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Plein-Air Artists Aim to Conserve, Not Just Paint, the Landscape

State of the Arts


Connecticut-based artist David Lussier was trained as an illustrator, but he found his true passion when he began painting outdoors. And that love led to a new project, Painting New England: Preserving the Landscape, which the Stowe Land Trust introduced to Vermonters earlier this month.

Over the next few years, Lussier and his wife, fellow plein-air artist Pamela Simpson Lussier, will travel to each of New England’s 67 counties, immerse themselves in the region’s landscapes and try to help conserve them in the process. The Lussiers are prolific painters who cite Emile Gruppe and Edgar Degas as artistic influences. Writer and longtime friend Gail Braccidiferro MacDonald will join them in their journey, writing about the places painted by the Lussiers. The partners hope to close the project with exhibits around the region and a book that joins images and text.

The conservation dedication grew out of the trio’s individual experiences with the changing countryside — natural sites overtaken by residential and commercial development. “When you point to a particular property that local residents have come to know and love and say, ‘That farm may soon become condos, houses or a shopping mall,’” writes MacDonald, “that hits home.”

The three hope to fund their multiyear project through individual, corporate and business sponsorships, and partnerships with local conservation groups. Earlier this month, they cohosted an art sale with the Stowe Land Trust to raise funds for both causes. Founded to preserve Mayo Farm in 1986, the land trust has become a beloved group in Stowe and conserved some 3200 acres.

In tough economic times, a painting sojourn across the countryside may not seem like the most direct route to responsible land management, but MacDonald believes the two are of a piece. “Private donations and public funding to save and preserve properties could be in jeopardy,” she concedes, “but we hope by keeping this at the forefront of the public’s consciousness, people will understand how important such efforts are.”

Certainly, most New Englanders would like to keep their natural landscape, and not just have paintings to remind them of what they lost.