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The pleasure of plein air painting

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

“Perspective” by Wendy Ahlm. (Courtesy of Sorrel Sky Gallery)

These are tough times for art-lovers in Santa Fe. Of course, public safety comes first and limiting the spread of coronavirus must be a priority. Still, it’s sad when your favorite museum or gallery is closed for a few weeks.

That’s why it’s essential to call ahead, or check the venue’s website or Facebook page.

Sorrel Sky Gallery said that after having enhanced its cleaning standards by following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is making the decision to remain open on a “day by day” basis. That’s good news because the gallery is hosting its annual Plein Air Fiesta through March 28.

Plein air painting is the act of painting outdoors and, like many good things in life, it was popularized by the French. Beginning in the 1860s, the pioneers of Impressionism rejected painting historical or religious scenes in favor of capturing the man (or woman) on the street, in the park or on the beach.

Here in New Mexico, Plein Air Painters of New Mexico is an active group of outdoor painters led by Natasha Isenhour, the group’s 2020 president. The organization held a “Paint Out” from March 7-10 and handed out awards to its members for their work on March 13.

Sorrel Sky has a virtual exhibition of the show on its website and, according to, the group has already had a couple of sales and hopes for “many more.”

At the awards ceremony, Best of Show went to Allen Brockbank for his work “Unsung Heroes,” while Shelley Smith took home second place overall with “Every Day is a Winding Road.” Third place overall went to Beth Winfield for “Orphan Mesa” and Meridee Mandio’s “Morning in the Canyon” received the Award of Excellence in the oil/acrylic categories.

With its abundant sunlight, rugged landscapes and endless horizon, the Land of Enchantment is a paradise for plein air painters and PAPNM provides regular opportunities for its members to paint together during its paint outs, as well as hosting juried and open exhibitions of members’ work.

You don’t have to be a member of PAPNM to enjoy Isenhour’s musings in her monthly blog posts.

Earlier this month, she wrote, “Absolutely there is no better teacher than grabbing your go-bag and getting your hands dirty in the field painting. But don’t discount how invaluable camaraderie with your artist friends is, how much you learn from listening to others, watching demonstrations and reading about your heroes. The things you disagree with are great for forcing you to understand within yourself why your way is better.”

In her February blog post, Isenhour exhorted the group’s me

Allen Brockbank, ‘Unsung heroes”

mbers to pay more attention to the materials and frames they use for their work.

“Even when participating in a plein air event, how you dress up your work to go to the party does matter,” she wrote. “It matters to many judges that the framing complements the work whether we agree with that or not.”

She noted that, “If there is an opening, your work is judged by the public with their eyes. An immediate gravitation toward the painting or away is a result of the overall effect of the package the painting is in. A lot of folks simply cannot or do not separate the two because the framed work is one overarching statement.”

Regardless of whether Sorrel Sky remains open during the coronavirus crisis, you can still enjoy and purchase art on its website.

In a press release, the gallery, which also has a presence in Durango, Colorado, said that its associates are available for virtual art consultation and can meet with potential customers via FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts.