An artist drawn to ‘the great strength and fragility of the natural world’

Few artists in the world today employ methods and materials that date from the Middle Ages to draw and paint. St. George resident, Banjie Getsinger Nicholas is one of those rare artists. She applies egg tempera paint or silverpoint to prepared gesso grounds made from rabbit skin glue and marble dust. Utilizing these ancient materials requires a great deal of skill and patience. The splendid results are well worth the effort. Nicholas’ works are exquisitely delicate realistic renderings of nature that seem ephemeral, reflecting the fleeting moments we often experience when outdoors.

Nicholas adopted this art form after two decades of working as a wild bird rehabilitator in Connecticut under state and federal permits. Her close relationship to these small creatures became the inspiration for learning how to interpret them artistically. To that end, she enrolled in and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in 2001. Her final project for the degree was a book entitled “Feathered Guests,” which she wrote and illustrated. Seeking further instruction, Nicholas went on to earn certificates in Botanical Illustration and Natural Science Illustration from the New York Botanical Garden. “It was those courses that made me feel confident enough to present myself as an artist”, she remembers.

The attraction to medieval materials and techniques stems from Nicholas’ desire to engage in making art as a meditative endeavor. “I’m close to the work, making small marks,” she reflects.

“I could do it all day!” Egg tempera, made by combining ground dry pigments with fresh egg yolks, is meticulously applied to prepared board with small brushstrokes. Silverpoint, which is drawing with a silver wire or rod, requires making even smaller marks that, over time, tarnish leaving a slightly reflective luster. Both mediums appropriately serve Nicholas’ idea to “interpret the great strength and fragility of the natural world” in a very detailed and entrancing way.

Nicholas was born to creative parents. Her father was an artist who also played musical instruments and made furniture. Her mother created hooked rugs from her own designs, wove fabrics, made traditional seats for chairs, and gardened. They lived in a rural area of northwest Connecticut where “we grew up with an enormous amount of freedom to be outdoors,” Nicholas recalls. Her love of nature and close observations of all in it began then. Remaining in Connecticut most of her life, where she raised her children, it wasn’t until 2017 that Nicholas and her husband Steve moved to St. George. But, her connection to this town dates back to the 1960s, when her parents built a summer cottage for the family on Birch Lane in Martinsville only a couple miles from her present home. The transition from Connecticut to coastal Maine naturally led to a transition in her art.

When Nicholas first moved to St. George she was overwhelmed by its powerful landscape. “I almost stopped [painting]”, she remarked. “I’m not a landscape painter. So I had to wait and go down to the smallest things.” Still passionate about birds and their nests, Nicholas found a new direction. “When I’m walking along the shore, or in the process of doing something, I welcome any suggestion for my next work,” she explains. “My ideas usually come during walks or during dreams.” She now notices on the path shells, seaweed, mosses, and lichen, reflecting, “If I were a bird I would make my nest from all these things.” Nests made of twigs gave way to imaginary nests made of all these found items arranged into intricate delicate avian homes or delightful wreaths.

Over the years, Nicholas has taught botanical painting and drawing, silverpoint, egg tempera painting and an ongoing class, “The Naturalist’s Studio,” which began in 2004. The recipient of numerous Awards and Honors, Nicholas earned the Anthony B. Wallace Award for Excellence in any Medium and the Award of Merit from the American Women Artists. In 2012 she published a “how-to” book on silverpoint drawing for beginners titled Silver Linings. And, more recently, Nicholas illustrated the book Litchfield Country Journal: Notes on Wildness Around Us by Edwin Matthews, published in 2018. Her work has appeared in national exhibitions and galleries. More recently, she was invited to exhibit her work at the Attleboro Arts Museum in Massachusetts, in a show entitled “Tempera: Nature & Narrative.”

You may view Nicholas’ work at www.banjiesart.com.

—Katharine Cartwright

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