Naomi Aho

Sanctuary XXVIII, 2012, colored pencil, 7.5" x8"

Hans, welded steel, 12" x 10" x 9" 

Nina Scott-Hansen

Paul Plante 

Baltimore Oriole, oil pastel on paper, 4.5" x 4.5" 

THE CANVAS — October 2014
By Jaime Thompson

Birds are beautiful and fascinating creatures. Endowed with the gift of flight, birds take on a magnificent power that belies their small size. Utilizing different media, artists Nina Scott- Hansen, Paul Plante, and Naomi Aho interpret the majesty of birds in unique ways.

Nina Scott-Hansen

Scott-Hansen moved to the United States from Denmark with her family when she was 10 years old. She studied art at institutions in Norway and the United States and worked in advertising before embarking on a full-time career in art. She has shown at many galleries, including Drawing Room Gallery in St. George, Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, Filament Gallery in Portland, Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland, and Lanning Gallery in Sedona, Arizona. Scott- Hansen’s work has also been shown in Norway, at Smestad Gallery and Kjell Olsen Kunst Gallery. She is represented by Harbor Square Gallery and Lanning Gallery.

Scott-Hansen’s late boyfriend, an ironworker, taught her to weld in the 1980s. She met him while she was working in advertising in Camden. “I fell for it right away,” she says, citing the visceral qualities of the material and the work as particularly engaging. “I like the heat, the way it smells, and the way it feels.” Scott-Hansen has sculpted horses, trolls, and myriad creatures, but she is most known for her quirky, witty, and slightly macabre birds. “It’s my signature,” she says. To create these singular beings, Scott-Hansen begins with the feathers: she draws them on a flat piece of sheet metal, cuts them out with a torch, and then uses an anvil to form them. The body is composed of a “cage,” to which she affixes the head and beak. Finally, Scott-Hansen welds the feathers onto the body, which she notes is a difficult process. Sometimes the feathers don’t lie right, so a bit of trial and error is required. But, “it is fun to see them evolve,” says Scott-Hansen. “I like the activity of welding. I’ve never considered it work.”

Her choice of subjects is just as natural as her aptitude for welding. “I’ve always loved all living things,” says Scott- Hansen. “That’s the thing that really shows in my work.” Her knack for capturing the personality of various creatures is uncanny. Hans is just one example from Scott-Hansen’s metal menagerie. “The birds have such a presence,” she says. “They’re all different.” Hans’s pointed beak emerges playfully from a mass of twisted feathers, and his abnormally large feet look like pitchforks, long and spindly. The sculpture has such a tactile quality that one wants to reach out and touch it; the rich texture of the feathers suggests a liveliness not expected from such a tough material. Scott-Hansen’s work revels in this interplay of contrasts. She enjoys that so many people gravitate to her work and notes that it has a “friendly” quality, in that “my stuff is not intellectual. It’s not asking for any deep thought.” Art does not have to be analyzed to be appreciated.

Paul Plante

Father Plante is pastor at Our Lady of the Lakes parish in Oquossoc. He earned his BA in philosophy from University of Montreal in 1964, and a BA in theology in 1966 and licentiate in sacred theology in 1968 from St. Paul University in Ottowa, Canada. In 1987 he earned a BFA in painting at Portland School of Art (now Maine College of Art). Plante’s artwork has appeared in solo exhibitions at such venues as Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland, Mixed Greens Gallery in New York City, Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine Audubon Society in Falmouth, and Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. He has also participated in group exhibitions at venues including Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science, and Art in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Mississippi Museum of Natural History, and Gleason Fine Art in Portland. Plante’s work can be seen at Caldbeck Gallery, Gleason Fine Art, and Brunswick’s Bayview Gallery.

Plante has a deep appreciation of art. “I think it’s something in my genes,” he says. “I’ve always been creative, expressing myself in one way or another.” Although his inspiration has “almost always been nature,” Plante has experimented with different styles, from abstract to landscape, as well as different subjects, such as fruit, fish, and other animals. But birds have always held a certain charm for Plante, who recalls being enchanted by them from a very young age. If he saw a bird, he was compelled to identify it and study its characteristics, always striving to see new species. As birds are elusive creatures that we are rarely able to come into close contact with, Plante’s aim is to bring birds closer to himself and, in turn, allow viewers the same joy of discovery through his art. Using oil pastels, Plante focuses on the vibrancy of the birds’ coloring and the enticing mystery of their eyes.

“The eye is a tremendous focus in terms of our own human communication,” Plante says. “I think there is something very real in eye contact.” Even sharing a moment of eye contact with an animal can give a profound feeling of connection, and it is that which Plante captures in his work. “Through this special eye contact I bring the bird into one’s awareness,” he says. As the point of focus, Plante always begins with the eye and then incorporates the bird’s coloring and patterns around that. Baltimore Oriole is particularly striking in its contrast—the deep sheen of the black feathers and the flaming brilliance of the orange streak. A point of light gives depth to the eye, which lends verisimilitude: the viewer feels as though he or she has made true eye contact with the bird. It is utterly mesmerizing. “I find it very mysterious that something convex invites us inward, as if it were concave,” says Plante.

Naomi Aho

Aho was born in Schenectady, New York, and grew up on Long Island and in Connecticut. In 1986 she moved to Warren, where she resides with her husband and children. Since 2003 Aho has been a member of the Colored Pencil Society of America. She has participated in exhibitions at such venues as Spring Bull Gallery in Newport, Rhode Island, Salmagundi Club in New York City, Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, and Maine Art Gallery in Wiscasset. Her work has appeared in the publications Pratique des Arts and International Artist. She is currently represented by Landing Gallery in Rockland.

Aho has been captivated by drawing since childhood. She recalls a fourth-grade assignment “to draw a picture that conveys a message without using words. That was very powerful for me.” Aho continues to impart “unspoken messages” through her work. Nature is a prevalent subject in her art, and it is that which inspires her most. “The natural world is filled with such extraordinary variety, which I love to observe closely,” Aho says. “While I am awed by and appreciate majestic vistas on a grand scale, my utmost delight is found in the smallest details—more intimate landscapes, so to speak.” It is those details that Aho is able to capture with astonishing delicacy, using her chosen medium: colored pencils. “Working with pencil allows me to render the lines which become drawings rich with layered color, value, and the dramatic interplay of light and shadow,” Aho says. Drawings can take 50 to 150 hours to complete. She works from photographs, given the time- intensive nature of the process. “The main difficulty with working from photos is that the camera records everything, so I need to firmly keep in mind the mood I want to convey, and not just slavishly copy every bit in the photo,” she says.

“Bird nests are endlessly fascinating to me,” says Aho. “I am always intrigued by the materials used to build the nest, amazed by the perfect bowl which holds the eggs, and captivated with the natural grace and unique beauty of each nest.” All of her nest drawings are titled Sanctuary because, Aho explains, “I believe the nest is an image of life, shelter and refuge, strength, and calm in the midst of the storm. Ultimately, I feel they are pictures of God.” Sanctuary XXVIII depicts a small nest made mostly of mud. Aho notes that it “was one of those ‘looks can be deceiving’ nests,” as she found more beauty in it the longer she studied it. Its clearly defined lines and tonal values are heightened by the simplicity of Aho’s composition. Aho has situated the nest in a space of quiet contemplation.