Inner child, outdoor nuance on 2015 art tour

Pam Pittinger paints in her Amissville studio, in a 100-year-old renovated barn with "big beautiful windows."
Pam Pittinger paints in her Amissville studio, in a 100-year-old renovated barn with “big beautiful windows.” Megan S. Smith | Rappahannock News

This Nov. 7-8, returning artist Pam Pittinger and newcomer Phyllis Northup join the Rappahannock Association for Art and Community’s 11th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour.

One senses the whimsical vibe of Pittinger’s acrylic abstract pieces, some in color, some black and white. Artists, many say, should summon their unencumbered inner child, letting go of any adult inhibitions and self-criticism we learn later in life. Children’s art, Pittinger admits, “absolutely” had an effect on her own. Children are “not judgmental, then at a certain age they become hyper-judgmental,” losing their ability to be totally free.

Pittinger was born in Long Island, N.Y. to parents with creative energy. Her father dabbled in painting and ceramics, her mother rug hooking and sewing.

Of spending only one year at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, Pittinger said, “I wasn’t disciplined enough at that age … I wanted to teach myself.”

And for the most part she has, only attending art classes briefly, along with studying other disciplines, in Santa Rosa, California, where she met husband Lynn.

In her 20s, Pittinger joined a cooperative where she created clothes and self-sculpted. She began “painting seriously in early 30s,” but had “always been doing art … always drawing.”

Before moving in 2003 to Rappahannock County — where her sister also lives — Pittinger and her husband lived in the Philippines, then Scotland, then Thailand. These places were “inspiring to me,” Pittinger said, “especially Thailand. The arts are everywhere there … They’re very creative [people], it’s just the way they live.”

Pittinger moved from realistic painting to abstract while in the Philippines. It was “more comfortable, more freedom, more exciting, more possibilities for experimenting,” she said, adding: “Like children’s art.”

Moving recently into her new Amissville studio with “beautiful big windows” in a “100-year-old renovated barn” adjacent to her home, Pittinger is now creating larger acrylic works, along with some sculpture wire pieces and papier-mâché. Her guest artists include many of Little Washington’s former Six Pack Gallery artists: Jim Ramsay, Chris Stephens, Janet Brome and Ann Currie — and she’ll also have a few ingenious pieces by the now Oregon-based former Six Packer, Jeanne Drevas.

Painter Phyllis Northup likes recreating nuances in nature, “the little ones people walk past” and miss.
Painter Phyllis Northup likes recreating nuances in nature, “the little ones people walk past” and miss. Megan S. Smith | Rappahannock News

Watercolorist Phyllis Northup grew up in the small town of Wenonah, N.J. “Grandmother gave me a beginner’s set of oils when I was 7 years old,” she explained. “Thus began my love affair with all things art!”

Northup received her bachelor’s in fine arts at West Virginia Wesleyan — after which her life took an interesting turn. She married husband Jim, a national park ranger who is now superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, and the two have moved about the country ever since, living and working in some of America’s most beautiful national parks: the Grand Teton, the Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Cape Hatteras, Buffalo River, Smoky Mountains, and of course, the Shenandoah — where they began their journey 36 years ago.

These parks gave her enormous inspiration for creating new works of art. “I specialize in national park landscapes,” Northup explained. “What inspires me is nature,” including beautiful wildflowers.

At times, Northup worked as an interpretive park ranger, “versus a protective ranger,” she explained, where she held “talks and walks” in both Grand Canyon and Big Bend parks.

Northup has more than 25 years of experience teaching art, including at schools set on the Grand Canyon’s lovely south rim. “I taught in public schools, I taught in private schools — [ranging all the way] from 2-year-olds to grandmas in community centers.”

Northup hopes through her paintings and teachings she “can help others more fully see and appreciate the beauty of the natural world around them.”

“I’m an avid outdoorswoman,” Northup said. She almost always has a camera with her to take photos of her park “backyards,” as she calls them. She likes recreating nuances in nature, “the little ones people walk past” and miss, she said.

One of the “little ones” she painted was in the top 100 for the “Paint the Parks” national competition. Northup’s “Rock Geometry,” depicting a spot along Lake Superior’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, was part of a national tour in 2012. “I was fascinated by the way the rock slabs had fallen lined up at such an interesting angle,” she explained, “with the vertical lines of mineral stains behind them.”

During the tour, Northup will have her original artwork on sale along with high-quality giclee prints, notecards of her art, and jewelry she creates from gemstones and Swarovski crystals, the latter “also inspired by nature.”

Northup’s Flint Hill studio sits “at the very end of Riley Hollow … past state maintenance,” she joked. Her husband’s family has owned the property for more than 50 years.

“I’m very excited to be on the art tour,” Northup said. She had to cancel last year’s plans because her grandchild “was due the weekend of the tour — so not this time, guys!” she told the tour committee.

About making a full loop back to Rappahannock County, Northup said the parks have “all been great but we really enjoy being back in Shenandoah.”