An Artist Who Gets Her Ego Out of the Way

Thursday, July 16, 2015
There’s making art, and then there’s the business of art, and Joan Feierabend is, safe to say, skeptical about how the latter functions.

“There’s a confusion between the way teaching pushes your thinking, and the way the art world pushes your thinking,” Feierabend said in an interview at the Kilton Library in West Lebanon, which is showing 16 of her paintings through September.

The art world, Feierabend said, tends to mete out snap judgments about which work is good or bad, and which artists to anoint as the chosen ones. But as a teacher in the Chelsea School from the early 1980s until her retirement in 2006, her job was to cultivate the belief in her students that art was worth doing, and that what they were doing was art.

“The worst way to nurture work is to say this is good or bad,” Feierabend said. Children learn from a fairly young age — 6 or 7 — when someone is sitting in judgment, and turn those criticisms inward. Too often it “tips them over the edge and they’re gone.”

Feierabend, who grew up in the town of Red Hook, N.Y., in the Hudson River Valley, and has lived in Tunbridge since 1970, graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She paints portraits and abstract work and draws daily, rising early so she can draw first thing in the morning, before doing anything else.

Feierabend and the library worked out a deal for showing her work: Feierabend would not put sale prices on the work if the people buying agreed to donate to the library whatever amount they were willing to spend on the paintings.

“I like libraries the best, because think of the company I’m in,” she said. “I feel glad that the library is getting some money, it pleases me to be able to do that.”

The sequence of abstract paintings include spheres, geometric shapes, and marks and scribbles that look like writing. The colors are muted, progressing subtly and nearly imperceptibly from one hue to the next. Above each painting, Feierabend has placed a smaller painting, and above that, a figure, made from baked polymer clay, that seems to gesture to the viewer, or to the painting. Each work is accompanied by a short piece of text written by Feierabend. “Where is sustenance?” says one text, while another asks “What dimension slips beyond this erratic ripple?”

In an artist’s statement, Feierabend writes that “I practice art to develop an awareness of secret facets of my existence that long for connection.”

A tall woman with cropped dark hair and intense dark eyes, Feierabend has evolved a working method that is unusual. She doesn’t use this technique with all her work, but she did with the big paintings in the Kilton show, and she’s done it with other shows.

She uses a pendulum to consult a dowser’s question card, a practice she took up in the 1990s after learning about it at Lightgate Learning Center in Thetford. Here a dowser is not a person who looks for an underground water source using a divining rod, but a person seeking answers from what she believes is some kind of spiritual or divine source.

The card looks a little like a Ouija board, with Yes and No. For example, if Feierabend wants to know whether to use red or yellow in a particular part of the canvas she asks the pendulum whether she should use red. The pendulum, which hangs like a pendant from a thin jewelry chain, will swing either to Yes or No, she said. It’s unorthodox, but Feierabend insists it steers her in the right direction.

“The pendulum is just like a cell phone, it’s just an instrument of communication. But I couldn’t begin to tell you who I’m communicating with,” she said.

It also frees her from the host of critical nay-saying voices in her head which do their best to impede her work. The trick, she said, is that “once you’ve gotten them all to leave then you have to leave. Your ego must leave, too.”

It’s not easy to send the critical voices packing, but neither is it useful to exaggerate one’s talents or success. That can be as damaging as underestimating them.

“The point is to search,” Feierabend said. She recognizes that she is both “an individual, egocentric person, but I’m also part of a universe, a tiny little spark.”

O ngoing

Arabella , Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.

AVA Gallery and Art Center , Lebanon. “The Fearsome Foursome,” Winkie Kelsey, Stephanie Reininger, Ann Semprebon and Jo Tate, a show of watercolors, sculpture and pen-and-ink drawings in AVA’s Stone Carving Studio, is on view through July 24. Kira’s Garden, the outdoor sculpture garden, is open through Nov. 22.

Chandler Galleries, Randolph. The landscapes and collages of Marie LaPré Grabon are up through Aug. 10. Also on view is the exhibition “Creative Cosmos,” which includes the work of New Hampshire and Vermont artists Sabra Field, Paul Calter, Cameron Davis, Janet Van Fleet, Bhakti Ziek, Marcus Greene, and Jim Robinson; the show continues through Labor Day Weekend.

Converse Free Library , Lyme. The Betty Grant Gallery exhibits mosaics by Greg Gorman until July 31.

Aidron Duckworth Art Museum , Meriden. A show of work by Duckworth, “Early Passages in Color,” continues through Sunday. Also on view through July 26 are abstract works by Lia Rothstein. Jay Mead’s outdoor sculpture is on site through Nov. 1.

Hall Art Foundation , Reading, Vt. Works by Keith Sonnier and Peter Saul, as well as outdoor sculptures by Richard Deacon, Marc Quinn and Olafur Eliasson, are on view through Nov. 9.

Hood Museum of Art , Hanover. Works by Nigerian artist Victor Ekpuk are on view through Aug. 2. “About Face: Self-Portraiture in Contemporary Art,” is on view through Aug. 30. “Ukara: Ritual Cloth of the Ekpe Secret Society,” a show of Nigerian and Cameroonian textiles, continues through Aug. 2. “Water Ways: Tension and Flow,” an exhibition of photographs that focus on the relationship between humans and water, is on view through Aug. 23. “Picturing the World: Class of 1965 Photographers,” a show of works by Dartmouth graduates Heinz Kluetmeier, Joel Sternfeld, Dick Durrance, Christopher Knight, and Dewitt Jones , is on view through Sunday.

Hopkins Center , Dartmouth College, Hanover. “Repeat,” in the Strauss Gallery, features the works of Deborah Morris, So-Il, Leslie Fry, Penelope Umbrico, Sarah Lutz, Tiffany Matula, Zachary Keeting and Andrew Forge,. The POD Award exhibition, showcasing the art of recent Dartmouth graduates Danelle Finnan and Sera Boeno, is on view in the Jaffe-Friede and Strauss Galleries. Both shows run through Aug. 23.

Howe Library , Hanover. A show of photographs of Cuba by Violetta Faulkner is in the library’s Ledyard Gallery through July 29.

Kilton Library , West Lebanon. Paintings, drawings and sculptures by Joan Fierabend are on view through September.

Library Arts Center , Newport. “Wood,” a show of juried regional wood and woodworking, and “Our Hearts’ Desires,” works by Susan Lirakis, are on view through Aug. 6.

Long River Gallery and Gifts , Lyme. “An Abstract Conversation: The Art of Mary Jane Morse of Lebanon Meets the Jewelry of Case Hathaway-Zepeda of Norwich” has been extended until July 31.

Norwich Public Library . “Dogs,” an exhibition of paintings by John Kantack about man’s best friend, runs through Aug. 31.

Main Street Museum of Art , White River Junction. The museum’s permanent collection is on view

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site , Cornish. “Looking for Saint-Gaudens,” a show of photographs by Shellburne Thurber runs through Aug. 27. The permanent collection is on view through Oct. 31.

Scavenger Gallery , White River Junction. Collagists Ben Peberdy and David Powell show their work through August.

Tunbridge Library . Eight members of a group of Sharon rug hookers (Allegra Kuhn, Belinda Whipple Worth, Betty Lawhite, Bonnie Dore, Gisele Mac Harg, Ina Anderson, Jennifer Davey and Theresa Manning) show their work through Aug. 16.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio , White River Junction. The monotype prints of Sheri Hancock-Tomek are on view through July 31.

Nicola Smith can be reached at

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