Art Notes: The Evolution of an Upper Valley Photographer

Thursday, July 11, 2013
Among the art shows in the Upper Valley are a lot of exhibitions by what might be called amateur artists, people who take art seriously but who aren’t trying to eke a living out of it.

As a general practice, this column doesn’t pay all that much attention to exhibitions of amateur art. There’s no active bias against it, but there’s so much art on view that amateur work takes a back seat.

But there are exceptions, and Mort Wise is a worthy one. There are two exhibitions of his photographs on display in Hanover, and they demonstrate his evolution as a photographer.

Over the years, Wise has taken a camera with him on his travels. He started taking photography more seriously after he retired in 2003 from a career as a financial adviser. He has exhibited photographs of his trips along the Silk Road in China and in India.

The Howe Library’s Ledyard Gallery is exhibiting photographs Wise took during a January 2012 trip to Cuba, and Dartmouth College’s Roth Center for Jewish Life hosts “The Many Faces of Israel,” pictures Wise took last October.

I wrote several years ago about a show of Wise’s Silk Road photographs that featured a great many images of scenery that seemed indistinct, and one very sharply composed portrait of a man in Kashgar, China’s westernmost city.

The vast majority of the photographs from Israel and Cuba are portraits, which require a greater measure of courage to take than photographs of scenery. The camera is both a barrier and a bridge, for the photographer as well as his or her subject. What’s so admirable about Wise’s trajectory as a photographer is his effort to break this wall down.

“I evolved,” Wise said in an interview at the Roth Center. “The evolution took place when I went to the Silk Road.” That was the first time he put people front and center in his work.

One of Wise’s photographs is among the best I’ve seen from an Upper Valley photographer. The New Army Look captures two Israeli women in the middle of a cigarette break. One taps on a smartphone as she smokes. She’s wearing a white headscarf, big, Audrey Hepburn-esque sunglasses and Converse All-Stars with glittery laces. Next to her is a Jannsport backpack, the kind any Upper Valley high schooler might carry. And she and her friend have Kalashnikovs across their laps. It’s the sort of jarring juxtaposition of details that could have been crafted by the late fiction writer Andre Dubus.

Wise’s interests are more real than fictional, of course. The Israel photographs constitute a short study of a complex place that has been reduced in the public imagination to a locus of religious strife. Wise’s photographs take in street people, shopkeepers, religious pilgrims, rabbis, artisans and so on. Although he was in Israel for only 12 days last October with a B’nae Brith tour group, he made good use of his time. Photography is a medium that lends itself to social conscience, and Wise is using it for that purpose.

Likewise, the Cuba trip was a tour, this time with a Harvard University group in January 2012. There’s some interesting work in the Ledyard Gallery exhibition, in particular a photograph titled Earning a Living. A young apple seller pushes a shopping cart along a sunlit street. Any image of an apple seller can’t help but call to mind the Great Depression. A baseball bat tucked into a corner of the vendor’s cart, and the man’s slightly harassed demeanor lend the image an edge of menace that cuts the sweetness of the red apples and golden sunshine.

The vendor’s box of apples bears the name “Old Virginia,” and Wise captured several instances of the long shadow the United States casts over Cuba — an American Eagle Outfitters T-shirt in one picture, a San Antonio Spurs hat in another.

I’m not out to criticize Wise’s photographs, but it’s important to see them as they are. What marks them as amateur work is a lack of consistency. While there are some very fine images in these two shows, there are photographs that do not bear much reading. But Wise is pursuing his subject matter in a way that even professional artists don’t always manage. With plenty of time to travel and photograph, he said he aims to keep at it.

“I hope I continue to evolve and continue to have the ability to travel and take pictures and grow,” Wise said.

“The Many Faces of Israel,” photographs by Mort Wise, is on view at the Roth Center for Jewish Life in Hanover through mid-August. “Cuba 2012 — As Seen Through the Lens of One American,” is on view at Ledyard Gallery in Hanover through July 25.

Openings and Receptions

“Top of the World — Paintings and Artist’s Books of the Arctic,” work by Vermont artist Ken Leslie, opens Friday at Randolph’s Chandler Gallery with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Leslie painted and made unique book structures while inside the Arctic Circle. Also on view will be paintings by Toronto-based paleoecologist and artist Bianca Perren and Inuit prints from the collection of Norwich University’s Sullivan Museum.

∎ Norwich Public Library shows “Travels Around,” photographs by father and son Doug and Steven Lufkin. A reception is planned for Friday , 5 to 7 p.m.

∎ “Re Constructions: Sculpture and Works on Paper” by Elana Herzog, a New York-based sculpture and installation artist, is on view through Sunday in Cornish in the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site’s Picture Gallery. A closing reception is planned for Saturday, 4:30 to 6 p.m., which will include a talk by Herzog at 5.

Of Note

Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art holds a free lunchtime gallery talk by Allen Hockley, curator of “The Women of Shin Hanga,” the museum’s exhibition of early 20th-century Japanese woodblock prints, on Tuesday at 12:30. The following evening, 6:30 to 8:30, the Hood holds a workshop for adults on Japanese woodblock printing. To register for the workshop, call 603-646-1469 no later than Monday.

∎ The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish holds the first section of a two-part sculpture workshop on Saturday. “The Bas-Relief Portrait” is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. this Saturday and next. For information or to register, call 603-675-2175, ext. 106.


“Heroes,” an exhibition that brings together work by professional and amateur artists, adults and children, is on view at the Newport Library Arts Center through July 25.

∎ The Woodstock Gallery shows new work by printmaker Sheryl Trainor.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon holds its 20th Annual Juried Summer Exhibition, through July 26.

∎ “Watercolor Stories,” paintings by members of the local chapter of the Vermont Watercolor Society, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library.

∎ “Vermonty,” a suite of witty and winsome illustrations of rural Vermont by Shawn Braley, is on view at Tunbridge Public Library.

∎ The Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden exhibits oil paintings on paper by Bakersfield, Vt., artist Rona Lee Cohen and an outdoor exhibition of sculpture by Fitzhugh Karol, an Orford native now living in Brooklyn, N.Y. Also on view is “Forms in Space,” the museum’s 21st exhibition of its namesake artist, which consists of paintings from a 1970 exhibition in South Africa, when Duckworth was head of the Department of Fine Art at the University of Natal.

∎ Summer exhibitions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center include fabric figures by Linda Rubenstein, photographs by Kelly Michaelsen, mixed media by Carolyn Enz Hack, oil paintings by Alison Vernon, collages by Barbara Newton and paintings and sculpture by Gowri Savoor. Guides to the exhibitions are available at the hospital’s information desks.

∎ “Changing Gears: The Digital Evolution,” digital paintings by Hartland artist Gloria King Merritt, is on display in The Great Hall in Springfield, Vt., through Aug. 23. Also in The Great Hall is a wonderfully potent exhibition of five paintings by Henry Swierczynski, a former engineer at Fellows Gear Shaper.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction hosts a show of prints from the collections of the studio’s artist members.

∎ Zollikofer Gallery at the Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction exhibits “Black and White River,” photographs of White River Junction by Swanton, Vt., photographer Clair Dunn.

∎ Newport’s Library Arts Center hosts a themed exhibition on the subject of “Heroes.”

∎ The Montshire Museum of Science hosts “Playing with Time,” a traveling exhibition that allows viewers to seemingly change the speed of time, to perceive such hidden phenomena as the flapping of a hummingbird’s wings or the expansion of the universe.

∎ Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art hosts “Word and Image in Contemporary Art,” a show curated in collaboration with 24 senior studio art majors that includes Ed Ruscha’s great 1963 painting Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas; “The Women of Shin Hanga: The Judith and Joseph Barker Collection of Japanese Prints”; “Evolving Perspectives: Highlights from the African Art Collection at the Hood Museum of Art” and “Objects and Power: Manifestations of Inequality.”

∎ BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., hosts “Masterworks,” which features both sculpture and prints by the late Hugh Townley as well as works from his collection, which includes pieces by Eugene Atget, Harry Callahan, Salvador Dali, Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Aaron Siskind, H.C. Westermann and Ossip Zadkine.

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Send email to

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