If you spend any time on Horsebarn Hill — and who doesn’t? — you’ve likely seen our cover artist Blanche Serban. She is out there every day creating “a pictorial calendar” of 365 HBH paintings.
The plein air piece is vital to the project, says Serban. “Being outside, you get ideas, watching the light.” Like right now, she says, she is painting against the light. “The sun is exactly where it shouldn’t be if you’re playing by the rules. But it makes for an interesting subject this way.”
Serban came to the U.S. from Bucharest, Romania, in 1996 to get her graduate degree — in psychology — at Syracuse. That’s where she met her husband Blair Johnson, now a UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology. He stuck with psychology and she turned her lifetime passion for painting into her profession. They have two daughters, the youngest of whom is a senior in high school. Typically, both mom and dad travel a lot to professional workshops and the like. But, says Serban, “I made the decision not to travel this year, until her graduation.” So the idea to paint Horsebarn Hill in person 365 days popped into her head.
There are a lot of things that attract her to this particular subject. One is “the sky. You really get to see the sky. It’s like our Stonehenge. You get to see the sunrise and sunset and the eclipses.” She remembers bringing her kids here when they were little for solar and lunar eclipses. And exploring one place opens up possibilities for an artist, she says. “The constraint forces you to get out of a groove and see the same subject with new eyes, in a new light.” Will it get old? “No, I’m an artist. I can always see something new.”
So far Serban has painted lots of Hill landscapes, as well as a huge fox that wandered into the frame one morning (“at first I thought someone had left their golden retriever”), a couple walking the path, deer leaping through the valley (“so high they could have jumped over me”), even a selfie. “A couple of days ago I was in the new parking area at the Dairy Bar and I painted my reflection on a car.”
People see her out here and tell her they can’t believe how much she paints. “This is nothing,” she tells me. “I do this and then I go home and do studio work for eight hours. It’s a discipline that takes practice and work — like any other job.”
By Lisa Stiepock
Photos by Peter Morenus