ArtBeat: Bucket-list trip ends with colorful exhibit

  • “At the Waterhole” by Nancy B.Baker. Courtesy Nancy B. Baker

  • “Bateleur” Courtesy Nancy B. Baker

  • Greenfield artist Nancy B. Baker sits in front of one of her paintings of South African wildlife that will be featured in her upcoming show, “Out of Africa,” at The Greenfield Gallery through October. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Trish Crapo

For The Recorder
Published: 9/27/2017 12:26:25 PM

On a recent trip to South Africa, Greenfield artist Nancy B. Baker and her husband saw almost 464 species of birds. The couple was participating in a small birding expedition, and 464 was the group’s total count, Baker says.

“We missed a few, but we got close to that,” Baker says happily, of her husband’s and her own count. “We also saw 45 different mammals and a whole lot of reptiles and different things.”

Baker laughs as she adds, “Bugs!”

The trip had been on her bucket list for years, and it didn’t disappoint. Baker uses adjectives like “fabulous,” “gorgeous” and “exquisite” to describe the flora and fauna she saw during the two-week trip that took her from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park and across to Capetown.

Along the way, Baker, who trained as an artist at Washington University in St. Louis,Mo., kept imagining how she would paint the animals, birds and plants she was seeing when she got home.

“I was really looking at everything as a painting,” Baker says. “So that was really fun. I couldn’t wait to get back and do it.”

Once home, Baker worked for about a year in her Greenfield basement studio, using photographs her husband took, as well as images she collected from the Internet, to create a collection of watercolor and acrylic paintings that will form her upcoming show, “Out of Africa,” at The Greenfield Gallery, 231 Main St., on display through October.

An artist’s reception will be held Friday, Oct. 6, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The show’s title is a nod toward Danish writer Isak Dinesen, whose memoir of the same title, published in 1937, chronicled her life on a coffee farm in Kenya.

“I want to get a really specific likeness of what the bird is, or the animal,” Baker says.

But once she starts working, the painting evolves, drawing on her memory of what it was like to be in the presence of that creature. Looking at one painting of a Blue Crane, the national bird of South Africa, I can feel the bird’s elegant presence.

Baker often combines traditional painting techniques with collage, using marbleized and other art papers to create patterning and texture in her compositions. The layering of small bits of paper is like a mosaic, an assemblage of found materials. She might use papers to create feathers in the body of one of her birds, for instance, or to build the texture of the branches in another painting.

Baker says, “Part of me really loves to paint very detailed things, and I’m always after myself to loosen up. The paper is a way to do that; it sort of contrasts with the really tight stuff.”

Bringing out a dozen or so smaller works for me to see, Baker identifies the various species as she lays the paintings on her worktable.

“This is a gorgeous bush shrike,” she says.

The word “gorgeous” is just built right into this bird’s name, it turns out — it’s not Baker’s opinion of it. Though she is happy to offer her opinion when she says, a bit later, “This is a kudo. He was very handsome.”

When I comment on how black a giraffe’s tongue is in one painting, she replies that it is also extremely long, made for pulling down leaves from high branches. She expresses how excited she was to see ferrets and meerkats.

When I ask if there is anything I just haven’t thought to inquire about, Baker responds, “I’d just like to say that the reception is on a First Friday, which is really fun for people in Greenfield, because there are other things going on that night.”

She points out that her neighbor, Andy Rothschild, is having a reception the same night for his “Assemblages” at Artspace on Mill Street.

“So it can be a good time for people to come and check out Greenfield and all it has to offer,” Baker says.

Check it out

“Out of Africa,” paintings by Nancy B. Baker is on view at The Greenfield Gallery, 231 Main St., Greenfield, through October. Gallery hours are: Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday, noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 413-772-9334 or find The Greenfield Gallery on Facebook.

Find out more about Nancy B. Baker at: and

“Assemblages” by Andy Rothschild is at Artspace Community Arts Center, 15 Mill St., Greenfield, through Oct. 6. An artist’s reception is Friday, Oct. 6, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Proceeds will benefit Traprock Center for Peace & Justice’s 10,000 Trees for Vietnam Project, an environmental justice project created in collaboration with Vietnamese forester Phung Tuu Boi. The project’s purpose is to restore biodiversity to an area of central Vietnam that was heavily sprayed with herbicides — chief among them was Agent Orange — during the American War in Vietnam. Gallery hours are: Monday through Friday, noon to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 6 pm, and by appointment. For more information, call 413-772-6811 or visit:


An alert reader pointed out that the address I gave for the Bridge of Flowers in a recent column was actually the address of the committee’s offices, not the address of the bridge itself. Entrances to the bridge can be found on Water Street in Shelburne Falls and State Street on the Buckland side. But, now you also know where to stop in and offer your services if you’d like to volunteer.

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