Watercolor Wonders of the Natural World at Art Center Sarasota

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It began with a road trip to Tennessee. Watercolorist Judy Saltzman and her husband took a small detour for a side-trip to Providence Canyon, a national park in Georgia’s Stewart County. There, overlooking the rock formations and forests, the artist found herself entranced by an elemental beauty quite unlike her usual nautical fare. “I knew I wanted to paint it,” she says. “I just wasn’t sure that I knew how.” That was 2017. Two years later at Art Center Sarasota, Saltzman unveils the outsized fruits of her inspiration with Spirit of America, a watercolor exhibition of mammoth proportions (including a 24-foot-long octaptych of Bryce Canyon National Park) and her first solo show at the gallery.

Though technically an exhibition of only four paintings, those four paintings comprise a total of 19 painted panels, some three feet wide and four feet tall, for a monumental tribute to the grandeur of the country’s national parks. The aforementioned octaptych (eight panels) brings viewers to the elevated edge of Bryce Canyon’s Cassidy Trail, overlooking the red rocks and green trees where Saltzman’s brush captures a small band on horseback, plodding through a landscape that has near swallowed them whole. In contrast, the triptych Meeting of the Waters places the audience on the canyon floor at Zion National Park, in a fertile oasis bounded by striated rock faces and desert beyond. The remaining pentaptych and triptych see the artist return to Providence Canyon where the journey began. “I never thought of myself as a landscape artist,” Saltzman quips, “but, after 19 panels, I guess I qualify.”

Created with a special series of PrimaTek watercolors, the paints themselves come from the earth, relying on natural mineral pigments, as opposed to artificial hues. The result is an inherent earthiness, plus a granular texture and sparkle perfect for capturing canyon rock.

Simultaneously enchanted by what she saw in America’s backyard and dismayed by its apparent vulnerability in the face of climate change, invasive species and human activity, Saltzman hopes the exhibition will spur not only appreciation, but maybe even action. “We are very fortunate as a country to have these resources,” she says. “And it would be man’s fault if we lose them.”

Spirit of America opens tomorrow at Art Center Sarasota with a reception at 5pm.

Pictured: 'The Hikers' by Judy Saltzman.

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