Artist Sherrie York works in her studio. (Kelli Park photo)

Bath — Colorado native and printmaker Sherrie York has found not only a new home, but a new creative muse: the coast of Maine. Now those prints inspired by the state’s rugged shoreline will be on display starting Friday, April 19, at Green Lion Gallery in Bath.

“Printmaking is about the possibility of doing something boldly graphic,” York said during a recent interview. “There are so many possibilities with water and reflections with graphics. It also gives me the opportunity to balance on that line between realism and abstraction.”

York’s work as an artist began with watercolor paintings of birds and landscapes, but she became frustrated when she found that she couldn’t change her bold, graphic technique. So she decided to try her hand at printmaking.

She started making linocut reduction prints using simple tools at her kitchen table, printing color from a single block, gradually reducing the linocut layer by layer.

York sees irony in being a printmaker with an affinity for simplistic graphic designs while having the light-handed coloristic style of a painter. She uses this approach to depict the story of her natural surroundings, specifically involving birds and their relationship with water.

For the birds

York had no plans to become an artist while studying education at Concordia College in Nebraska. She took a drawing class, followed by another drawing class, a ceramics class, a printmaking class, a painting class, and eventually graduated with a degree in education and a K-12 Arts Field Endorsement, which she joked was “just enough art to be dangerous in a classroom.”

York taught for a year after college and went on to work in a commercial print shop as a typesetter. She started volunteering for an organization that worked with injured birds of prey that couldn’t be released into the wild, handling eagles, hawks and owls. She says she found her calling when she was accepted into the competitive international art show, Birds in Art, at Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wisconsin in 1991.

“That was the first time that I met a bunch of people interested in wildlife art, natural history, and conservation,” York said. “It was like, I found my tribe!”

York’s experience with Birds in Art introduced her to French artist Denis Clavreul, who encouraged her to participate in the Artists for Nature Foundation, an international organization involving groups of artists who increase awareness of endangered landscapes and species.

York’s work with birds eventually led her to The National Audubon Society. For 15 years, she worked as the lead illustrator for Audubon Adventures, a national educational program.  She soon discovered Hog Island Audubon Camp in Bremen, which started in 1936 and has connections to Emily Dickinson and Rachel Carson. Since 2008, York has been coming to Maine every summer to teach at Hog Island, which offers educational programs for adults, children and teachers.

York teaches Arts and Birding, where participants spend a week studying birds while observing and drawing in the field, and Sharing Nature: An Educator’s Week, in which educators learn about hands-on teaching methods. For the past 5 years, York has also coordinated the artist-in-residency program at Hog Island.

Natural inspiration

Since moving to Maine a year and a half ago, York said she’s grown fond of the tight-knit naturalists in Maine and has gotten connected and established in both the science and arts communities through friends and colleagues. She said she also appreciates the value placed upon climate science, natural resources, and sustainability within the local culture in Maine.

“The economic and work culture of Maine is so tied to nature, to the natural world,” she said. “There’s fishing, forestry … there’s so much going on here; everyone has so much interest in what’s happening in the environment. How do we sustain the resources and the fisheries and the forest? There’s so much interest and study and knowledge here. For me, as an artist who’s inspired by those things, this was the place to be because there’s so much of that going on here.”

York’s work is on display at Green Lion Gallery in Bath, Stable Gallery in Damariscotta and three galleries in Colorado. She recently had an exhibition at Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Rockland and has a new show at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay starting this month. York will have a solo exhibition with 40 works of art at The Museum of American Bird Art in Massachusetts starting in June, and will be teaching workshops this summer at Hog Island Audubon Camp, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland.

York said she’s immersing herself in Maine’s natural world, including seabird research with Audubon Project Puffin, while discovering new ways to tell the story of her surroundings through her artwork. She hopes to depict the nature of our relationship with water — far different from the relationship out west — and the need for conservation not only for people but also for wildlife. She aims to start the conversation with her artwork and thrives on the challenge of “how to tell the new story of water for myself.”

“The way it turned out, I am an artist and I do have an interest and an understanding and a curiosity about science,” she said. “It has been really exciting because it introduces me to people and projects and ideas that are interesting to me. Maine seems like the best of both worlds.”

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