Fine arts

'What the heck is plein air painting?'

In what promises to be a lively discussion, artist Peggy Immel explains that it's much more than just painting outside

By Dena Miller
Posted 1/9/19

There's hardly a better expert on the subject than Immel, who has garnered wide recognition throughout the Southwest and across the country for her work.

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Fine arts

'What the heck is plein air painting?'

In what promises to be a lively discussion, artist Peggy Immel explains that it's much more than just painting outside


Even if you're conversant in French and know it translates to "in the open air," have you nevertheless found yourself asking that question? Is plein air a style, or is it a practice? Will it proffer a landscape study, or a completed painting? Is it observational or interpretative? Is it perhaps a combination of all of the above?

The field of answers is so sweeping -- no pun intended -- that Taos plein air artist Peggy Immel has often joked, "If the window is open, are you painting en plein air?"

You may be as confounded as most by the subject, or may simply want to enjoy a lively and informative presentation on plein air painting. Maybe you've been considering trying your hand at it and are not sure where to begin.

Regardless, plan to be at the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House on Wednesday (Jan. 16) at 5 p.m., where Immel has been invited by the museum to answer these and any other questions you may have. Admission is $10 or free for members of the museum.

There's hardly a better expert on the subject than Immel, who has garnered wide recognition throughout the Southwest and across the country for her work. Her discussion will focus on the history of the craft (and the surprising reason why it gained popularity), the many viewpoints from which artists approach plein air, and the tools and materials that are typically employed.

In addition to her own plein air experience, she is also "planning to talk about the contemporary plein air movement, and organizations and opportunities for people to see painters in action as well as paint themselves if they are painters," Immel said. "Wild Rivers Plein Air that happens in July is one of the local events, for example."

Of her extensive career, Immel said, "I began plein air painting in the 1970s when I took a class from [the well-known] John Pellew who taught a weekly class through the Silvermine Art School near New Canaan, Conn. Each week he did a demonstration and then each of us in the class would paint and at the end of the class we would have a short critique. It was a fantastic learning experience for me and was my introduction to painting outside."

Immel said throughout the 1980s and early 1990s she continued to paint landscapes outside as often as she could. "I also joined an outside painting group in North Conway, N.H., in the White Mountains, where my husband [photographer Steven Immel] and I had a vacation home. In the 1800s the White Mountains became a destination for artists and a hotbed of plein air. Artists who painted there include Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River school, Albert Bierstadt, and Winslow Homer, who painted 'Artists Sketching in the White Mountains' so one can see that it was a great source of inspiration," she explained.

"Today, about half of the paintings I do are painted outside. Some, but not all of them, are finished works and I keep many of them for reference for studio paintings."

Immel's presentation is part of the Taos Art Museum's 2018-19 Invitational Winter Exhibition featuring "Taos Treasures," a compendium of Master Signature and Signature members of Plein Air Painters of New Mexico. The exhibit will be on view through March 4.

John Meister, President of PAPNM and chair of the exhibition, noted it was an unexpected collaboration between his organization and the museum that brought "Taos Treasures" to fruition.

He said Cindy Atkins, museum board member and former interim executive director, contacted him after she had given a talk on Nicholai Fechin at last year's annual Plein Air Convention and Expo, which was held for the first time in Santa Fe. "She thought we were doing contemporarily what the Taos Society of Artists did historically, and would be a good fit with the historical spirit of what the museum represents."

Christy Schoedinger Coleman, the museum's present executive director, concurred. "We were absolutely thrilled to partner with PAPNM as the focus of their work connects seamlessly to our mission. Our permanent collection is primarily dedicated to paintings by members of the Taos Society of Artists and, while each member of the society had their own personal style and influences, they had a common thread of painting the stunning New Mexico landscape en plein air. PAPNM carries on this tradition beautifully."

Meister said, "We at PAPNM were honored to be offered this opportunity because this is a premier museum holding a very important collection of works, and with the Fechin House's standing on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places." Also, "The Fechin studio is just a beautiful and intimate space, with wonderful lighting that suits plein air painting so well."

According to its mission statement, PAPNM is a nonprofit organization "dedicated to the business of preserving and promoting painting 'en plein air' [and] advancing plein air painting in the tradition of New Mexico's renowned early and mid-20th century artists." PAPNM also provides regular opportunities for members to paint together monthly, and hosts annual juried and open exhibitions of members' work.

Master Signature and Signature members of PAPNM are those who have been rigorously reviewed by committee and have demonstrated the highest degrees of quality, professionalism and recognition. "This exhibition was invitational, and we're pleased to say we have the full participation of these members," Meister noted.

Immel, a Master Signature member, is joined by Taos Master Signature members Walt Gonske and Clive Tyler, and Signature members Michelle Chrisman of Taos and Peggy Trigg of Questa.

Other Master Signature members include Bill Gallen, Albert Handell, Doug Higgins, Jane Hunt, Lee McVey, Paul Murray and Richard Prather.

Signature members include Tom Blazier, Jeannie Breeding, Lyle Brown, Barbara Churchley, Tobi Clement, Barbara Coleman, Charles Edmondson, Kathleen Elsey, Damien Gonzales, Lois Griffel, Susu Knight, Jakki Kouffman, Margi Lucena, Mike Mahon, Susan McCullough, Maryann McGraw, Suzanne Morris, Dorothy Schildknecht, Nancy Silvia Murata, Mike Simpson, Janice St. Marie and Thomas Wezwick.

The Taos Art Museum at Fechin House is located at 227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For more information about the scheduled talk, call (575) 758-2690, ext. 101, or visit Reserved seating is available, and tickets may be purchased in advance as well as at the door.

To learn more about Plein Art Painters of New Mexico, visit


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