Honeycutt creates colors from Naumkeag gardens

Artist Brece Honeycutt's grid of "plant portraits" - paper dyed with plant materials gathered on the grounds of Naumkeag - fill the walls of the estate's Jamesway Barn.

STOCKBRIDGE — Brece Honeycutt knows the deep purple blooms from Mabel Choates' peony trees will yield a turquoise dye. And that, should she want to make prints in a shade of periwinkle, she should seek out the pincushion flower in one of Naumkeag's gardens.

"This year, I made a dye from a small fallen oak branch that makes a salmon pink on silk and am still swooning," the artist said in a recent email interview with The Eagle.

Honeycutt, in the midst of her second summer as the artist-in-residence at Naumkeag, spends Thursdays on the estate once owned by the Choate family — from dawn until dusk — gathering plant materials, dyeing sheets of paper with the plants, printing with the plant materials and making books in the Jamesway Barn studio. There, she has marked the passing of the summer season with a collection of papers dyed with the findings from each day she has spent at Naumkeag, tacking each piece into a makeshift grid on the studio walls.

"Last year's residency was a two-week onsite residency. I lived in the Carriage House at Naumkeag, so I watched the day unfold in the gardens and ended my evenings stitching on textiles dyed from Naumkeag plants whilst watching the sunset from the temple in the Chinese Garden," she said.

This year, Honeycutt, who lives in a Colonial farmhouse in Sheffield with her husband, leads public programs called "Inside/Outside," during her Thursday visits.

"In preparation for last year's residency, I read many works by and about Fletcher Steele. I was fascinated to learn that he never designed a garden for a client before he went into their house to see the 'bric-a-brac' they collected, the books they read, as well as the places they liked to travel. This fact-nugget lead to the Inside/Outside project," she said.

During the winter months, Honeycutt spent hours combing through Naumkeag with curator Mark Wilson, "going from room to room and looking at the objects, reading the book spines and noticing all the floral imagery" in preparation for the programs.

"It is not a coincidence that Mabel Choate surrounded herself with plants, both inside and outside, whether it be the 18th century embroideries in her bedroom, the silk damask wall covering in the parlor or the tree peonies painted onto the Delft pottery in the dining room," Honeycutt said. "Each week, we explore a connection, a link between the gardens and the house."

For example, she said, one Thursday program took participants on a visit to the 300-year-old oak tree on the lawn, then to the front door and hallway, which are both made from oak.

"Each program starts with making a book from one sheet of paper, for notes and secret sketching," Honeycutt said. "Caroline Choate (Mabel's mother) was an artist and in the collection there is an envelope with what she termed 'secret sketching'. Why not provide a 'book' to make one's own sketches in, perhaps, using ink made from the oak tree or the purple irises?"

Honeycutt will welcome the public into her studio at Naumkeag in the Jamesway Barn, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 29. She will also host two more "Inside/Out" programs at Naumkeag from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday Aug. 29 and Sept. 5.