The work of Walpole painter Susan Bartlett Rice is beautiful. In early 2017, Rice displayed a small collection of winter-inspired paintings at the Bristol Area Library. She currently has a fairly large exhibit of landscape and wildlife paintings on the walls of Savory Maine Dining & Provisions in Damariscotta. This is sure to delight her fans – and to create new fans for her lovely work.
Rice likes to focus her unique painterly eye on the natural world, especially birds and trees. “Bluebird,” “Woodpecker,” and “Nuthatch” are delightful close-up oil paintings of individual birds she watched over the winter at her backyard feeder. “Bluebird” features what might be called Rice’s signature-style snowflakes – large white “blobs” of snow, similar to the furry buds she painted in “Church Pussywillows,” which hangs inside the entrance to Savory Maine.
Rice also has a penchant for the agricultural landscape, notably that of Tarbox Farm in Westport Island, where she has a 2017 artist-farm partnership as one of 13 Maine artists chosen by the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell to be part of its Community Supporting Arts CSA II project.
“Tarbox Thaw” is one of the products of Rice’s CSA II residency. True to her seeming reverence for the land of a place, the bulk of the painting is focused on snowy farm furrows, while only the upper third of the piece contains the farm’s buildings. Near “Tarbox Thaw” hang “Snowmelt Study,” entirely devoted to snow melting on a furrowed field, and “Fall Ford,” a portrait of a big blue tractor on a farm. One might think that a painting of dirt, as “Snowmelt Study” basically is, might be boring, but Rice makes it work via her somewhat quirky talent and obvious love of the land.
“Bumpa’s Crop,” a play on the phrase “bumper crop,” is a playful large oil painting on canvas focused on tomato plants loaded with fruit. Near it hangs “Greenhouse Greens,” another large piece, depicting flats of small plants in the interior of a greenhouse. It is a particularly nice painting. Rice’s somewhat abstract style of depicting realistic scenes works well in this piece, as she is able to portray the flats of seedlings in a manner that has them resembling a patchwork quilt from a distance. The piece is colorful where it needs to be, offset by the neutral colors of the arched greenhouse roof, its fan, and the fence visible outside the structure.
Visitors to Rice’s Bristol Area Library show will recognize “Ice Trout,” featuring two trout in a cracking icy pond, and “Harbor Forsythia,” of bright-yellow forsythia in bloom lighting up the foreground of a village scene.
“Sugar on Snow” is Rice at her best. The large oil-on-canvas painting features a young girl in a puffy pink jacket collecting sap from a metal bucket attached to a sugar maple tree, one of a number of leafless trees pictured bearing buckets for sap collection. While the girl depicted in the painting – “inspired by our daughters collecting sap,” as Rice, whose family owns Walpole’s Rice Farms Maple Syrup, said later – is a subject of this piece, so too are the trees and the “mosaic-y” long blue shadows cast by them on the snow. As in all of her work, Rice focuses on the natural world; it is rare to see a human being in one of her paintings.
When viewing art at Savory Maine, one must not neglect to see what is hanging in the stairwell and in the restroom. Paintings are not “relegated” to these areas; the art is as must-see as what hangs in the dining room. A case in point is “Blueberry Barrens,” Rice’s large painting hanging in the restroom, of blueberry fields featuring a patchwork technique similar to that in “Greenhouse Greens.” Ditto for the beautiful “Ice Orchard,” picturing bare trees and long shadows on a snowy day, hanging in the stairwell leading down to the restaurant’s kitchen.
Rice’s “Becoming Summer” show will be up at Savory Maine Dining & Provisions, at 11 Water St. in Damariscotta, through Monday, July 3. Learn more about Rice’s art at susanbartlettrice.com.