A Local Artist’s Perspective on the Beauty of the Chemung River Watershed

by Emily Marino – Executive Director of the Friends of the Chemung River Watershed.

For those of you who have not yet heard, we are hosting a workshop by local artist and educator Bridget Bossart van Otterloo on June 17 from 5-7PM. Riverside Watercolor Painting Workshop (click here to register or visit our website under Programs) will be held at Bottcher’s Landing Boat Launch Pavilion in the shaded area under the pavilion. During this workshop, participants will be supplied with a variety of high-quality art supplies, instruction from Mrs. van Otterloo, and a pleasant Thursday evening outside to enjoy our natural world! I recently sat down with this locally renowned artist and instructor and asked her about her love for the Chemung River and why she wanted to offer this workshop in partnership with the River Friends.

So, Bridget–is it okay if I call you Bridget?–you aren’t originally from here, is that right? Tell us what brought you to the Southern Tier and a little bit about your background.

Bridget is fine–that is what my students call me! I am originally from New Jersey and moved to Corning about 20 years ago after falling in love with the area. I first came to the Southern Tier to be a studio apprentice with Thomas Buechner, who was a famous artist in Corning, and I fell in love with the natural beauty of the region and decided to make it my home. I was somewhat familiar with the area because I studied studio art and biology at Houghton College in Allegany County. I am also an avid runner, gardener, and outdoor enthusiast, and just preferred the pace of life in the Southern Tier to the buzz of the tri-state area.

Great, we love it here too. Glad to have you as a community neighbor! Are you familiar with the Chemung River, and is this your first time teaching an outdoor painting workshop on nature?

Oh yes, I have kayaked the Chemung River often in the Addison/Corning area, and my husband takes his kayak out on the Chemung as well. We enjoy paddling down the Tioga to the Chemung, and ending at the Cohocton Street Boat Launch by World Kitchen in Corning. We also kayak on around the Finger Lakes, taking in the natural beauty and looking for specific plants and species of waterside wildlife. I also enjoy running the riverside trails near West Elmira. I have also taught many painting workshops through the region and have always enjoyed plein air, which is a French term for outdoor painting. I recently offered a plein air workshop at Point of the Bluff Winery on Keuka last year during the pandemic. It was very successful, and I considered that people in the Corning/Elmira area might enjoy a riverside painting workshop, which is why I reached out to you.

What do you enjoy about the Chemung River that made you decide that it would be an interesting focus for a plein air workshop?

Well, it is where I live, and I love this area! It is so peaceful, and there is such a wide variety of wildlife and changing scenery. It is truly a work of art in itself. I have actually painted a few pieces that have focused on the Chemung River in watercolor when I was working with a local poet, Michael Czarnecki. Michael received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the purpose of the grant was to work with another artist to create a multi-media work using poetry and watercolor with nature being our focus.

Wow! That sounds like a great project! Why are landscapes and the natural world something you like to paint?

When you sit down to paint a landscape, you really observe it. You have a chance to learn more about it, you focus on the surrounding colors, the wildlife, the plants, and you learn so much more about it then if you were just glancing at it during a Sunday drive. Sitting down to paint a landscape and natural surroundings gives you an opportunity to appreciate what you are looking at and really connect with nature, and this is important to me.

Why is it important for you to connect to nature?

As you know, we are all stewards of our environment, not just the friends of the river. We need to care about our environment in order to preserve it, because without our natural world we would cease to exist. We need it to live just as much as it needs us to live. When we notice the beauty of something, we tend to want to take care of it. And when you sit down to paint or sketch something, you tend to observe its beauty. Environmental causes like preserving parks and green spaces are important to biodiversity, and if we lose biodiversity, our lives are impacted and our health suffers. Everything is connected, and without plants and animals, we wouldn’t have enough food or air or water!

That is a great point! We certainly know how important water and biodiversity is to our community’s public health, and we work to preserve this everyday. Why do you think people should come to this program and try watercolor painting? Not everyone is so talented in terms of art and painting.

Art is like any other skill: anyone can learn it when they dedicate time to it. It has much more to do with practice, dedication, and interest than people think. And art means many different things to many different people, as does beauty. What I think is beautiful, you may not, but I will never judge what someone wants to create. I think creation is beautiful, no matter the outcome. Adults are some of the most difficult students I have because they are so self-critical. If I was telling someone why they should come to the workshop on June 17, I would tell them to come to be outside and have fun and act like a kid! Kids know how to just have fun and just create, they don’t judge what they come up with, they just enjoy the process. Come and enjoy the process, and tell that self-critical voice to pipe down for a few hours, and just enjoy being outside by the river and learning a new skill!

Well said! We hope everyone pre-registers for your workshop on June 17, which they can do from our website under “Programs” or by clicking here. We hope it is successful, and if it is, we will surely do more. Thank you again!

**To learn more about Bridget Bossart van Otterloo, see her works, or purchase paintings, please visit her website.**

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