Saturday, November 9, 2013

Annie Bissett's Welcome to Nonotuck

They Looked Behind - ©Annie Bissett

Artist and printmaker Annie Bissett's exhibit at the Historic Northhampton Museum presents an intimate look into the distant past of New England.  Drawn from her We Are Pilgrims series of woodblock prints Annie looks back through the eyes of her Mayflower ancestors to revisit the lives of early immigrants.

The stage begins to be set by the museum's displays of artifacts from the indigenous peoples and early settlers in the central Massachusetts region.  We are welcomed into the exhibit by a hand painted map of depicting the early colonial settlement.

Welcome to Nonotuck -Hand painted map on canvas - © Annie Bissett

That we are in Nonotuck and not Northhampton, MA serves as the artist's reminder to us that the earliest settlers arrived as immigrants to an already populated area.  Elsewhere in the exhibit Annie reinforces the linguistic reminder that many place names are still in use after 300 years.

Vast Unpeopled Lands - ©Annie Bissett

Annie's work is both elegant and thought provoking.  Vast Unpeopled Lands with its patterned landscape and unique constellations is a wry reminder of occupation and land usage long before "discovery" and settlement by Europeans.

Although a modest number of prints are used to tell the complex story of two disparate cultures the artist is equally able to recognize the struggles of each.

The print Dorothy Bradford Comes to America depicts the drowning of a young woman, the first wife of Plymouth Colony leader William Bradford.

Technically, Annie Bissett's use of japanese mokuhanga printmaking methods seem well suited to this tightly focused exhibition.  The use of lettering carved in the blocks adds a slightly anachronistic touch that brings the viewer back to a time when woodcuts were used to disseminate information and document events.

Her mastery of color gradation or bokashi combined with flattened areas of color and pattern give the print surfaces a unique and lyrical feel.


The artist digs deep into correspondence, diaries and histories of the era to unearth ties to the complexities of the quest for religious freedoms, definitions of morality and the yearning for individual freedoms.

In the piece God Bless John Alexander and Thomas Roberts, 1637 Annie examines the punishment of two men convicted of "performing ongoing homosexual acts with each other".  Their punishments included whipping, branding and  banishment.

Annie Bissett's work will be at the Historic Northhampton Museum - November 8 - December 6.

Link to Annie Bissett website

Link to Annie Bissett's blog Woodblock Dreams