Preserving the Backdrop of Inspiration

January 16, 2007

Preserving the Backdrop of Inspiration

Three artists donate conservation easements

By Karen Finogle

�Every time I go out the door, there is a painting to be done,� Mimi Wiggin said. �Whether it�s a tree, or the light on the mountain, the light on the Minks, or the turkeys walking down the road�it�s inspiring.�

Wiggin, an artist in Warner, N.H. who paints landscapes, still life, and folk art, finds that her 100 acres of land overlooking Mt. Kearsarge in Warner�s Mink Hills is an ample muse. Calling herself �more of a caretaker than an owner,� Wiggin is the third generation in her family to live on the property. She recently donated a conservation easement to the Forest Society for 87 of those acres to ensure, �the fourth, fifth and sixth generations have the opportunity to experience the place as I�ve known it.�

For Wiggin, that place is one of �openness, solitude, and peacefulness,� a refuge to get away from �the hustle and bustle of the high tech age - to vegetate and relax.� Wiggin was first introduced to the land as a child, when she visited her grandparents in the summers. They had bought the property in the 1920s as a summer home. Wiggin spent �tons of time playing in the pond or brook, like kids do,� with cousins and other family members. After Wiggin and her first husband bought the property in 1985, the farmhouse and surrounding woods remained the geographic epicenter for Wiggin�s family. It is a place of reunions and holidays, and of vacations where her grandchildren now find the same freedom she once did, running unhindered through open space.

The undeveloped property, which abuts the Town of Warner�s 900-acre Chandler Reservation and is nearby the Harriman Chandler State Forest, became an artistic stimulant for Wiggin a few years ago, after she lost her first husband. Wiggin�s paintings became �therapy to create happiness.� Much of what has emerged on canvas since then is a reflection of her environment. Mountain vistas, garden bounty, and old farm buildings have all been recreated � preserved - through her brush strokes.

It is this ongoing visceral link to the land, the desire to mirror a �bygone era� and ensure that her section of the Mink Hills remains much as it was in the 1920s that spurred Wiggin to work with the Warner Conservation Commission to protect her parcel. Warner�s Mink Hills Conservation Plan deemed Wiggin�s 87 acres, dominated by mixed northern hardwoods, as one of the more critical parcels to protect in the area. Not only does it provide abundant wildlife habitat, but Wiggin�s property also borders other conservation land and includes a portion of one of the more prominent peaks in the Minks. To support Wiggin�s generosity, the town of Warner covered all expenses incurred from making the easement a gift to the Forest Society.

�There is a strong connection between what I paint and where I live,� Wiggin said. Richard Whitney and Sandy Sherman would probably agree with her. These two contemporary realist painters chose to live in Stoddard, N.H. 14 years ago because it had the highest percentage of land under easement than any other town in the state. To settle in a community that reflected their own environmental ethic was important, so Whitney and Sherman selected their 81-acre parcel as the site for their home and Studios at Crescent Pond because of how much conservation land surrounded it.

Hemmed in by three Forest Society properties, including the 3,576-acre Charles Peirce Wildlife & Forest Reservation, and the Sweet Water Trust�s Pioneer Lake Tract, Sherman and Whitney said it made perfect sense to donate a conservation easement on 75 acres to the Forest Society. They would have done it even sooner had they been aware that they could make the gift while still maintaining a mortgage.

�We feel very inspired by the scenic quality of the property,� said Whitney, considered one of America�s best portrait and landscape painters with paintings in over 650 fine art collections worldwide. �It is a beautiful piece of land with all kinds of remarkable features to it.�

A m�lange of wildlife visitors that frequent the property is no exception. Whitney and Sherman see bear as often as 20 to 30 times a year, as well as deer, fox, fisher, mink, otter, and muskrat. Crescent Pond, the namesake of their studios, is also one of the few undeveloped water sources in the area and provides habitat for wood ducks, mergansers and other waterfowl. The Carr Brook, which originates on the Peirce Reservation, runs through Sherman and Whitney�s land and provides important wetland habitat.

When the couple purchased the land, they had not seen much of the property, so every outing has been one exploration after another. �We just go out and do a lot of discovery,� Sherman said. �It�s never ending and never boring.� For Sherman, an award-winning artist known for her landscape and still life paintings, one of the more impressive discoveries has been the number of large boulders on their land. �We absolutely love those huge glacial erratics,� she said. �Some of them are the size of a house. They are just gigantic.�

Whitney and Sherman also found old hiking trails and have since added another two miles of trails, including one that connects their property to a trail leading to Trout Pond. Now, with prior permission from the artists, people can hike this trail, which goes to an outcropping of boulders overlooking Crescent Pond before connecting to the Trout Pond trail.

Reflecting on why they not only share part of their land but have now protected it in perpetuity, Whitney said, �It�s a way to make the world a better place, and to save the land for future generations.�

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is the state�s oldest and largest non-profit land conservation organization. In order to preserve the quality of life New Hampshire residents know today, the goal of the Forest Society, in partnership with other conservation organizations, private landowners, and government, is to conserve an additional one million acres of the state�s most significant natural lands for trails, parks, farms and forests by 2026.