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Art Notes: The Beauty of Decay, at Artistree Gallery in Woodstock

“Calvinist Gothic,” the title of an exhibition at Woodstock’s Artistree Gallery, is a play on the slow decay of the upright structures that came to symbolize the stern Protestantism of New England’s early white settlers, many of them English and Scottish. Where once there were severe white houses and stout, squarely framed red barns, now the landscape hosts buildings with spirits much diminished.

Charlie Hunter’s sepia-toned paintings of old tractors and abandoned houses and Clair Dunn’s manipulated black-and white digital photographs of derelict Vermont buildings and downtown White River Junction are linked by their subject matter, and to an extent, by their outlook. The old Vermont, these works say, is not well.

The show asks a lot of questions of prospective viewers, and there aren’t any easy answers. Vermont’s poverty doesn’t get a lot of airtime or ink, and it’s multifaceted. The slouching barns, the empty storefronts, the weary vacant lots, are signs of economic decline. But that decline isn’t new and Vermont has been poorer. And the crumbling infrastructure has become part of the state’s charm.

Dunn, who lives in Swanton, Vt., talks explicitly about “old Vermont,” she writes in her artist statement, “to try to make people think about the future.” Hunter writes that his goal “is to paint beautifully that which is not traditionally considered beautiful.”

He succeeds by working in the field, in a limited color palette and with a masterful sense of composition and perspective. Hunter, who grew up in Weathersfield Center and now lives in Bellows Falls, is an exceptional painter. His investigation of Windsor, exhibited at the American Precision Museum in 2007, was more expansive than what’s on view at Artistree. Hunter has focused more tightly on single objects, picking them out of the landscape.

By making monochromatic paintings, Hunter renders his subjects as sepia-toned photographs, but the absence of color also allows him to capture their spirits. In Couplers, Bellows Falls, he reduces two joined tanker cars to the essence of their rounded forms. And in Abandoned House, Otisville, N.Y., he obscures both foreground and background, leaving the house floating, bereft of life and context.

There’s a vein in American art through which oozes blood the color of rust. Some critics gently mock the many photographic investigations of Detroit’s vacant architecture as “ruin porn.” I can see their point. How many images do we need to see of old automobile factories, their windows blown out and roofs caved in, or the falling ceilings of deserted movie palaces?

Until it sinks in. If the events of the past decade have told us anything, it’s that the world is a less certain place, that the American dream is just that, a dream, and that we have to consider what’s next. If the old economy isn’t coming back, what then does the new economy look like?

Because they are so otherworldly, Dunn’s photographs cause us to consider the future. The best of them, A Rural Vision, features a pair of silos that glow as if radioactive. A light shines out of their domes, and the structures look like twin observatories, aimed at the heavens asking “What now?”

The manipulation can make the photographs hard to read. At times, it feels as though Dunn is trying to impose meaning on a scene that resists her efforts. I spent a lot of time looking at Horseman Pass By, in which a road curves away from a derelict farmhouse. The eerie light on the ground and behind a row of trees makes it hard to tell whether it’s night or day, and that’s the point.

The title is from William Butler Yeats’ epitaph, “Cast a cold Eye/ On Life, on Death./ Horsemen, pass by!” The poet’s words are a warning not to dwell on the past, but Dunn’s title is a statement of fact.

Dunn’s work also includes a suite of photographs of White River Junction, taken mostly in the early morning hours. If nothing else, they help us see the old railroad village with new eyes.

A closing reception for “Calvinist Gothic” is planned for Saturday, Nov. 17, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

OF NOTE

Papermaker Richard Langdell is holding an open studio in his space at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. He sold the manufacturing part of his business, but now has thousands of sheets of plain and decorative handmade paper to sell for invitations, book arts, design, printmaking and other uses. On Saturday, there will be free paper, refreshments and door prizes.

■ “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, opens tomorrow in the Great Hall of the renovated Fellows Gear Shaper factory in Springfield, Vt. A reception is planned for tomorrow evening, 5:30 to 7:30.

LOOKING AHEAD

Boston artist Joel Janowitz will give a free talk and show his work on Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. at Two Rivers Printmaking Studio. Janowitz is both a printmaker and a painter known for working with color to create moody, semi-abstract landscapes and interior scenes.

■ Chandler Gallery in Randolph is calling for artists, ages 20 to 30, for a show opening Jan. 20. It’s open to Vermont artists in all media. Submissions must be received by midnight Dec. 5. Cartoonist James Sturm and printmaker Rachel Gross of White River Junction will judge the submissions. For more information contact Janet Cathey at 802-728-4375 or janetensia@gmail.com.

OPENINGS AND RECEPTIONS

It’s starting already, the annual cavalcade of holiday exhibitions, starting with the Newport Library Arts Center’s annual “Gallery of Gifts,” which opens tomorrow evening with a reception from 5 to 7.

■ “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.

LAST CHANCE

“Autumn in the Upper Valley,” work by members of the White River Junction chapter of the Vermont Watercolor Society, is on display in the Hotel Coolidge’s Zollikofer Gallery through Nov. 14.

ONGOING

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction exhibits of prints by Lynne Barton.

■ Colby-Sawyer College in New London holds an exhibition of work by its fine arts faculty in the college’s Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery. The show features work by Loretta S.W. Barnett, Debbie Campbell, Lucy Mink-Covello, Nicholas Gaffney, Brandy Gibbs-Riley, David Ernster, Jon Keenan, Michael Lovell, Mary Mead, Hilary Walrod and Bert Yarborough.

■ Dartmouth biochemistry professor Bernard Trumpower’s photographs of Dartmouth’s Brout Orchids are on display in Ledyard Gallery at Hanover’s Howe Library. (The orchids themselves, 1,000 plants donated by Dartmouth alum Alan P. Brout, can be seen by the public on the fourth floor of the Life Sciences Complex on the north campus, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

■ Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center exhibits four new works by fabric artist Joan Morris, who uses a proprietary printing process to place thin layers of precious metals onto dyed silk, through Jan. 21. The new works hang in the niches at the south end of the hospital’s East Mall.

■ 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.

■ “My Favorite Book,” photographs by John Douglas of Howe Library patrons with their favorite books, is on display in Dartmouth’s Baker-Berry Library Room 183.

■ AVA Gallery and Art Center hosts three exhibitions that explore the fiber arts: “Moon Ascending: Japanese Rozome Batik,” by Kingston, N.H., artist Kiranada Sterling Benjamin, “The Art of Tea II,” which features art made from used tea bags by Woodstock artist Barbara Bartlett, and “Affinity,” which comprises narrative textile works by Cyndy Barbone, Deborah Frazee Carlson, Fuyuko Matsubara and Bhakti Ziek. The shows remain on view through Nov. 16. Bartlett will give a gallery talk on Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m.

■ Kimball Union Academy in Meriden hosts a “Bicentennial Art Exhibit,” featuring work by faculty members Ursula Fries-Herfort, Julie Haskell, Jim Schubert and David Stern, in the school’s Taylor Gallery.

■ BigTown Gallery in Rochester exhibits “New Work,” by Paul Bowen, Joan Kahn, Celia Reisman and Fulvio Testa, through Nov. 18.

■ The Main Street Museum exhibits “Adam Blue’s AstroExplorer” through Nov. 19, and “Green Mountain Graveyards,” photographs by Scott Baer and Dan Barlow, through December.

■ The “Invitational Dartmouth Alumni Exhibition,” a show devoted to work by 14 Dartmouth graduates, is on display in the Top of the Hop and in the new Black Family Visual Arts Center.

■ “Healing With Art,” an exhibition that seeks to aid the healing process for cancer patients, is among the exhibitions on view at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Fall shows include mosaics by Susan Whelihan, paintings by Richard Widhu, photographs by Stuart DuBoff, paintings by Shelli DuBoff, drawings by Kathleen Swift, mixed media by Karen Kamenetzky and work from the Global Children’s Art Program.

■ Gifford Medical Center in Randolph is exhibiting quilted landscapes by Northfield, Vt., fiber artist Pamela Druhen.

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.