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Painter, Photographer and Printmaker Shows at Norfolk Library

The Art of Chance Encounters


By Melissa Stevenson

The Norfolk Library’s newsletter, “The Owl,” describes Sallie Ketcham as a mixed-media artist. Memories of elephant poop and political argument might come to mind, but luckily, in this instance, “mixed-media” refers to an artist with an interest, and capabilities, in several different creative mediums. While these separate expressions can influence one another, they are distinct entities. Although Ketcham is an accomplished painter, her May show at the Norfolk Library will highlight photographs and smaller monotype prints.

In general, artists rarely embrace or adhere to categorization. Ketcham is no exception. She has plenty of training, including an MFA in photography, painting and studio art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and a print making residency in Ireland with Anthony Kirk. She also has a craftsman’s dedication, taking the steps of whatever process she is engaged in as seriously as the moment of inspiration.

This commitment to process is evidenced in her photography by her attention to scale and framing. Even after the “final click” of the camera, Ketcham lets each image speak to her. This conversation between artist and subject can have a great impact on the viewer’s ultimate impression of the work. At times these ‘conversations’ can be difficult, although Ketcham contends that there are those images whose voices are so strong and distinct they dictate their own format loudly and clearly. One such example at the library show is “Surface Tension,” where the artist covers the image in optically pure acrylic to virtually eliminate distortion (as opposed to more traditional glass and matte). Ketcham also refers to herself as a “darkroom person,” reflecting the pride she takes in the fact that there is little to no digital manipulation or enhancement in her work.

More of her photographs will be on display at the library, but there will also be several smaller monotypes and an intaglio print. Monotypes are prints created when paint is applied to a plate (in this case, of plexiglass) which is run through a press with paper to produce one image, although that initial plate can also be used to create several subsequent “ghost” images. Intaglio prints are a newer endeavor for Ketcham and involve sketching a design on a copper plate which, when bathed in acid, creates an etching.

No matter the medium, Ketcham’s artistic vision has always been informed and inspired by the natural world. She approaches photography with a painterly eye, so much so that her photographs are often mistaken for paintings. As with a painting built up in layers, her photographs seek to capture and reveal nature’s own subtle layering—light reflecting off ice covering a leaf over water, for example. In an instant, a new experience can be created by redirecting the viewer’s focus, shifting both understanding and perception. Her desire is to invite viewers in, allowing them to lose themselves in an image that may be something quite obvious and familiar but also new and dynamic.

Ketcham’s pre-Litchfield life could easily be described as peripatetic. Several years ago, she was introduced to this area by friends and decided to relocate. Whether it’s the awesome beauty of the natural surroundings, or being part of a greater community so supportive of artists (and the arts in general), she feels like she has finally come home.

While walking in the woods near her home, a walk she often takes, Ketcham’s own attention was focused upon a particular image she very much wanted to capture. But it was when she turned around to head back home that she was struck by an unexpected vision, a chance encounter, something she knew she needed to share because it held that most elusive of gifts—the power to draw both artist and audience from beauty to mystery, then back again.

The opening reception for Sallie Ketcham’s “Chance Encounter” is at the library on Sunday, May 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. This is her first show in Connecticut. Additional works will be on display in Station Place Cafe. For further information about the artist or her work, visit www.sallieketchamphotography.com.

Photo courtesy of Sallie Ketcham.

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