A sense of place: New London native Elizabeth Enders showcases her abstract landscapes at the Lyman Allyn
At the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Elizabeth Enders’ large paintings fairly burst with color as they bring landscapes into an abstract realm. Broad avenues of yellow populate the canvas titled “Chicago,” resembling a yellow brick road leading to Chicago’s Field Museum in the distance. Horizontal swaths of blue suggest the ocean lapping onto the shore. Tracts of lime green, hunter green and yield-sign yellow look like crops lined up on a field.
Enders, 84, who grew up in New London and now splits her time between Waterford and New York City, is the focus of a new exhibition at the Lyman Allyn. “Elizabeth Enders: A Different Time, A Different Place” runs through Jan. 14.
“The artist notes that while elements of this journey are imaginary, ‘The rivers, water, meadows, fields and sea are drawing from the memory of real places,’ reflecting ‘a compelling and intense search for something elsewhere,’” the exhibition wall text states.
Enders, who has a studio in Lyme, takes landscapes beyond realism to an inventive and sometimes whimsical realm.
“Second Peninsula,” for instance, was created in 2023 and is the most recent of Enders’ large canvases. She melds references to the Connecticut River, reflected in the broad strip of horizontal deep blue near the top of the painting, and to Nova Scotia’s Second Peninsula, with thick bars of primary-color green and yellow below.
“Allah Door I,” painted in 2021, reimagines outdoor sculptural forms in Egypt’s Ras Muhammad National Park, with red, white. tan and black blocks standing alone in the midst of jagged shorelines of yellow and blue.
Lyman Allyn Curator Tanya Pohrt said that Enders’ work might inspire viewers to reconsider their place in the world or to think about the imagination as a source of thought and contemplation.
Quite a few of the paintings in the exhibition were created during the COVID shutdown, when Enders could only travel vicariously, and some are particularly vivid.
“She took that moment of quiet and isolation to really think deeply about travel and her place in the world and adventure, to kind of go bold, go big. That is inspiring to me and I think to others, too, to think about how to do that in your own life,” Pohrt said.
A long friendship
Pohrt said that the museum has had a long friendship with Enders, and a year and a half to two years ago, Enders said she had been doing some really different work and would like to have the chance to show it at the Lyman Allyn. Seeing some of the pieces in an exhibition at the Betty Cuningham Gallery in New York City, which represents Enders’ work, “just blew us all away,” Pohrt said. “That was an exciting, galvanizing moment.”
Discussing how those new Enders creations, like “Chicago” and “Fields,” differ from the past, Pohrt said, “I think this is just bolder in some ways. Her color is really amplified. As she and her work have matured, it seems like she’s freer or having new sources of inspiration. It’s exciting.”
Pohrt said that some earlier themes are visible in the new work as well. Enders had talked about welcoming the strangeness of the world. For example, among a group of her most current watercolors is her take on outdoor sculpture created by an Icelandic modernist artist.
“It’s finding and being inspired by these visionary structures and incorporating them into her work, being unafraid to embrace things that are very different,” Pohrt said.
Pohrt said that, as a person, Enders tends to be softspoken and on the quiet side, but that belies the sense of adventure and daring in her work.
A childhood in New London
Enders said that she was always drawing when she was growing up. As a student at Harbor School in New London, she drew some images that ran in the Harbor Beacon. She remarked on “how extraordinary some of those teachers were in New London.”
“My older sister was very athletic and interested in certain things. I thought, ‘Well, what I’m interested in is a little different. I love working just on making things,’” said Enders, the daughter of Francis F. McGuire and Helen Connolly McGuire.
She recalled that her mother loved flower arranging and, during World War II, began painting. Her mother used oil paints and would create images of whales and lighthouses.
“What I remembered about it was she was exceedingly happy, so l think that might have had something to do with it,” Enders said, referring to her own attraction to creating art.
Asked if she is, like her mother, exceedingly happy when she paints, Enders laughed and said, “I think so. What happens is you get into a different mood in your mind, a different space, and you get totally absorbed.”
Enders went on to earn her bachelor of arts degree from Connecticut College and her masters from New York University. Her paintings are now in museum and private collections. Her recent solo exhibitions include those at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass.
Enders said she started to increasingly paint landscapes and seascapes back in the early 1970s, at a time when she wanted to do more abstract work and larger canvases. She was also thinking about the oceans, hence the fact that some of her works are called “Save the Ocean.”
Her love of the ocean dates back to her childhood, when she would look out at the Long Island Sound. In the early 1990s, she started spending time in Nova Scotia, where her husband Anthony’s family has a house. The blues of the water are a different shade there, sort of an indigo, she said.
When they would sail in Nova Scotia, she recalled, “There was a sense of looking at the water and then also looking at the hills and merging them into something that was abstract.”
The natural world
The Lyman Allyn exhibition includes a section focusing on Enders’ paintings of plants and flowers. Pohrt noted that it makes a viewer aware of the lack of human figures in her work.
“I feel like that grouping of pieces seems like it almost has palm trees in a starring role and plant figures. It invites you to contemplate larger issues of how maybe the natural world should play a more dominant role in our lives and world,” Pohrt said.
Finding extraordinary places
Several people have told Enders that one of the things they like about this new exhibition is how hopeful it makes them feel.
“I was thinking no matter how horrible things are, you can find a place that’s extraordinary. In a lot of nature, more than ever, I’ve been finding extraordinary things like what the oak tree does when it’s dropping things. They’re beautiful, just like earrings. We can find so much,” Enders said.
What: “Elizabeth Enders: A Different Time, A Different Place”
Where: The Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams St., New London
When: through Jan. 14; hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 1-5 p.m. Sun.; last entry at 4 p.m.; closed Mondays and major holidays
Admission: $12 for adults, $9 for seniors, $7 for active military, $5 for students, free for museum members, New London residents and kids under age 12
Contact: (860) 443-2545, lymanallyn.org
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