Artist and poet Danielle Malmet Rodger was reading books to her two small children when they asked her if there were any stories about the beaches and farms of the North Fork where they live. There weren’t any, she explained, but it gave her the idea to create a series of books based on the four seasons using her watercolors and words.
“The North Fork has been inspiring my art since I moved here 10 years ago,” she says in the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s second-floor gallery, where her new show, Sanctuary, runs through September 1. “I made watercolors and sketches of the places I take my kids, in order to tell a story about all the things we do on this beautiful island during different seasons of the year.”
“By definition, a sanctuary is a place of refuge or rest, a place where you can feel at peace,” she continues. “The collection is an expression of serenity. The works are individual retreats on canvas, which exude calm, balanced with a bright energy evoked by the environs of the North Fork.”
Rodger, who grew up in Westchester, recently published her first two picture books, Adventures Through the North Fork: Autumn and Adventures Through the North Fork: Summer, with a plan for finishing the series in a year or so. The picture book uses Rodger’s delicate, bright, watercolor paintings as a visual pairing to a poem written for all ages, which takes readers on an adventure through cornfields, pumpkin patches, the beach, the bay and the vineyards. The poems themselves are laid out in various fonts and colors to add another layer to the story.
Rodger also painted some larger oil-on-canvas works for the show, which was the first time she had worked in oils.
“Painting these canvases was a whole new experience for me. I would start with an idea in my head and then just make the painting in one session. It never turns out like I had it in my head—but that’s okay. I never went back and edited. I did all the work in my studio. They happened very organically. The books took me about four months each to create; the paintings I did in three weeks to get ready for this show.”
This is Rodger’s first solo show. She’d been writing a blog about the North Fork, started adding artwork, and then began exhibiting and selling some of her work in Greenport’s local stores (One Love Beach and Goldsmith’s). That’s when the work caught the eye of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s gallery curator Ann Vandenburgh. Vandenburgh is herself a mother and lifelong North Fork resident and she was thrilled to find a local artist and author.
“Summer is my favorite season to write and work,” Rodger says. “I take my kids out to Dragonfly Beach in Orient and out to all the farmers markets and summer festivals. I get so inspired by how bright everything is and how much there is to do.”
In addition to the watercolors and oil paintings, Rodgers painted some tree stumps and old oars she found washed up on the bay beaches.
“I just like to feel unrestricted when I paint, and painting on different types of surfaces lets me feel more in the moment. My kids give me feedback when I’m working. They’ll say ‘What is it?’ or ‘Why is that blue?’ I try to get a dialogue going and we all end up finding out new things. It’s another type of adventure to take them on.”
Rodger was asked by Lori Guyer of White Flower Farmhouse to contribute a painting to the kitchen room Guyer designed for the 2014 North Fork Designer Showhouse opening Friday, August 1. “Since it’s a kitchen, I think I’ll do some kind of utensil—maybe a fork,” she muses.