels erupt with that glorious and fleeting Vermont spring green.

“You know there are a lot of discouraging things now about the environment, but I do have this faith that if we listen we can heal,” Hudak said. “We have the intelligence. We have the compassion. If we listen to these old wisdoms and to nature, there’s a vitality that can heal us.”

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