Art in the Garden of Eden

Floral Fantasia at River Farm

Curator Robert F. Murray with “Flowers” acrylic transfer by Armen Kankanian and “Cherries” oil by Anna Katalkina. (Lillis Werder)

By Kelly MacConomy

ALEXANDRIA,VA- River Farm is an unrivaled pastoral retreat from our ever-expanding Metro environment. Traveling there from Old Town, south along the GW Parkway, one transitions from urban to urbane, where grounds and gardens offer serenity among the farm’s 49 acres along the Potomac River. Once part of George Washington’s original five-farm holdings, the property is now home to the American Horticultural Society.

Currently on exhibit in the ballroom and throughout the public areas of the estate home are works from four exceptional artists, who complement both the natural and cultivated landscape of River Farm.

Invitation to stay awhile: The river view porch at River Farm welcomes you. (Lillis Werder)

The exhibit was curated by Robert F. Murray of the Von Brahler Ltd. gallery. His decades of art entrepreneurship and patronage in Alexandria and the DMV are clearly on display. Bob is more than an art impresario; he’s the real deal in a town that has seen established Washington art glitterati fade to near extinction.

The assembled work has a spiritual quality. Images range from whimsical small oils on board in the “Candy Series” by Anna Katalkina to the trompe l’oeil canvases of Armen Kankanian.

Anna’s masterful technique in traditional oil painting methods make her collage work all the more compelling. And Armen, who is also an architect, works as a ceramicist and muralist. His large-scale work is found in area hotels and churches, with smaller renditions on exhibit in homes and galleries up and down the East Coast.

Patrons may acquire printed mural paintings, have images painted and then applied to walls, or even painted directly onto a wall or ceiling, or wherever a mural is desired. Armen even painted a mural on the bottom of a swimming pool.

Oil paintings from the “Candy Series” by Anna Katalkina. (Lillis Werder)

Yury Kokoyanin, like Anna, is from St. Petersburg, Russia. He lives in Alexandria now, where he also teaches piano. His precision-style painting has been widely exhibited in Russia and throughout Europe and the U.S. Yuri’s paintings have been described as “modern icons”. Viewing the canvases in person gives credence to that moniker.

“Flower Elegance” by Armen Kankanian. (Lillis Werder)

Drawings by Native American artist Sylvan John Rienks hang throughout the living-room salon, with its panoramic picture window looking out at the Potomac. (One recent young viewer presumed it to be a television.) John was born in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. His mother, a member of the Shawnee Tribe, taught him to draw with a goose quill pen. John drew inspiration from his heritage and culture, creating a body of work he called “Ritual Implements.”

“Flower Arrangement:” goose quill pen and watercolor by Sylvan “John” Reinks. (Lillis Werder)

Sadly, John passed away at 62, in the early 1990s. Unlike most artists through history, the preponderance of his work sold before he died. His organic compositions of flowers, animals, and birds, sometimes even abstractions, were especially popular at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, where he was a member and at one time president of the artists’ association. John’s most famous work was “The Tree of Life”, which was rendered several times before his untimely death.

River Farm is a working collaborative, a place of history, culture, and science. Concerts, events, and weddings are held there, on local history’s most hallowed ground. To walk in the footsteps of George Washington is forever a privilege. To view fine art and then stroll among boxwood gardens older than the oldest living human, to find shade under a tree planted by our first president or from seeds brought east by Lewis and Clark, and to view the Maryland shore as our nation’s founders saw—it is sheer bliss.

Three-centuries-old Osage Tree planted by George Washington at River Farm. (Lillis Werder)

This exhibit runs through September 30, 2019. There will be a reception on September 15 from 10 am to noon, which will be free and open to the public. Dress is casual and there is ample free parking. For more information contact Bob Murray at 703~798~8686; vbgpromo@aol.com

River Farm is located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive Alexandria, Virginia 22308 793-768-5700 www.ahs.org