Plein View

Plein View

Escaping from the record 7.04 inches of rain hurricane Henri had just dumped on New York City, 14 enthusiastic pupils from New York’s renowned Art Students League traveled by train and car to attend a four-day painting and drawing workshop last week in Stony Creek. They arrived at the Branford Holiday Inn Express on Monday afternoon to be greeted by their tour guide, New York artist Phil Levine, a seasonal Thimble Islands resident and the driving force behind 1 World Art Travel, which coordinated the tour. It was a departure from the virtual teaching forced by the pandemic and facilitated by ASL’s E-telier system.

Many of the attendees were regular students of the workshop’s leader, Sherry Camhy. Camhy, an award-winning artist and resident of Pleasantville, NY, teaches drawing at both ASL and Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts and authored Art of the Pencil: A Revolutionary Look at Drawing, Painting and the Pencil (1997). During the workshop, Levine and Camhy, dealing with changes to their itinerary forced by Henri and heavy August heat, shepherded the totebag- and easel-schlepping student group to the Stony Creek beach area for morning painting sessions. The first afternoon, as the temperature and humidity levels rose, a desk clerk at the Holiday Inn was pressed into service as a model for a figure drawing session in the gallery of the Willoughby Wallace Library. Camhy also used library space to facilitate individual critiques with students throughout the week.

sponsored by

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Easel time was enhanced by a variety of photo-ops in the area, where Camhy advised students to stock up on images to bring back to their urban studios. Among these was an exclusive ferry ride to and tour of Mother-in-Law’s Island courtesy of Levine. There Camhy stood on the porch of its charming summer residence facing the water with her arms outstretched to impress upon her students the vastness of the horizon, a view that, she remarked, was not a familiar one for city-dwellers. The return ferry ride revealed other unfamiliarities, when one painter asked, “So, is Connecticut considered part of New England?”

No trip to the Stony Creek area is complete without a tour of the Thimbles aboard the Sea Mist, which departs hourly by reservation. The New York artists reveled in the whipping sea air, enjoying the entertaining and informative commentary provided by the captain. Little did they know of the legend that Captain Kidd buried treasure in the Thimbles, or that one of the islands supports not only a spacious luxury home but a full-sized basketball court.

Back on land, workshoppers got an extended tour of the neighborhood’s restaurants, dining at Cafe Fiore, Dockside, the Parthenon Diner and the Stony Creek Market, where the variety of tasty sandwiches and salads held its own against Big City reference points.

On the final afternoon, the group ventured farther afield, carpooling to the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, a must-see for art lovers visiting the Connecticut shore. Unlike typical museums, not only is there art on display, but Miss Griswold’s luxurious gardens serve as popular subjects for contemporary painters, just as they did for the American Impressionists who benefitted from her hospitality.

All in all, despite the heat, the New Yorkers appeared to enjoy their Connecticut art adventure. They returned home at the end of the week with new images (on paper, canvas and their smartphones), new ideas, a new set of experiences and a broader knowledge of and appreciation for Connecticut. As one student put it, “The change of scenery in a pretty and unusual place, mixed in with painting and some laughs, was just what I needed.”

Written and photographed by Nancy McNicol.

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