Drawn to nature

KEENE – Sitting in the Keene Arts building Monday afternoon, 70-year-old Pieter Vanderbeck’s voice echoed off the walls of the empty former church. He was recalling the day he discovered art as a second-grader growing up in Rochester.

“There was an ice storm. The elm trees were coated with ice, drooping to the ground,” he said. “The ground was covered with ice, and one could not walk on it without slipping. There was no reason to go out because all you would do was slip and slide, but the sun was sparkling through it all, and I was bored.”

Looking out the window, the young Vanderbeck decided he needed a way to pass the time, so he began drawing cartoons. Now, more than six decades later, Vanderbeck continues to spend his free time drawing. But instead of focusing on black-and-white cartoon characters, he has shifted his gaze to the colorful outdoors, specifically the Adirondack backcountry.

“It was not until I came up here and became enamored of nature on its own terms that I found something else other than the sardonic to draw,” said Vanderbeck, who discovered the Adirondacks in the early 1990s. “When I realized how profound – how beautiful and profound, to use overused words – the mountains were, I went off on a completely different line of drawing: the truth of the earth, the truth of nature.”

Starting today and ending July 5, those colorful landscape drawings are available for public viewing as part of Vanderbeck’s show, “A Walk in the Woods,” at Keene Arts on state Route 73 in Keene. Tonight they will be featured in the show’s opening from 5 to 7 p.m. After that, the gallery will be open to the public from 2 to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 6 p.m. weekends. Vanderbeck will be on hand during those hours as well. More than 20 years of his drawings will be on display.

A retired janitor from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, Vanderbeck splits his time between that city and the Adirondacks. When he’s here, which in recent years has been from spring until fall, he mostly lives the forests of the High Peaks, sleeping in lean-tos and tents, only coming out to resupply and get refreshed at the Keene Valley Hostel.

In the woods, he brings color pencils and paper and a dogged determination to capture the essence of the world around him. He often finds himself high on mountains or beside streams or waterfalls in the Dix and High Peaks wilderness areas. A lover of classical music and a poet with a strong imagination, Vanderbeck puts himself in the living, interconnected landscape, creating his drawings in one sitting.

“I deliberately draw my landscapes so the bottom portion comes right up to where the toes would be,” he said. “So the viewer imaginatively can step right over the border to the drawing and move around it and in it.”