"Spirit of Place": Smith Siegel raises nature awareness

02/26/2020

Connie Smith Siegel—artist, activist, author, dancer, poet, meditator and teacher—captures the weight, energy and movement of the elements. Her paintings, created outside with the wind and the water, the sun and the shadows, glow with life and light, and the connection she forged with nature through her years of sensory awareness work reaches out from the canvas. A retrospective of her work, “Spirit of Place,” opens on Feb. 29 at Toby’s Gallery. A reception will take place on March 7. 

Connie taught sensory awareness, color and drawing at John F. Kennedy University, the California Institute of Integral Studies, the Esalen Institute and the University of California. Her work has shown throughout the country and is in collections at the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Oakland Museum of California. Her landscapes, full of the healing energy of the earth, can be seen at Kaiser in Santa Rosa and Oakland and in many Bay Area doctors’ and therapists’ offices. The upcoming show demonstrates the power of her art to inspire and make a difference in the world. 

Connie studied Buddhist meditation to deepen her awareness and non-violent communication to better practice peace, and the practice of aikido gave her the courage to enter the peace movement. In the 70s and 80s, influenced by the writings of Dr. Helen Caldicott, Connie decided to combine her beautiful landscapes with words to create banners, posters and postcards that could be used in marches and as fundraisers for anti-nuclear groups. Her first banner was a 20-foot landscape painting used in a peace march with the quote from Caldicott: “Each of us must accept total responsibility for the Earth’s survival.”

Locally, she created a series of paintings of Blueberry Hill in Woodacre to protect it from being dug up for a 10-million-gallon water tank. Thanks in part to the paintings, the tank was never built, and the hill and its resident oaks are still standing. 

Every year until recently, Connie, now in her 80s, took solo painting trips to the Sierra to capture the fall colors or to Napa for the turning of the grape leaves. At her home in the San Geronimo Valley, the hills, plum trees and oaks were constant subjects, as was the spectacular scenery of the Point Reyes National Seashore. She often painted on the roadside beside her old Toyota van or along the creek in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. 

I know Connie as an art teacher and a fellow dancer in our local Dance Medicine community. She was a dedicated and always engaging partner until a recent illness curtailed her dancing, but it has not limited her spirit. (She recently swayed and bobbed to music played for her paintings at a reception in San Geronimo.) Her art classes, which combined sensory awareness with art making, have taught her students to both be better artists and find our connection to the earth and our inner wisdom by exploring movement, color, weight, texture, contrast and space.  

Art critic Alfred Frankenstein wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Connie Smith Siegel is an artist of marvelous serenity. She is a great technician and a major spirit. You feel at once on entering the gallery that this is not just work with paint and canvas, but genuine proof of the hope that humanity can be at peace with the world.”         

Put perhaps her own poetry expresses her work best. In her poem, “Reflections,” she writes: “I see you/ in the silver fog/ that shreds the summer blue. I see you/ in the blue-green water/ streaming white on darkened rocks./ I draw your blue/ and green and white/ until it fits the inside/ of my hand,/ until your light burns/ right through me, onto/ paper, canvas, anything that catches light and holds it./ I ask only for reflections, and to ride/ the wild blue horses/ running/ with the night./ On their backs/ the gold stars, shining,/ light the shadows/ of our lives.”

 

“Connie Smith Siegel: Spirit of Place” shows at Toby’s Gallery in Point Reyes Station from Feb. 29 to March 31. A reception will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on March 7. Constance Washburn is lives in Lagunitas and uses art-making, nature connection, movement and theater in her work as a facilitator and teacher of The Work That Reconnects.