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Art Notes: Charley Harper’s Wildlife Prints Pack a Visual Punch

  • Piscine Queues<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Piscine Queues
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Pelican Pantry<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Pelican Pantry
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Savoring Sycamore<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Savoring Sycamore
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Hares Breadth<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Hares Breadth
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Ladybug Lovers<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Ladybug Lovers
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Devotion in the Ocean<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Devotion in the Ocean
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Dolfun<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Dolfun
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Blue Jay Bathing<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Blue Jay Bathing
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Dam Diligent<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Dam Diligent
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Blue Jay Bathing<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Blue Jay Bathing
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Dam Diligent<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

    Dam Diligent
    Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

  • Piscine Queues<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Pelican Pantry<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Savoring Sycamore<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Hares Breadth<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Ladybug Lovers<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Devotion in the Ocean<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Dolfun<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Blue Jay Bathing<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Dam Diligent<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Blue Jay Bathing<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science
  • Dam Diligent<br/>Images courtesy Montshire Museum of Science

For sheer visual wallop, Charley Harper’s wildlife prints are unequaled.

His stripped down, almost terse visual language reminds me a bit of the news business, which likewise prizes economy of expression. When a news story gets right to the point, we say it’s punchy, and Harper has that quality in quantity.

Harper, a Cincinnati-based illustrator and artist who died in 2007, pared down the messiness of nature to matrices of circles and straight lines. A plump cardinal or blue jay becomes a sort of Weeble, all round on the bottom and pointy on top. He was a fan of puns: A print depicting a portly, industrious beaver is titled Dam Diligent.

“Beguiled by the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper,” a traveling show that has landed at Norwich’s Montshire Museum of Science, gives us a concentrated dose of Harper’s colorful, jocular silk-screen prints. His sense of humor, of joy in holding a Cartesian mirror up to the natural world, is palpable.

Harper called his style “minimal realism.” He used the simplest and fewest elements possible to evoke the animal he chose to focus on, but still communicates the unruliness and wildness of the natural world. “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings ... in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe,” Harper said about his work.

The exhibition arrives as Harper’s work is getting fresh attention. The designer Todd Oldham put out a book on Harper, and there seem to be several websites selling Harper’s prints.

The Montshire show is rich with information about Harper, including wall text with each print that reads like a goofy spiel from the artist about the action in the image. As is usually the case at the Montshire, the show is set up to enable a family visit, with coloring and drawing activities for children.

In addition, students and instructors from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction have done a series of one-page comics about the natural world, incorporating Harper’s techniques. Both shows remain on view through Feb. 3. Entry to the Montshire costs $12 for adults and $10 for children ages two to 17.

∎ SSVT (South Strafford, Vermont) Vapor Slide, a stunning sculpture by Soo Sunny Park, is on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. SSVT was, in my eyes, the centerpiece of one of the big exhibitions at the Newport Mill organized by Cynthia Reeves in recent years. It consists of chain link fence, plastic cups, paper clips and river stones, but it forms a sort of cloud-like apparition.

Looking Ahead

On Jan. 4, from 5 to 7 p.m., AVA Gallery and Art Center holds an opening reception for “The Way We Work,” which will feature work in progress by artists with studios in AVA’s Carter-Kelsey Building. The show includes a gallery talk at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 by the exhibiting artists.

The reception starts a long series of January events at AVA connected to “The Way We Worked,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution that examines how work shaped the nation. AVA has augmented the show with new prints of photographs taken at H.W. Carter and Sons, the former clothing factory that AVA calls home, and new photographs by Jack Rowell of people connected to the old factory, which closed in 1985. “The Way We Worked” is on view through Jan. 27.

Openings and Receptions

“Images of Nature,” photographs of wild animals and the natural world by the well traveled Tom Sears, opens Saturday in Ledyard Gallery, Howe Library, Hanover.

Last Chance

The Main Street Museum exhibits “Green Mountain Graveyards,” photographs by Scott Baer and Dan Barlow, through Monday.

Ongoing

White River Junction’s Main Street Museum hosts “Survival Soup,” which features the work of 20-something artists Travis Dunning and Matt Riley, who live in Stockbridge, Vt., and Seth Tracy, a Randolph native, along with White River Junction artist Drew Peberdy.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction exhibits small matted works by the studio’s artist-members through January.

∎ The winter exhibitions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center include mixed media work by Lynda Knisley; photographs and digital paintings by Richard Wilson; photographs and poems by James Jones; paintings by members of the Vermont Watercolor Society; ink drawings and oil paintings by Kathleen Swift, and oil paintings by Betsy Derrick.

∎ Quechee Area Camera Club is exhibiting photographs at White River Junction’s Zollikofer Gallery, in the lobby of the Hotel Coolidge.

∎ BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., is exhibiting small works by the impressive roster of artists it represents, including several Dartmouth studio art professors.

∎ “The Holly & the Ivy,” a holiday group exhibition, is on display at Windsor’s Nuance Gallery.

∎ Vermont Special Arts exhibits “Seeing With New Eyes” at Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, which features work done by participants in a recent photography program for people with disabilities.

∎ “Oil Paintings by Myra Hudson,” a solo show from the Royalton artist, is on view at the Tunbridge Public Library. It includes landscapes and figure paintings and is Hudson’s first solo show.

∎ “Light and Space,” an exhibition of large-scale prints by East Barnard artist Sabra Field, and work by fiber artist Karen Madden of Poughquag, N.Y., sculptor Pat Musick of Manchester, Vt., and Springfield, Vt., painter Dan O’Donnell, is on view in the Great Hall of the renovated Fellows Gear Shaper factory in Springfield, Vt.

∎ “The Past Meets with the Future,” paintings, drawings and mixed media by West Lebanon artist Fiorella Tasca Buck, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library.

∎ The Hood Museum of Art exhibits “Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art,” which offers a survey of Australian Aboriginal work since the 1960s, and “Stacey Steers: Night Hunter House,” a recent Hood acquisition by the Denver multimedia artist.

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Notices must arrive two weeks prior to the Thursday before an event. Send email to artnotes@vnews.com.