Artworks depict the Amish world01/06/2015 10:43AM ● By J. Chambless
'Tobacco Leaves Drying in Barn' by Anita Bower.
Art depicting the Amish way of life can fall into the trap of being either overly sentimental or exploitive. In "Amish Life: Photography and Paintings," which opened last weekend at the Oxford Arts Alliance, photographer Anita Bower has found a way to show the Amish families and farms near her home with sensitivity and respect.
Bower's photo editing techniques serve dual purposes. In addition to getting some lovely, saturated hues in her vivid color images, she uses textures that blur the line between painting and photography. In some images that would come too close to capturing an exact likeness of a person, Bower's painterly technique makes faces less recognizable and more universal.
Standouts among Bower's images include "Setting Moon and Rising Sun," which captures the fleeting glow of dawn at an Amish farm; and "Summer Clouds," which has a dramatic sweep of fluffy clouds stretching into the distance over a farm field.
"Harvest Sunset" perfectly evokes the afternoon warmth and dust of a hay wagon going to the barn. "Tobacco Leaves Drying in Barn" is a wonderful composition in which the red and green of a metal-wheeled wagon echo the more muted colors of the leaves, arranged in neat rows, above it.
"Amish Girl in Doorway" is the show's signature image, gently summarizing something about Amish grace, humility and work ethic.
Among Bower's more manipulated images, closely resembling watercolors, are "Amish Youth," a strong composition of a young man leaning in a doorway; and "Last Cow Home," in which a long horizon, bare tree, solitary cow and a scattering of birds fall perfectly into place.
"Waves of Tobacco" dwarfs a distant barn in a sea of yellow-orange leaves that have been propped up to dry, and "In the Rafters" catches Amish boys playing in the roof beams of a school under construction.
Also, the photograph "Amish Snowfall," by Lori Amway, has a terrific blue rope that echoes the faded blue on a window frame nearby.
Along one wall of the Arts Alliance are paintings reflecting the Amish theme. Reenie Chase's "Amish Rafting" has a nice visual rhythm of blue-shirted boys in a gently sloping stream, and there's a nice interplay of figures and gestures in Chase's "Finding the Mud Sale Treasure." Patricia Reese and Geraldine McKeown are also featured among the painters.
"Amish Life" is a gentle show that gets to the heart of people who are rooted in their faith and resolutely maintaining their path despite an often intrusive world.
The Oxford Arts Alliance (38 S. Third St., Oxford) hosts "Amish Life: Photography and Paintings" through Jan. 30. Winter gallery hours are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit www.oxfordart.org for more information.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail [email protected].