Art Notes: Montshire Exhibit Reminds Us About Workmanship
“How People Make Things,” a traveling show now lodged at Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, isn’t exactly an art show, but it centers on manufacturing, its own art form. At least since Marcel Duchamp, who produced his first “readymade” 100 years ago when he installed Bicycle Wheel in his Paris studio, the idea that any commonplace object can be worthy of scrutiny has had some currency in the art world.
The exhibit is mainly for children, but it’s likely to leave some parents or grandparents with a wistful feeling for the days when American might was a daily practice at factories and shops across the country. Manufacturing is a fraught subject, and while the exhibit is sunny and cleverly made, it has an undercurrent of more complicated emotions: loss, pride, hope, all the feelings associated with a job well done or a job lost.
Originated by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the show was inspired by a series of short segments on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that took young viewers into factories where all sorts of things were made. Several of the videos run continuously in the show, and their dated charm is likely to hit adults and kids in very different ways.
For example, the workers making Converse sneakers, probably at a plant near Boston, didn’t seem particularly happy or fulfilled. Then again, those jobs likely disappeared a decade or so later, gone to China. Another video shows the rather joyless process of making an icon of childhood play, the shiny red wagon. In the video, the wagons were painted by robots.
Children at the exhibition paid almost no attention to the videos, preferring instead to use the many manufacturing tools on hand. In the after-school hours on Tuesday, the exhibit was teeming with kids. They were laying pieces of boxboard on a die-cutter and turning the crank to make a pattern for a box or a horse. Or turning the handles of the three-axis milling machine to move the cutting tool around a giant block of wax. An injection molding machine counts down the seconds until it opens and uses a puff of compressed air to eject a newly made plastic spoon.
Other pieces of the exhibit exude a surprising elegance. A Nocona baseball glove is shown reduced to its constituent parts, including some of the stamps used to cut the pieces of leather. How the parts fit together is a pleasing mystery, and the pieces of leather make an attractive puzzle.
A quotation from Fred Rogers posted at the entrance helps explain the reason for the exhibition’s existence: “Beginning with the raw materials, each worker and each machine adds something along the way. Children learn that most things don’t happen quickly or magically, but by hard work and persistence.”
The sense that things are made through every day effort started to rub off on one of Zoe Frechette’s 6-year-old twin boys. She took the twins and their 4-year-old brother to “How People Make Things” on Monday, and they clamored to go back on Tuesday. One of the twins said “ ‘Mom, I used to think I hated building things; now I think I like it,’ ” said Frechette, an Etna resident.
The boys play with Legos, but the “real” objects they could make at the exhibition left an impression, she said. “It’s just amazing what a huge difference that makes.” They spent much of their Monday visit assembling and disassembling a small golf-cart-like vehicle.
Wilder resident Paul Vanesse, who took his grandson Ashton to the exhibit, knows first-hand the power and decline of American manufacturing. He has lived it.
“I think it’s great,” he said of the exhibit. “I like the fact that children can see basically how things in this world are made today.”
Vanesse worked at Thermal Dynamics, a manufacturer of plasma cutters, for 31 years, first in the machine shop, then in electrical assembly and as an electrical inspector. He retired in 2009, when the company laid off employees in West Lebanon. (Thermal Dynamics closed its Upper Valley plant in 2011 to consolidate operations in Texas.)
Manufacturing, he said, has been the country’s lifeblood. “If we don’t build anything, then we don’t have anything to export,” he said. As manufacturing jobs have been automated, or sent overseas, the country has found itself importing more products than it exports, and unemployment and underemployment are stubbornly high.
“How People Make Things” will help children appreciate factory work, Vanesse said. But “I’m not sure they’ll want to do it,” he said.
“How People Make Things” is on view at the Montshire Museum of Science through June 2. Admission to the Montshire is $12 for adults, $10 for children ages 2 to 17.
The Main Street Museum in White River Junction holds an open house tomorrow from 5 to 8, followed at 8 by a slide lecture by David Fairbanks Ford on “The Small Museums of the South.” Ford is just back from Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and has plenty of material from road trips across the south.
The museum is open from 1 to 9 p.m. on Friday. As has become standard practice, the museum will offer free, anonymous and confidential oral tests for HIV, courtesy of the Lebanon-based HIV/HCV Resource Center, from 4 to 7.
∎ The artists exhibited in “20-30/2D-3D” at Chandler Gallery in Randolph will talk about their work on Saturday at 5 p.m. The talk will be followed by a closing party featuring The Summit of Thieves, a power pop band of Lyndon State College students. The show remains on view through Wednesday, with special gallery hours, 10 a.m. to noon, on Town Meeting Day.
∎ “Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art,” a meaty exhibition at the Hood Museum, closes March 10. If you haven’t gotten there, the show features enough material for a couple of visits. On March 9 at 2 p.m. the Hood holds a final tour of the show.
Openings and Receptions
Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction holds a reception tomorrow night, 5 to 8, to open an exhibition of work by non-member faculty, including Sara Amos, Amparo Carvajal-Hufschmid, Javier Cintron, Brian Cohen, Dan Gottsegen, Betsey Garand, Joel Janowitz, Ilana Manolson, Lynn Newcomb, Clemente Orozco, Bob Siegelman, Rebekah Tolley, Ellen Wineberg and Bert Yarborough.
∎ Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction holds a wine tasting tomorrow from 5:30 to 8 p.m. that also will serve as a reception for an ongoing exhibition of prints by Lois Beatty, jewelry by Scavenger owner Stacy Hopkins, and work by Toby Bartles, Ria Blaas, Ben Peberdy and David Powell. The gallery is also newly renovated, with more space for hanging art and with Hopkins’ workbench installed.
∎ Hanover’s Howe Library and the Upper Valley Camera Club open the 37th annual Elden Murray Photographic Exhibition and Competition tomorrow. A reception and awards ceremony are planned for Saturday at 3 p.m.
∎ Strafford artist Micki Colbeck has a new show of paintings opening tomorrow at the Vermont Supreme Court in Montpelier. “Underwater” comprises large, recent oil paintings inspired by water. An opening reception is planned for next Thursday, 5 to 7 p.m.
∎ Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery at Colby-Sawyer College in New London exhibits a travelling show of work by members of the Boston Printmakers, through March 8.
Classes and Workshops
The Newport Library Arts Center LAC is getting ready to host its second annual Peeps Diorama Contest and is holding two open studios, on the next two Tuesdays, from 5 to 7 p.m., where entrants can work on their dioramas. Submissions are due by 4 p.m., March 21, and winners will be announced at a reception the following night. It costs $5 to enter. See the LAC’s website, libraryartscenter.org, for more information.
∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction hosts “Print and Process,” a show that lays bare the methods studio members used to make the prints on display. The studio is holding a series of free, hour-long demonstrations of printmaking techniques in conjunction with the show. The next demonstration is set for Saturday with a demo on collagraphs by Sheryl Trainor. The final demostrations are planned for Wednesday, when Sheri Hancock-Tomek will show how to make solarplate prints, and next Saturday, with a monotype demo by Lois Beatty. All of the demonstrations are held at 11 a.m.
Norwich Public Library exhibits “Nature,” paintings and collage by Brenda Phillips, through today.
∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center’s fifth annual “Best of the Upper Valley High School Exhibition” and an exhibition of art by Dartmouth medical school students Benjamin Blais and Thanapoom “Mo” Boonipat are on view through tomorrow.
Newport’s Library Arts Center hosts its annual “Selections Exhibition” under new LED gallery lighting. The “Selections” show draws on the LAC’s annual juried exhibition. This year’s selected artists are Louis J. Cassorla of Newport; Betsy Derrick of Hanover; Pippa Drew of Post Mills; Margaret Dwyer of New London; Georgina Forbes of Norwich; Evan Horback of Newbury, N.H.; and Suzanne Whittaker, of Bedford, N.H. Through March 8.
∎ Kimball Union Academy in Meriden continues its series of bicentennial art exhibitions with a show by graduates Emilie Bosworth-Clemmens, Tony Bragg and Nat Voss in the school’s Taylor Gallery. The show is on view through April 6, but the gallery is closed March 1 to 20 for school break.
∎ ∎ Dartmouth’s Studio Art Exhibition Program shows “Everything is on the Table,” sculpture by artist-in-residence John Newman, in the Hopkins Center’s Jaffe-Friede Gallery through March 10.
∎ Nuance Gallery in Windsor hosts “Resiliency,” featuring work by Joyce Harden and Nance Silliman.
∎ Bigtown Gallery in Rochester continues a show of small works by the impressive roster of artists the gallery represents through March.
∎ Cafe 232 in South Strafford is showing paintings by the late Harlow Lent through the winter.
∎ Hartland Library hosts “Sundrenched Color,” paintings by Katheryne B. Sharp.
∎ “American Wilderness and Habitats: Oils and Watercolors,” an exhibition of paintings by South Royalton artist Joan Hoffmann, is on view at the Tunbridge Public Library.
∎ “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.
Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Notices must arrive two weeks prior to the Thursday before an event.
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