The quadricentennial of the arrival of Samuel de Champlain has inspired not only a ginormous festival but dozens of ancillary products devoted to the body of water bearing the French explorer’s name. The almost-great lake entitles Vermont to the moniker “the West Coast of New England” and provides some of the state’s most stunning views. So it’s no wonder lovely Lake Champlain is the subject of recent books. Two that came our way this summer: The Water in Between: A Photographic Celebration of Lake Champlain, from Huntington Graphics; and The Art of Lake Champlain: Inspiring Landscape, a Verve Editions book featuring paintings and photography by Vermont artists alongside the poetry of Daniel Lusk. Both are horizontally oriented picture books, appropriate for the landscape views within.
The Water in Between was compiled by Jared Grange, designed by Andrea Gray and written by Emery Hard. It’s filled with 119 photographs, not only of the lake but of neighboring landscapes and human activities, from Burlington’s bustling Church Street Marketplace to a steaming sugar shack to ice fishermen on a frigid day. Curiously, all credits for the photos appear in an index at the end, forcing the reader to flip back and forth. But this is a small inconvenience beside the swell of pride — or gratitude — a Vermonter, New Yorker or Canadian might feel reviewing this gorgeous depiction of our habitat.
What the jacket does not lead readers to expect is a highly informative historical overview of the region, in another section at the back of the book called “Passages.” The story, written in a clear, straightforward style, begins half a billion years ago and brings us up to the present, accounting for geologic as well as human evolution in the region. The copy does slant toward tourism-department boosterism: Hard makes the barest reference to environmental challenges the lake now faces, and breezes past them with the generic “Thankfully, many people devote their time to keeping Lake Champlain and its basin healthy and clean.” Then again, a book about pollution would be, well, a different book.
The Art of Lake Champlain is also filled with pretty pictures, but only a few are photographic. Gary Chassman of Burlington’s Verve Editions selected more than 60 images by 50 artists both past (e.g., Francis Colburn, Alexander Wyant) and present; the names will most likely be familiar to anyone conversant with Vermont’s art scene and history. The works of well-known realist painters such as Robert Huntoon, Kathleen Kolb and Carolyn Walton appear along with more interpretive pieces by the likes of Ann Street Bailey, Gabriel Boray and Bonnie Acker.
The book is a veritable catalog of artistic media, at least the two-dimensional kind. Varieties of painting abound, from oil to pastel crayon. There are also woodcuts, monotypes, photographs and the inevitable “mixed media.” Perhaps the least predictable is a remarkable abstracted lake/sunset view in fabric collage by Dianne Shullenberger. Collectively, the images reassert that the lake, the sky and the land have always provided endless inspiration to artists, and probably always will. Luckily for them, it seems the public never tires of admiring the views once removed.
Writers, of course, draw inspiration from nature, too — and have the advantage of being able to render it both literally and metaphorically. Jonesville-based poet and University of Vermont English prof Daniel Lusk has been working on a cycle of poems attuned to the evocative mysteries of the murky depths. In a poem titled “Lake Champlain Apparition,” he compares the water to “our dreaming selves” and concludes with the suggestion: “Is death not also, sometimes, / the large shadow / of something very small.”
Conceptually, The Art of Lake Champlain bears some similarity to Douglas Lazarus’ “Champlain’s Lake Rediscovered” and even to Lyman Orton’s “Art of Action,” both touring exhibits that emerged from Vermont this past year. The advantage of books, of course, is that they offer a permanent, and affordable, exhibition for the coffee table.
The Water in Between: A Photographic Celebration of Lake Champlain, Huntington Graphics, 132 pages. $29.95. The Art of Lake Champlain: Inspiring Landscape, Verve Editions, 180 pages. $24.95.