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Art Notes:



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, August 06, 2015
H ow do we judge the health and well-being of a region? There are standard measurements: the percentage of people who are unemployed, or living at or below the poverty line, the quality of schools, the access to decent medical care and environmental health. Then there are the so-called cultural amenities, which measure something more ineffable. One might call it the pursuit of happiness.

No region in the country is without its persistent problems, but the presence of the performing, written and visual arts here suggest that there is enough optimism and resilience for the arts to thrive.

It’s a chicken and egg question: do the arts flourish here because there’s a relatively stable economy that attracts new residents, or does the Upper Valley have a relatively stable economy because the arts flourish? It’s probably something of both. The presence of Dartmouth College and other educational institutions in the area also contribute significantly to the fact that this is fertile ground for people in the arts.

And there are locations where, despite grim economic circumstances, the arts are contributing to the resurrection of places assumed to have gone into a permanent death spiral: Detroit is a case in point. The arts, in whatever form, are not a luxury, but a necessity of life.

Judging by this year’s juried summer exhibition at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire and Vermont are awash in artists doing first-rate work, as good as any you’d see in Boston, New York or Montreal.

This year’s show includes the work of 50 artists from throughout New Hampshire and Vermont who are exhibiting abstract and representational pieces in an impressively broad range of media: photography, oil, acrylic and encaustic painting, pastels, sculpture, prints, textiles and fiber, watercolor, handmade paper, ceramics, drawing and collage. (I didn’t see human portraits, which is an odd gap, although they do appear peripherally in the photos of Nira Granott-Fox.)

Susan Strickland, director of the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, culled the final selection of 59 works from 331 submissions; some artists in the show are represented by more than one work.

The juried summer exhibition began in 1993, and was held annually until 2013, when the decision was made to make it biennial. In 2011 and 2012, the gallery was inundated by more than 400 submissions each year from more than 240 artists, according to Margaret Jacobs, AVA’s exhibition coordinator. The submissions process was changed to make the number of works jurors had to look at more manageable, Jacobs wrote in an email.

The wealth of talent is remarkable. Every piece on view at the gallery meets and exceeds its technical expectations. There’s nothing amateurish or self-indulgent about the works: they all show discipline and skill. More significantly, you have the sense that each artist found the best way to express through the chosen medium what she or he was trying to convey.

Four artists were given special awards of merit: Barbara Bartlett of Woodstock for her mixed media work Folding Fortunes ; Nira Grannott Fox of South Pomfret for her photograph Reflections: Street Views and to Jessie Pollock of Peterborough, N.H., for her encaustic painting Like Clouds, Stones Too Are Amorphous . Erick Hufschmid of Alton, N .H., received this year’s Cornelia M. Rahmelow Photography Prize for the digital pigment print Commodity Series: Untitled #2 .

But awards also are s omewhat beside the point. Do the works compel your attention? Do they invite you to linger? What about them excites admiration and pleasure, or indifference? Such considerations are, in the old adage, in the eye of the beholder.

In no particular order, I was struck by a number of works in the galleries.

Louise Glass, who lives in Piermont, is represented by an untitled sculpture. Four teardrop-shaped objects, made of copper, are placed side-by-side on a wall. The forms are elegant and sinuous, but it’s the use of copper, with its warm sheen, grainy irregularity and the shifting light on its surface, that elevates an accomplished piece into one in which the form and the medium seem ideally aligned.

Woodstock artist Barbara Bartlett’s large-scale work Folding Fortune s uses an unexpected source material — Chinese joss paper squares, a gold and foil paper, also known as ghost or spirit money, which is traditionally burned in ritual ceremonies marking someone’s death or commemorating an ancestor.

Bartlett turned them into a rectangular pattern, 22 joss squares down and some 17 across, which looks like a giant luscious candy bar wrapper, a golden stamp with perforated edges or the golden ticket out of this life and into the next, whether that’s death or good fortune. Hung a few inches away from the wall, Folding Fortunes casts a shadow onto it, giving the work a kind of second life. The more you look at Folding Fortunes , the more it eludes a definitive interpretation.

Wendy Briggs Powell, from Hopkinton, N.H., exhibits Show Me Again , a deft, beautifully constructed piece, in which she juxtaposes pieces of handmade paper, in blue and white tones. She has cut holes in the paper, and embroidered their edges with a golden-brown thread: you can look through these holes to a grayish background. Like Bartlett’s work, Show Me Again suggests that there are layers of life beyond what we first see. It’s the way Powell fuses meticulous workmanship and a graceful arrangement of form that makes it an aesthetic pleasure on many levels.

Sculptor Dick Saunders, from Canaan, uses soapstone to carve out a musk ox with its head tucked into its chest and eyes downcast or closed in sleep. It’s not apparent from a distance what the sculpture is — it’s only as you step closer to it that the animal emerges from the stone.

“Organic” is an overused description , but the way the animal’s lines fold into and back on each other here seems effortlessly natural, as if Saunders had easily coaxed the sculpture from stone. And the soapstone itself, in undulating waves of black and gray, gleams with as much life and texture as if it were the animal’s own coat.

Thomas Urgo, a Thetford Center resident, has contributed Alone , a photograph of a field of long golden grass, sun-burnished and wind-blown. It’s a giclee print, a high-resolution digital photograph reproduced on an inkjet printer. Alone has a painterly, tactile quality, a richness of color, and the grainier resolution of an etching.

Viewed a nose-length away (two noses, perhaps), you spot the small figure of a woman wearing a white head scarf and a brown jacket. You can’t see her face, only that she is in profile and gazing either into a vast distance or at a bird flying just over her head. The sky is blue, and traced with tendrils of cloud. There’s a poignant contrast between the sturdy small human weighed against what seems to be an infinity around her.

Other works worth mentioning (and they’re all worth looking at) are:

■ Mary Jane Morse’s oil painting Winter River Series #57 , with its large, smooth rocks in hues of black, gray, ocher and brown;

■ Erick Hufschmid’s Commodity Series digital pigment prints;

■ Martia R. Smith’s Untitled 45D , an oil on paper in browns, whites and grays;

■ Lois Beatty’s monoprints Interplay V-1/1 and Interplay II, 1/1 ;

■ Nira Granott Fox’s photographs Reflections and Multiple Realities, and Reflections: Street Views ;

■ John Matusz’ sculpture Convergence #2 , made from welded steel and wood;

■ Harry Bernard’s painting WasHereAlso...16.037 in acrylic, watercolor and graphite, which reminded me of the works of Robert Rauschenberg in its energy and mixture of media;

■ Jessie Pollock’s encaustic painting Like Clouds, Stones Too Are Amorphic ;

■ And M elissa Anne Miller’s oil on canvas, Fall Evening, Laurel Street , which reveals itself to be a precise and uncanny arrangement of geometric forms, as well as a depiction of a small city street in late afternoon.

Openings and Receptions

T wo shows currently on view at the Hood Museum of Art showcase the collections of two Dartmouth alumni. Adolph J. Weil, class of 1935, donated Old Master prints to the Hood, among them a portfolio of prints by the famous 18th century Venetian artist Canaletto. Canaletto’s vedute (Italian for views) show the range of city life, as well as imaginary bucolic and classical scenes.

Also exhibited at the Hood is a selection of works from The Stahl Collection, which was donated to the museum by the children of Barbara J. and David G. Stahl, class of 1947. This intimate exhibition comprises 30 prints, ceramics and drawings by an eclectic group of artists. Prints by 1920s German Expressionist artists Emil Nolde, Max Beckman and Ludwig Meidner are exhibited, as well as a series of aquatints by Georges Rouault called The Circus , dating from 1930. The works of New Hampshire artists Gerry Williams and Edwin and Mary Scheier are also featured. Both exhibitions run through Dec. 6.

A show of works focused on barns and bridges is now on view at Arabella in Windsor. The featured artists are Karen Baker, Gail Barton, Penelope Culbertson, Cindy Griffith, Gwen Nagel and Lynn VanNatta. The show of watercolors, pastels and oils is on view through Sept. 5.

South Royalton artist Ivy Leaf exhibits abstract work at the Royalton Memorial Library through Sept. 26. There will be a reception for her on Aug. 28 from 5 to 7 p.m.

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.

ArtisTree , Pomfret. Unbound, Vol. V, a show dedicated to exploring the art of the book, runs through Aug. 22.

AVA Gallery and Art Center , Lebanon. The juried summer exhibition, featuring the work of 50 artists, runs through Aug. 28. “the jump off...., ” an exhibit of collages by Joaquin Andres is on view through Aug. 31. Kira’s Garden, the outdoor sculpture garden, is open through Nov. 22.

Big Town Gallery , Rochester. The paintings and drawings of James McGarrell and Mark Goodwin are exhibited through Sept. 6.

Cider Hill Art Gallery , Windsor. The gallery (and garden nursery) exhibits an outdoor sculpture show through October. Sculptors include: Herb Ferris, Gary Haven Smith and the Myth Makers. The large vessels of Steven Procter (whose work is also in this month’s Juried Regional Exhibition at AVA) are also on view. Egg tempera paintings by Gary Milek are in the gallery. The gallery is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Chandler Galleries , Randolph. The landscapes and collages of Marie LaPr e Grabon are up through Monday. 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 the paintings of Juliette Belmonte through Sept. 30.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center , Lebanon. Works by Susan Beere, Connie O’Leary, Tony Conner, Robert Chapla, Carla Zwahlen and Stefan Zwahlen, are on view through September.

Aidron Duckworth Art Museum , Meriden. Rachel Gross exhibits her shaped panels and works on paper through Sept. 13. Also on view are “Exhibition XXVI, Aqueduct Series and Drawings and Paintings from Life, 1984 to 2001,” by Aidron Duckworth; and sculpture by Jay Mead: both exhibits run through October.

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. “About Face: Self-Portraiture in Contemporary Art,” is on view through Aug. 30. “Water Ways: Tension and Flow,” an exhibition of photographs that focus on the relationship between humans and water, is on view through Aug. 23.

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. The Ledyard Gallery is featuring a show of photographs by Mort Wise, a Hanover resident who has traveled and photographed extensively in Nepal. It runs through Sept. 30.

Justin Smith Morrill Estate , Strafford. An exhibition on the Italian painter Constantine Brumidi, who painted the heroic “Apotheosis of Washington” in the dome of the U.S. Capitol in 1865, continues through Oct. 12.

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 Friday.

Long River Gallery and Gifts , Lyme. The “River” show, with large-scale paintings by Jean Gerber, Meg McLean and Betsy Derrick, is on view through Sept. 15.

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

Main Street Museum of Ar t, White River Junction. The museum looks at the Cold War period with an exhibit devoted to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It runs through October.

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.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.