Rocks, Fossils, Water
The Art of Kristen Wyckoff
Date: September 17, 2011-November 19, 2011
Can the hard science of geology blend with the fragile creativity of an artist?
Can something that happened 380 million years ago feed the imagination of someone living today?
Of course, the answer is yes and from September 3 through November, residents and visitors to the Northern Catskills may see for themselves the artistic progeny that results from a unique marriage of art and science, this one using the Schoharie County town of Gilboa, NY as its backdrop.
On Saturday, September 3, the Kaaterskill Fine Arts Gallery in Hunter Village Square is proud to present the paintings and watercolors of Kristen V.H. Wyckoff, an artist whose work derives its energy and inspiration from the natural history and geology of Schoharie County, New York. Painting has always been a central part of Kristen's life. Her mother's career in art and her father's work as an earth science teacher in Middleburgh helped to form the synthesis of aesthetic and scientific influences that is so evident in her work today. Art museums, sidewalk art shows and fossil hunting expeditions were all important parts of her upbringing.
Kristen sold her first paintings, done on local slate, at age fourteen and won grand prizes in regional art competitions as a high school student. After graduating from college with a degree in floriculture and floral design, Kristen pursued painting and fossil collecting privately, balancing her work as an artist with the demands of raising children and running a family business.
After moving to the town of Gilboa, Kristen became intensely interested in the rich fossil records of the Devonian era that are abundant in the local streams and creekbeds. These Gilboa fossils are records of the point at which plants came out of the sea and colonized the land -- to be followed by the first animals to emerge from the ocean and develop lungs. Fossils have been in Gilboa that are mong the oldest in the world.
The small town of Gilboa, in southern Schoharie County, is the home to the Gilboa Fossils. 380 million years ago, during the Devonian Period in the Geologic Time Scale, Gilboa was located on the shore of the gigantic Devonian Sea.
This was a tropical world, situated approximately twenty degrees south of the equator. Tree-like plants grew near the shore. Wind and rain were all that was heard, since this early world was devoid of birds and land animals. Long periods of drought were followed by monsoon rains and flooding. Occasionally, severe storms buried much of the shore forest in sand, killing plants. In time, the trees rotted. The molds of the stumps left in the sand were eventually filled with more sand, leaving us with the tree-stump fossils on display at the Gilboa Museum on Route 990V in New York State.
No one knew the fossils existed until, in 1850, an amateur naturalist found a sandstone cast of a portion of a Devonian-age tree trunk in the Schoharie Creek near Gilboa after a huge flood. The samples were sent to Canada where the specimens were described and illustrated by McGill University paleontolgist John W. Dawson. This was the first documented discovery of fossil tree stumps in North America.
The importance of the Devonian Period lies in the great changes which then occurred all over the world. The period was an intermediate stage, a transition, from a wholly marine to the terrestrial world. As plants began to evolve, so too did the landscape. The earth was forever altered when the first vegetation appeared in shore areas of the coastal plains. Oxygen levels increased as the result of plant respiration, topography became more varied. The climate changed. Niches of all kinds became available and began to be filled with new life forms.
In 1920, after the City of New York claimed the village of Gilboa to build the Gilboa Dam and the Schoharie Reservoir, the New York State Museum ordered a full-scale search for these fossils. About 50 were found: some were shipped to the State Museum; Hugh Nawn, the contractor building the dam, shipped others around the world; and nine were left in Gilboa.
These are the oldest tree fossils in the world. Scientists are still working to understand their significance to the world today.
Inspired by these remarkable fossils, Kristen painted her first Devonian scene as a mural on the wall of the family's living room. Since then, she has discovered dozens of fern tree fossils in Schoharie Creek and has done many paintings of the Gilboa fern tree forest of 370 million years ago.
In addition to her paintings of the Devonian Period, Kristen's current work also depicts the area as it is today. One canvas, part of the exhibit but not for sale, depicts the original town of Gilboa, submerged in the 1920s the social and economic upheaval caused by the displacement of an entire town to provide the water needs of New York City merge in Kristen's most recent work.
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