Pam Carlson will never have to answer that perennial stumper: which came first, the chicken or the egg. She regularly paints both; sometimes just an egg in a nest with a vibrant background of color, sometimes chickens and eggs together, and sometimes chickens alone.
Carlson also paints sheep, cows and ducks along with expansive views of the Connecticut River and the big sky of Montana. She needs a lot of her work on hand at the moment, with three shows coming up, in addition to works currently on display in the new Art Essex Gallery as well as People's Bank in Madison and Morning Glory in Old Lyme. In addition to the Essex Art Association, Carlson belongs to the Madison Art Association.
The upcoming art events include a show of local artists at Main Street Park in conjunction with the Scarecrow FestiFall on Oct. 5; "Five Women Painting" from Oct. 11 to 15 at the Essex Art Association; and the Fence People, also at the Essex Art Association on Nov. 2 and 3. The Fence People is so named because it features the work of artists who exhibit along a fence during Old Lyme's Midsummer Festival at the end of July.
Carlson says the current shows are the result of efforts to find more opportunities for all local artists to display their work.
"I'm so concerned for artists; these have been tough times, a slow period, so we're looking for different venues, for new venues to show work," she says.
Carlson joined the Essex Board of Trade, which sponsors the Scarecrow FestiFall and suggested to Robin Andreoli, executive director of the Community Music School and a Board of Trade member, that artists be included in the upcoming event. It is the first time that local artists have participated. Carlson and Andreoli are co-chairs of this year's FestiFall.
"When Pam suggested an art show, I thought it was a wonderful idea. Artists are a great local resource and it would really add something to the event," Andreoli said. FestiFall continues on Oct. 6, but the art show is only on one day.
"Five Women Painting" is, in contrast, not a new event, but a successful annual show that started five years ago. Besides Carlson, artists include Claudia Van Nes, Ellie Pringle, Cindy Stewart and Carol Young. The artists, whose styles and painting techniques vary, nonetheless have a common bond. They originally came together at an art class at the Guilford Handcraft Center. After the class ended, the group continued painting together and critiquing each other's work once a week.
"It has just kept getting better and better," Carlson says of the show.
Carlson's work also is appearing in the new Art Essex Gallery, at the site of the now closed Left Bank Gallery. That happened as a result of a walk she took through town. She saw people working in the gallery, went in and asked about exhibiting there. Once the owners saw slides of her paintings, they selected several to hang on their walls.
There was a time, Carlson admits, when she was known locally as the "chicken lady," for her many paintings that feature the fowls. She continues to do chicken paintings but now with an added sense of humor. In one, a flock of chickens looks at a pile of eggs as each tries to find the one she laid. Carlson called another of her large chicken paintings "Where's Waldo," with the challenge to find the one chicken with black spots on it.
On a trip to Montana, where her son lives, Carlson was fascinated by cows that lined up along a fence as she was taking pictures.
"They must have been nine deep," she recalls. Those cows and many more ended up in Carlson's paintings, as did the sheep that graze in Essex on a lot at the corner of Maple Avenue and North Main Street.
A selection of Carlson's paintings hang in the congressional office of Representative Joe Courtney, a pictorial tribute to Connecticut farm animals, including not only sheep and chickens, but cows and ducks as well.
For a number of years Carlson also has painted landscapes. At a show in Montana, she sold a picture of Griswold Point, emphasizing to the customer it was a Connecticut scene. He bought it anyway.
At Morning Glory in Old Lyme, where some of her local scenes hang, two people wanted the same painting. She sold the picture to the person who had asked first and invited the other potential buyer to her house to see if there were something else he would like. The would-be buyer rejected the offer.
"That was the picture that touched my wife's soul," he explained to her.
Often Carlson's paintings focus not only on scenery but also on the varying moods and hues of the sky. Getting the right blend of colors to paint that ever-changing expanse remains one of her challenges.
"And then you don't want to make clouds that look like cotton balls," Carlson notes.
Most recently, she has ventured into abstraction, making multi-colored designs inspired by her own doodles.
Whether abstract or representational, Carlson puts up all her paintings around the house before she considers them finished.
"I have to live with them; a chicken could start out white and end up black or brown, or not even be there at all," she says. "Only when I am finally satisfied do I put the picture in a frame."
For information on all shows, go to www.essexartassociation.com.