Painting her Past
Family vacations in the Adirondacks inspire a painter's work
Story by Lindsey Shumway
Photos provided by Abby Oxford
When her emotions need vocalizing, Abby Oxford uses her paintbrush as others would use their tongue, articulating the sentiment she needs to express with her brushstrokes. While others endlessly search for the perfect musical playlist that accurately narrate their feelings, Oxford mixes colors together until she creates the perfect combination of hues to describe a natural atmosphere she pieced together.
“I always put something from nature in anything I do,” Oxford says. “It’s just how I start.”
Nature is precisely where she started. Oxford grew up in Pennsylvania, where she began her outdoor adventures with her close-knit family, vacationing in the Adirondacks every summer for fifteen years. The youngest of four, Oxford went with her two older sisters, brother, her avid backpacking-and-hiking enthusiast father, Ken Eckhardt, and her mother, Jenny.
“The kids weren’t so enthused with it then,” Jenny Eckardt says, “but after she had grown up and raised a family of her own, I think she missed it and wanted to go back.”
The experience is something that she truly values now, Jenny adds.
"After she had grown up and raised a family of her own, I think she missed it and wanted to go back.”
So when it came time to complete a series of work inspired by her childhood in her painting class at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, Oxford drew from her experiences in the Adirondacks. Miharu Lane, Associate Professor of art and painting instructor to Oxford, says Oxford would always come into class and concentrate on capturing the calm serenity she remembered experiencing.
“She’s very meticulous,” Lane says. “Where other students will be distracted and talk to each other, she’s quiet. She’s focused. Everything’s nice and neat, so she’s able to produce some really nice work.”
Oxford’s paintings reflect her admiration for the Adirondacks with scenic landscape representation, depicting AuSable Point Beach and River, Lake Champlain, and various mountain peaks and forests of the Adirondack region. They illustrate a time when her family would go hiking and camping in tents and lean-tos to explore AuSable, the High Peaks, and the mountains in Vermont before her parents purchased an area between Clintonville and AuSable Forks to camp on.
“The mountain scenes bring back all the fun memories we had together as a family,” Jenny says. “We would take two-week long hiking and camping adventures, and when I see her paintings, they make me think of those times.”
It was during one of these adventures that Oxford was moved to paint a portrait of her father and her in a boat on the water in the Adirondacks. The picture has become significant to both, as her father continues to inspire her artwork.
“I was always outdoors as a child, and my father really loved nature and encouraged a lot of my experiences with it,” Oxford says," and he really touched me with that.”
Despite raising a family her own, Oxford makes sure to find time to continue hiking, boating, and canoeing with her father.
“They really share a genuine bond,” Jenny says. “They both love nature and they love doing activities together — they love being together.”
“They really share a genuine bond,” Eckhardt says. “They both love nature and they love doing activities together— they love being together.”
Her dad says he feels pride and gratification that she focuses a lot of her work on childhood memories often inspired by him, and when she paints, he says she is creating something truly meaningful.
“Her paintings mean something so much more than anything that comes from a store, because they are coming from her,” Ken Eckhardt says. “It is a lot more personal that way.”
His favorite painting of hers is hanging up in his and his wife’s home, which shows AuSable River leading into Lake Champlain, blended with purple and blue hues.
Color is an element of painting that Oxford especially enjoys, particularly mixing arbitrary colors. Even though there might be no apparent purple hue in tree bark, Oxford will still incorporate the color, juxtaposing the scenic reality with her own artistic creation.
Just finishing up her undergraduate degree in art and psychology at East Stroudsburg University, Oxford plans to attend graduate school for art therapy, which she says is what she really wants to do.
“A lot of times, you paint more when you’re dealing with something,” Oxford says. “Your emotions are released with your hands. You can get scared of it sometimes, but it can also be a blessing.”
Oxford says she thinks she will try to use art as a demonstration process to let the artists show for themselves what is going on in their life.
“Your emotions are released with your hands. You can get scared of it sometimes, but it can also be a blessing.”
“If someone is stressed and they need an outlet to express themselves, we can look to [paintings] as a reflection,” Oxford says. “Whether it’s their childhood, life or home that they depict, children especially don’t hold back on their emotions. And hopefully painting will help them with whatever they are going through.”
While Oxford understands the therapy painting can provide in being an outlet for any emotion anyone feels the need to express, those who watch the progression of Oxford’s serene paintings, like her painting instructor, believe her serene painting also has the power to move people.
“She has a very warm and nurturing personality,” Lane says, “and so I think she’ll be able to really teach us all something.”