BY PAT FARNELLI
Sticks and stones. Weeds and rust. Wax and bones.
Montrose artist Sonji Lee has turned her farm into a studio and showplace for her new avocation, mixed media encaustic work. Lee, one of the local artists participating in the annual Columbus Day Weekend Artists Open House Tour, is a retired business and leadership professor who went on an Art Tour where she met artist Kathryn LeSoine and was immediately fascinated by her use of an encaustic process – encasing photographs, art works, and other objects and surfaces beneath a beeswax coating.
LeSoine primarily uses her own photographed images in her works, while Lee has experimented with flat and three dimensional objects from nature along with metal and other found objects.
Lee (whose first name is pronounced SOHN ya) says in her mission statement that she is committed to the miracles, beauty, joys and generous gifts of nature. “I celebrate and am inspired with each and every moment that the natural world provides. We all need to embrace and cherish this connection,” she said.
The works being displayed at Lee’s home during the tour have been created in the past year. Her home, “The Farm at Johnson Pond,” is her studio. The hall, studio, and other areas of the home are filled with encaustic “paintings” and sculptures, which are multimedia compositions of found objects as well as painted living things.
With her husband, Gary Andre, the couple built their rustic, spacious home by hand. Lee noted that she built the laid stone walls herself, after reading a how-to book.
“Stewardship of land is of the utmost importance as I reclaim the natural objects in my art. The majority of the natural objects that I use are collected on my daily hikes around this beautiful property,” she said.
Her art uses reclaimed wood of hemlock, birch, cherry, ash, and walnut trees. Most of the works are “paintings” or piece meant to be hung on walls but she recently began crafting three dimensional sculptures, also using encaustic wax.
“I also use Pennsylvania bluestone and my love of stone and wood is the foundation of my works. These great treasures are given to me by friends and family, each supporting my efforts, creating a community, enhancing my passion. ”
“Bark, dried ‘weeds’, flowers, leaves, wood chips, sawdust, sand, stone and coal are just some of the natural elements that I incorporate in to each piece. One of my favorite materials is the hive paper from the white-faced hornet. These hives are gathered in the cold of winter, before the storms destroy them, bringing them tenderly, in my studio for display and use.” There are wasp and hornet nests hanging above the artwork and from the ceilings of most of the rooms of the house.
Her use of “beehive paper” made by wasps, and has begun to make her own handmade papers.
Lee rises at 3 a.m. on most days to get to work on her art projects. She has a multitude of pieces hanging and otherwise displayed at her studio. The master bedroom was turned into her studio, and the former garage is now the bedroom. Paintings of her favorite farm animals by another artist grace the kitchen walls.
One piece, named “Rebirth,” uses large foxtail, wood, and encaustic paint and encaustic medium. Many employ dried flowers she has collected on walks. “Snowy night” has birch twigs on a gray and white background. “Floating Downstream” incorporates birch leaves; “Black Snake Shed,” a lengthy composition, uses an entire shed skin from a sizeable blacksnake along with other natural materials; “Oak Leaf” is a nature-scape, with a real oak leaf sprayed with white paint.
Lee recently retired from Keystone College, where she worked as an Associate Professor of business. She is a graduate of Tunkhannock High School, earned a PhD, Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration, at Capella University, after beginning her doctoral work at University of Pennsylvania.]
The Artists Open House Weekend is Saturday – Monday, Oct. 6-8, with studios open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. each day.
For information about the annual Artists Open House Weekend, including a participating artists, a brochure and map, visit: www.artiststour.com.