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Art Notes: Springfield Show Explores ‘Light and Space’

  • “The whole thing is pretty impressive,’’ said Rick Wortman of Springfield, Vt., during his first visit to the Great Hall art space in the old Fellows Gear Shaper plant in his hometown. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    “The whole thing is pretty impressive,’’ said Rick Wortman of Springfield, Vt., during his first visit to the Great Hall art space in the old Fellows Gear Shaper plant in his hometown. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sabra Field’s prints titled Cosmic Geometry are among the works on display in the Great Hall. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Sabra Field’s prints titled Cosmic Geometry are among the works on display in the Great Hall. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A stoneware jar by Stephen Procter, engraving by Sarah Meehan. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    A stoneware jar by Stephen Procter, engraving by Sarah Meehan. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The restored Fellows Gear Shaper factory in Springfield, Vt., is home to an art gallery called the Great Hall. It also is home to a health center. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    The restored Fellows Gear Shaper factory in Springfield, Vt., is home to an art gallery called the Great Hall. It also is home to a health center. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • An image that’s part of the history exhibit at the Great Hall shows some of the factory work that was done there.

    An image that’s part of the history exhibit at the Great Hall shows some of the factory work that was done there. Purchase photo reprints »

  • “The whole thing is pretty impressive,’’ said Rick Wortman of Springfield, Vt., during his first visit to the Great Hall art space in the old Fellows Gear Shaper plant in his hometown. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Sabra Field’s prints titled Cosmic Geometry are among the works on display in the Great Hall. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • A stoneware jar by Stephen Procter, engraving by Sarah Meehan. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • The restored Fellows Gear Shaper factory in Springfield, Vt., is home to an art gallery called the Great Hall. It also is home to a health center. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • An image that’s part of the history exhibit at the Great Hall shows some of the factory work that was done there.

In a way, the trend toward turning old industrial buildings into arts centers is a mixed blessing.

In visits to MassMOCA, the brilliant and innovative contemporary art museum housed in the sprawling former Sprague Electric plant in North Adams, Mass., I often find myself staring at the building’s tall windows or massive timbers and imagining the lives of the people who worked there. The memories of American industrial might embodied in the former factories is often more powerful than the art that now graces the high-ceilinged halls.

That doesn’t mean that converting these buildings into art venues isn’t a worthy endeavor, but the noise in the background is a factor that developers can’t and shouldn’t ignore.

The Great Hall, an art exhibition space opened last year in the former Fellows Gear Shaper plant in Springfield, Vt., passes this test, with a couple of exceptions.

The current exhibition, the second at the new venue, is titled “Light and Space,” and features work by four artists, notably the East Barnard printmaker Sabra Field. I was especially taken with Field’s Round Barn Quintet. During more than four decades of working in Vermont, Field has become a defining artist. Her woodblock prints capture a distinctly vertical view of the state, and the Round Barn work, from 1980, is among her strongest. She captured the cold and darkness of a Vermont winter, and the scale of the landscape, which encompasses the hills surrounding a Strafford farm.

Also of interest is Sowing Good Will, a wall mounted sculpture in paper, wire and glass by Thetford artist Carolyn Enz Hack. The paper flushes green in a central furrow and curls outward in sere yellows and oranges to burnt-looking edges. The show also features work by fiber artist Karen Madden of Poughquag, N.Y., sculptor Pat Musick of Manchester, Vt., and Springfield painter Dan O’Donnell, as well as longer-term installations.

The most absorbing display in the Great Hall consisted of photographs and documentation of Fellows Gear Shaper, founded by Edwin R. Fellows and William D. Woolson in 1896. The historical exhibit, tucked into a corner of the hall, provides a short history of the company.

Fellows, a Torrington, Conn., native who left high school after freshman year to earn money, had been working at Jones & Lamson, another machine tool company. He rose to head draftsman and developed a new machine to make gears.

The company profited hugely from the rise of the automobile and during World War II had 3,300 employees, 400 of them women. In 1964, Fellows was the state’s largest employer.

But Fellows was sold twice, in 1974 and 1987, and the second buyer, Goldman Industrial Group, filed for bankruptcy in 2002. An Illinois company, Bourn & Koch Inc., still makes more advanced versions of Fellows machines, along with other machine tools developed by Springfield companies.

The art on display in the Great Hall couldn’t really touch the small historical display for pathos or power. I think it’s because there’s skill and proportion at work in the art, but no suffering. I dare anyone to go look at the Great Hall and not feel a deep sense of loss at the giant community of workers that slowly dwindled, generations now under the sod. The architecture of the space is also a draw. Winter light streams into a set of tall clerestory windows that run the length of the hall.

The wooden buildings of the old factory were taken down, and most of the renovated building, now called One Hundred River Street, is taken up by Springfield Health Center. Developers John Meekin of Maryland, and Rick Genderson of Washington, D.C., opened the 250,000-square-foot development last summer. They are aiming to add commercial uses to the building, and two large, blacked-out storefronts face the Great Hall.

Between them is a pharmacy that opened on Jan. 11. Staff pharmacist Michael Laubach said he’s seen visitors looking at the art, but hasn’t had time to look at it himself. During the morning on Tuesday, a steady trickle of people passed through the Great Hall, mostly on the way to and from doctors’ offices. A few stopped and looked.

“I think it’s nice that they used this building and did something with it,” said Amanda Tomberg, a nurse at Springfield Women’s Health Center.

Support for the arts are often thought of as the first step in rebuilding an economy. White River Junction is widely considered a success story in this regard, a sort of village that art saved. “I think it’s coming back a little bit,” Tomberg, a Perkinsville resident, said of Springfield.

Maybe artists have already explored Springfield’s history, its machine tool boom and bust. If not, it’s a reckoning that seems overdue. Perhaps taking up that subject would yield work that would help a town like Springfield find a new way forward.

“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., through May 10. The hall is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Of Note

AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon holds a “Denim Party,” Saturday evening, 4 to 7, to kick off its 40th anniversary year and to celebrate the manufacturing history of its 11 Bank St. home. The party features live music, food and drink, a free raffle and art activities for children, and is free and open to the public.

This weekend also is one of the last opportunities to see two exhibitions that showcase AVA’s past and present. The past is represented by “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.

That show remains open through Sunday, and on Sunday at 4 p.m., Robert Welsch, chairman of Lebanon’s Heritage Commission and former curator of the city’s historical society, will discuss Lebanon’s industrial entrepreneurs since the Civil War.

The present tense is covered by “The Way We Work,” an exhibition of works in progress by 19 artists with studios in AVA’s Carter-Kelsey Building in almost every imaginable material. “The Way We Work” is on view through next Friday, Feb. 1.

∎ Stephen Gilchrist, the Hood Museum’s curator of Indigenous Australian Art, will give a lecture titled “Everywhen: Manifesting the Past, Present and Future in Aboriginal Art,” Wednesday evening at 5:30 in the Hood Auditorium at Dartmouth College.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction offers a workshop this weekend, “Printing with Found Imagery” with Rachel Gross. The workshop runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday and costs $195 plus a $20 materials fee. It is for printmakers of all levels, beginner to advanced.

∎ Photographers Chris Esten and Linda Bryan are collaborating on a documentary portrait project of Newbury, Vt., in recognition of the town’s 250th birthday. The project is ongoing, but a sample is on view at Newbury’s Tenney Memorial Library through Feb. 15.

Openings and Receptions

Chandler Gallery in Randolph opens “20-30/2D-3D,” an exhibition of art by 15 young artists from around Vermont, with a reception Sunday afternoon, 4-6. Among the artists in the show are several from the Upper Valley, including Mayellen Matson of Strafford, Christopher Kerr-Ayer of Bethel, Abel Fillion of Tunbridge, Michelle Jacobs of Barnard, Ben Peberdy of White River Junction, Scott Welch of Norwich, and Christina Orcutt of Woodstock. The Chandler engaged White River Junction artists James Sturm and Rachel Gross to act as jurors. After the opening, gallery hours are limited to Friday afternoons, 3 to 5, and Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 2, or by appointment.

Sunday evening also marks the opening of the Chandler Film Society’s new season. Doors open at 6:15, and Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night screens after an opening talk by series curator Rick Winston at 7.

Last Chance

“Images of Nature,” photographs of wild animals and the natural world by the well-traveled Tom Sears, is on view in Ledyard Gallery, Howe Library, Hanover, through Wednesday.

∎ “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, through next Thursday.

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

∎ “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 prints. 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.

Ongoing

Norwich Public Library exhibits “Nature,” paintings and collage by Brenda Phillips.

∎ “Survival Soup,” an exhibition at the Main Street Museum, features a riot of recent work by Travis Dunning and Matt Riley, who live in Stockbridge, Vt., and Seth Tracy, a Randolph native, along with a small display of work by Drew and Ben Peberdy of White River Junction.

∎ Dartmouth College’s Studio Art Exhibition Program hosts “Everything is on the Table,” an exhibition of sculpture by artist-in-residence John Newman and an invitational show of “tiny work” in the Hopkins Center’s Jaffe-Friede and Strauss galleries.

∎ Taylor Gallery at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden exhibits work by graduates Joon Sung Park and Elizabeth Wilson.

∎ Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction shows prints by Lois Beatty and jewelry by Stacy Hopkins.

∎ 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.

∎ 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.

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.