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Mass. Tree Paintings Axed by N.H. Council

Concord — If it’s a painting of New Hampshire’s official state tree, and it’s going to hang in a state office building, the Executive Council thinks it’s not too much to ask that a New Hampshire artist make it.

The council Wednesday rejected a $12,800 contract to hire a Massachusetts woman to produce six paintings for the Anna Philbrook Center in Concord. The building, on the state hospital campus, was renovated this year to hold state offices.

The vote was 2-2, with “no” votes coming from Democratic Councilor Colin Van Ostern of Concord and Republican Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields. Councilor Debora Pignatelli of Nashua and Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester, both Democrats, voted for the contract.

“In this particular case, to hire a Massachusetts artist to paint pictures of the New Hampshire state tree to put in a New Hampshire state office building just feels wrong. ... I just would prefer that we have a New Hampshire artist paint our New Hampshire symbols if they’re going to be hanging in a New Hampshire office building,” Van Ostern said.

Thirteen artists submitted bids to provide artwork for the Philbrook Center, including a number of New Hampshire-based artists, said Van McLeod, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Resources.

A committee of state officials selected the proposal from Margaret Black of Topsfield, Mass., to produce a half-dozen “pulp paintings on the theme of transitions,” which “will carry a visual metaphor of the theme of transitions using imagery of New Hampshire’s state tree, the white birch, as it appears from the dawn of spring to late autumn,” according to the draft contract.

Black would have been paid $12,800, with the money coming from the state art fund.

The contract, however, required approval by the Executive Council, and yesterday’s deadlocked vote means it won’t go forward.

Van Ostern said he doesn’t oppose hiring out-of-state vendors for state projects, but in this case, “it just feels wrong to me.”

McLeod said he’s checking with the attorney general’s office and other agencies to determine whether the project needs to go out to bid again, or whether officials can select one of the other artists’ submissions.

“We’re trying to figure that out, quite honestly,” he said.