What’s up in January 2017: Cascadilla Gorge Paintings at SOAG
For the month of January, I have 7 new paintings at the State of the Art Gallery in an exhibit called Then and Now. It is in conjunction with the celebration of Tompkins County’s bicentennial taking place this year. This is a group show in two parts – half of the SOAG members are showing now in January, and the other half will show in February. The show runs January 4- 29, with an opening reception January 6, 5-8 pm.
The Cascadilla Gorge trail is a place of incomparable beauty. With a 400 foot rise from Linn Street to Campus, it is also a good cardio workout. Right in the heart of the city, it is easily accessible and forms a daily route between downtown Ithaca and Cornell University for many people. The trail had been closed for six years for repairs and it was a joy to be able to walk there again when it reopened this past spring. I went often, and took hundreds, if not thousands of photos. The Gorge remained endlessly fascinating because the hour of day, the weather, or the changing season each time created a new vista. It is not an easy place to do outdoor landscape painting because, narrow as it is, there is no convenient place to set up an easel without inconveniencing the many people who pass along at all hours. However, this was a drought year and soon I realized with the drop in water flow not only was the beauty of the rock more fully exposed, but there were dry places to step down into the creek bed with plenty of room to set up and paint. Beginning on Sept 12, I proceeded with this series of gorge paintings. The drought similarly exposed some other inaccessible places, and, in Taughannock Creek and Sawmills Creek, I happily painted in the middle of what would have been a rushing stream.
I painted in the morning, from when the light first peeked over the cliff to around noon when the sun was fully overhead and flooded the creek with blinding light. I chatted with tourists from all over the world who wandered by. I observed students in college level ecology classes taking water samples and measuring water flow, and preschool youngsters collecting frogs and water insects. I developed a passing acquaintance with the stone masons who started their work when I came, and were resting their backs and eating lunch when I was leaving eager to see my canvases each day. I was angry and disgusted one Sunday when plastic drink cups rained down and glass beer bottles shattered on the rocks. I had moments of trepidation when the overly dried out walls let go little rock slides, and I had to think very carefully about what was above me so I could paint safely. Unfortunately, my painting season was cut short in early October when Cornell closed the trail for repairs, as overly dried walls were too unstable when the rains came again. All of these paintings were created on site with oil paint on canvas using palette knife. In some of them you can even see bits of windblown organic matter, or small insects. Most of them needed some degree of correction in the studio, such as small adjustments for perspective or light.
Robert H. Treman donated Cascadilla Gorge to Cornell University in 1909 to support public use, education, and enjoyment. The Cascadilla Gorge Trail system was initially constructed during the Civilian Conservation Corps era. A plan for developing the trail was envisioned in 1915 by Charles N. Lowrie, a landscape architect. He saw great potential for unique scenery with unsurpassed beauty that was at that time unknown to most people because of its inaccessibility among the extremely steep and rugged slopes. Most people could only get a glimpse of the ravine from various bridges that crossed it. His estimate for cost of construction was $21,438. Currently, Cornell Botanical Gardens manages it and is committed to protecting the natural area, providing ongoing educational use, and supporting safe public enjoyment of the gorge. Through the years, the trail suffered erosion and many parts fell into disrepair. Repairs were made in 2009, and in 2011 tropical storm Lee sent devastating torrents and massive boulders crashing down the gorge necessitating extensive rebuilding that cost almost $3 million from Cornell University, Cornell Botanical Gardens, and FEMA.
Cascadilla Creek carves through bedrock – shales, siltstone and sandstone – exposing sedimentary rocks that were deposited 400 million years ago. There are ripple marks on the rock surface indicating it once was the muddy shore of a shallow, tropical sea that covered much of New York State. The Appalachian Mountains are the remnants of a mountain chain the size of the Himalayas which was located to the east of this inland sea. Sediments of sand, gravel and mud flowed down the mountain streams, accumulated over millions of years, and formed the sedimentary rocks that we walk on and are surrounded by on the trail. The actions of the massive two mile thick glaciers gouged a series of rivers, from north to south. As the glacier began melting away over 12,000 years ago, the rivers became lakes in deep valleys. Streams that flowed into these lakes plunged as waterfalls over their steep sides and carved the gorges by cutting into the bedrock, action that continues even today.