Art Notes: A Young Artist as a Portraitist, in the Holiday Season of Gifts

Mayellen Matson did this portrait last year, after looking for commissions.

Mayellen Matson did this portrait last year, after looking for commissions.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, the Norwich listserv carried a posting that began like this: “Custom artwork is a thoughtful and unique gift that everyone appreciates. I am a 23-year-old Upper Valley native providing painted or drawn portraits for the holiday season.”

The artist is Mayellen Matson, who grew up in Strafford and graduated from Thetford Academy in 2008. I contacted her after reading her post, partly because her offer seemed like an interesting example of the balance between art and commerce.

Matson did the same thing last year and was commissioned to make four watercolor and ink portraits and one portrait in oil. So far, this year, her lone listserv post hasn’t generated any responses, but she’s about to put out some fliers.

While the portraits earn her a little extra money, that isn’t her primary objective. Working full-time doesn’t leave a lot of energy for artistic pursuits. “It’s nice to have that as something that’s keeping me creative,” Matson said of the portrait work.

She has made portraits of children and adults and animals. People respond to receiving paintings as gifts in surprising ways. “Sometimes people get really emotional when given a gift like this,” Matson said. “It’s a different sensation than receiving something store-bought.”

Like most artists, Matson was chosen by art, not the other way around. Both of her parents, Tim Matson and Ellen Langtree, are artists and have lived creative lives. But art isn’t always a viable career. Most of the artists working in the Upper Valley either teach or have other day jobs, or have a spouse who provides a more robust income.

So Matson, who left Concordia University in Montreal — “I began to have misgivings about going into debt to study art,” she said — is working at CraftStudies in Hanover, processing class registrations and handling the nonprofit’s website. She plans to go back to school, but in the meantime is looking for ways to further her artistic practice. She had some stellar paintings in an exhibition of work by young Vermont artists in Randolph, and has been making videos that she posts to a channel on

This column seldom addresses the economic reality of life in the arts, partly because it’s well known that for most practitioners the arts don’t pay, and partly because the purpose of art is to generate emotion and thought, rather than money.

But the holiday season is when people open their wallets, shelling out for toys, blenders, tacky sweaters and everything else that makes our consumer culture what it is. As you read through this column and the listing of art exhibitions, you’ll see that a great many artists are also seeking a slice of the Christmas goose. If we’re serious about buying local, they have a pretty good case to make.

Mayellen Matson can be reached at and a portfolio of her work is available at

Of Note

A follow-up to last week’s column: The eBay auction for David Fairbanks Ford’s 1979 Cadillac Sedan DeVille art car ended on Sunday. The 10 bids for the car, which is encrusted in plastic crawfish, dinosaurs and aliens, topped out at $232.50.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon holds an open house on Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition to AVA’s holiday group exhibition, the many artist studios in the building will be open to visitors. Artists Liz Ross and David Westby, who make snow globes, will hold a “Snow Globe Extravaganza,” and AVA’s Community Arts Open Studio, which gives children the freedom to play with paints and clay, will be offered for free.

∎ The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College holds its holiday party on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., with live music, light refreshments and self-guided tours of the exhibitions.

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The Center for Cartoon Studies is hosting a special holiday book sale and signing at the Post Office Building in White River Junction on Friday evening 5 to 8. The cartooning school’s faculty and students will serve up hot cider and cookies and will have available a small mountain of affordable graphic novels for all ages.

The school’s Schulz Library will be selling off graphic novels, and CCS will have a deal where for $20 attendees will receive a Schulz Library Linus tote bag and all the graphic novels they can stuff into it. Students and alumni will also be selling their hand-bound comics and original art.

In addition, faculty members, including Stephen R. Bissette, Jon Chad, Nicole Georges, Jason Lutes, Sarah Stewart Taylor and James Sturm, will be available for book signings.

∎ Deluxe Unlimited, the nom d’art of Corinth native Ben Peberdy, is holding a grand opening for “Wreckage,” the first exhibition in the Utility Arts Center. The UAC, the latest addition to White River Junction’s arts infrastructure, is a janitor’s closet on the first floor of the Tip Tip Media Arts building. Peberdy makes sly collages that tease apart the machinery of our age. A reception is planned for 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction opens its annual Holiday Show with a reception Friday evening from 6 to 8. The show features work by the studio’s artist members in a variety of printmaking media, including tiny prints by members that are matted and ready for gift-giving. There will be live music and refreshments.

∎ Also in the Tip Top Building, a group of artists kicks off a holiday open studio weekend with a reception Friday evening, 5 to 8, in the building’s upstairs artist studios. The open studios, which will refreshments and, from some of the artists, lower prices for the holidays, continue on Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participating include Bob Ballou, Kathy Detzer, Paula Dorr, Mat Doyle, Georgina Forbes, Rebecca Gottesman, Jon Olsen, Kathy Parsonnet, and Perry Williamson

∎ Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction holds a reception Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. for a show of recent prints by Elizabeth Mayor. The reception includes a tasting of wines sold at Artisanal Cellars.

∎ Zollikofer Gallery in the Hotel Coolidge holds a reception Friday evening, 5 to 7, for artist Cecily Herzig, whose show of watercolors and acrylics is titled “Lemurs Will Follow You Home.”

∎ The Main Street Museum and the Hartford Historical Society hold a holiday open house at the museum from 6 to 9 p.m., an event that promises milk and cookies at 6, a tour of the museum at 7, Christmas music on the Victrola and, at 8, a talk by Mel Hall and a sampling of foods from Hall’s business, A Taste of Africa. Live music follows. On view at the museum: “Written in Stone: Voices of the GLBTQ Community,” the museum’s first show consisting solely of work on the expression of gender and sexual identity.

Openings and Receptions

ArtisTree Gallery and Art Center in Woodstock opens its holiday show, “Fine Works in Miniature,” with a reception Friday evening, 6 to 8 p.m. There’s also a show within the show. Artistree gave panels measuring 50 square inches to 50 artists and is selling the resulting works for $50 each, setting the tone for an affordable holiday show. The duo of Dutch pianist Annemieke Spoelstra and accordianist Jeremiah McLane will perform at 8, after the reception.

∎ BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., hosts “Juice Bar,” a winter group show. The show is on view now, and a reception is planned for Saturday evening, 5 to 7.

∎ “Out on a Limb,” new work by Betsy Derrick, opens with a reception Saturday afternoon, 12 to 2, at Ledyard Gallery in Hanover’s Howe Library.

∎ Norwich photographer Rosamond Orford holds her yearly holiday show and sale Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 1485 Union Village Road.

Last Chance

“Shadowplay: Transgressive Photography from the Hood Museum of Art” and “Between Tradition and Modernity: The Art of Fan Tchunpi,” two exhibitions at Dartmouth’s Hood Museum, are on view through Sunday.


AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon opens its annual Holiday Sale and Exhibition with a reception Friday evening, 5 to 7.

∎ Nuance Gallery in Windsor holds a group holiday exhibition to benefit Good Beginnings of the Upper Valley, a nonprofit that assists parents with infant children.

∎∎Newport’s Library Arts Center hosts its annual “Gallery of Gifts” exhibition, which features art and crafts for the impending gift-giving season. Through Dec. 21.

∎ Chandler Gallery in Randolph holds its “Holiday Bazaar,” through Dec. 23.

∎ Tunbridge Public Library hosts “Intersectionalism: An Interdisciplinary Art Show” by Tunbridge artists Jennie Harriman and Christopher Smith.

∎ “Blue River — New Versions,” recent drawings and paintings by Craig Hood, is on view at the Taylor Gallery at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden.

∎ “A Year of Natural Color,” pastel and digital paintings by Grantham artist Paula Dorr, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library through Jan. 31.

∎ “Picasso: The Vollard Suite” and “Cubism and Its Legacy” remain on view at the Hood Museum of Art through Dec. 20.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3219. Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Send email to m.