Sylvan Linck ‘24.5 – Middlebury College
FYSE 1570: Native Presence and Performance – 13 May 2021
Due to the length of this narrative, it will be introduced in two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part one.
Amy Hook Therrien is a local artist who specializes in watercolor painting and is a citizen of the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation. Therrien grew up with her family in Chelsea, Vermont in a house overlooking the valley, and surrounded by nature. She graduated from Randolph Union High School and, with the support and encouragement of her parents, attended the University of Maine in Orono to study art. She considers herself very lucky to have such a supportive relationship with her family. While at the University of Maine in Orono she majored in fine art and specialized in painting and sculpture. Therrien moved back to Vermont after graduation, and is living in Windsor with her husband Alex, along with their bunny and two dogs. When she isn’t creating art, she loves spending time with family, traveling, and getting outside to do activities such as hiking and gardening. She is also a Traditional Abenaki singer, and for a time participated in an Abenaki singing group.
Therrien often starts her paintings by drawing lines and details with pen and then going over those drawings with watercolor. When first beginning to incorporate watercolor into her work, the fluidity and uncontrollability of the medium made her nervous. However, with time and practice, she “learned to love the uncontrollable chaos” of it. She often purposefully mixes her paint loosely to allow the paint to separate in a way that creates a more exciting and realistic texture. Therrien believes that “painting in nature is always exciting,” and loves painting things that she finds outdoors. She is passionate about exploring that excitement, and enjoys painting natural things such as landscapes, flowers, leaves, waterfalls, stones, and is “obsessed” with painting birch trees, which she really loves.
Therrien sometimes enjoys going on walks or hikes either by herself or with family to find inspiration for her paintings. When experiencing some trouble thinking of the next project idea, she enjoys painting leaves. Painting leaves is a way to continue creating while possibly helping to inspire a new project idea. When the objects she is painting are small enough, like leaves, she often brings them back to her studio to paint there. While painting outside sounds romantic and lovely, logistically it is quite difficult, and she prefers to work in her studio. When the subject of her painting cannot be brought into her studio, she often takes pictures of it and brings those back to her studio to work with.
When choosing what to paint in nature she rarely picks the “perfect” leaf, tree, or other subject. She finds great value in painting “imperfect” subjects, such as a cracked up dead leaf or a flower that is missing a petal. Nothing in nature is perfect, and nothing looks exactly the same. Painting things in nature and painting them realistically and “imperfectly” allows for more freedom in her painting style and her paintings. She believes that “you can fall in love with the imperfect.” One of Therrien’s pieces titled Aerial View of N’dakinna, appears in a Study Guide that the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association created to educate people about the Abenaki and their dress throughout time. The painting of N’dakinna, meaning homeland, is placed next to a geopolitical map of the same area. The painting contains no place names or borders and shows the very “different perspective that the Native people have of the land.” It is a drastic visual shift from the geopolitical map next to it, and it sometimes takes longer for people to recognize the area when portrayed in this way. Therrien herself says that “I know if I hadn’t painted it would take me a little while to place it.” Her piece challenges European dominated thinking and inspires a new perspective more inclusive of Native people.