Art Notes: AVA Honors Sculptor Larry Nowlan

  • Lawrence Nowlan Jr. works on a clay sculpture of 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick in his studio in Windsor. The University of Iowa commissioned Nowlan to do the sculpture. A bronze cast of the sculpture will be installed at the university next year. Valley News - David M. Barreda

  • A bust of the singer Tom Waits is among the works by the late sculptor Lawrence J. Nowlan Jr., that are on view at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 17, 2016

Henry Duffy, the curator of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, first met the late sculptor Lawrence Nowlan in the late 1990s, a few years after Nowlan had been named an artist-in-residence at the site.

He and Nowlan became fast friends, and in Duffy’s estimation, Nowlan, a Cornish resident who died in 2013 at 48, was one of the few sculptors-in-residence who really delved deeply into what was available to him in the site’s archives and collection.

“More than many of the others, (Nowlan) would study the works we had in storage. He used to call it his library. He would come up and look, and I would enjoy it when he did that because I would learn a lot, looking at it from an artist’s viewpoint,” Duffy said in a phone interview.

Duffy and Nowlan’s widow, Heather, have curated a select show of Nowlan’s work, “Inner Soul,” that is now on view through winter in the Johnson Sisters’ Library and the former stone carving studio at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon.

The sculptures include free-standing figures and busts in the style of Rodin and the 19th century French sculptor Jean Baptiste Carpeaux, and bas relief sculptures of such famous sports figures as Tiger Woods, the boxer Joe Frazier and former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax. The famed California vintner Robert Mondavi, shown with his nose in a glass of wine, is also the subject of a bas-relief.

Other works on view include a copy of a bas-relief that Nowlan made of Saint-Gaudens, which was dedicated in 2007 in Dublin and placed in front of Saint-Gaudens’ monument to Charles Stewart Parnell, the 19th century Irish nationalist.

There are also small studies for a commission Nowlan didn’t end up receiving, a monument to dock workers in Limerick, Ireland; and one he did receive, the Wildland Firefighters Monument in Boise, Idaho. Finally, the exhibition includes several nude sketches, and paintings that Nowlan made of his adopted home town of Windsor.

Like Saint-Gaudens, Nowlan worked in a classical style and he posed himself the challenge of working in bas-relief, which is not easy to master, Duffy said. (Also called low relief, bas-relief is a sculptural technique in which carved figures or objects project slightly from the surrounding surface, without being cut away from it.)

For one thing, the bas relief technique is not much taught now in art schools, where free-standing and abstract sculpture dominate. Also, Duffy said, bas-relief is a “very difficult process to do well so people don’t bother with it, they just don’t do it.”

The distinction, Duffy said, is that it’s easier to sculpt a figure in the round than to carve one in relief. With relief sculpture, he said, “you’re trying to give the impression of depth, but it isn’t there. It’s much harder.”

You see Nowlan’s skill, particularly with his bas-relief sculpture of the southpaw Koufax, who was famous for his delivery, his left leg stretched backward almost parallel with the ground, while his left arm sweeps forward in an arc. In a medium in which figures only half emerge from the background, Nowlan creates in Koufax the impression of intense concentration and movement. Nowlan was himself athletic, and very interested in sports, Duffy said.

“I think that’s what made his figures good. They have a natural ease and grace to them which came from an understanding of how people move in space,” Duffy said.

Nowlan grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, the grandson of Philip Nowlan, the creater of Buck Rogers, and came to sculpture at the fairly late age of 30, after working for a Philadelphia marketing firm, Duffy said.

In 1995, Nowlan was invited to become an artist-in-residence at Saint-Gaudens, a position he would hold again four more times between 1996 and 2003. In 1996 he earned a master’s degree from the New York Academy of Art Graduate School of Figurative Art. After his first Saint-Gaudens residency, he moved to the Upper Valley full-time and set up his studio in a former Unitarian church on Main Street, where some 300 of his works are still housed. In 2003 he married Heather Wiley, whom he’d met when she was an intern at Saint-Gaudens, and they had two children.

Once Nowlan’s career took hold, the commissions came: Award plaques created for TV cable channels VH1 and ESPN, relief portraits for the Vintner’s Hall of Fame in Napa Valley, Calif., and numerous sculptures of well-known athletes, among others. He also created the Windsor War Memorial, which was dedicated in 2002.

The aim, eventually, Duffy said, is to take an exhibit similar to the one at AVA on “the road and see if we can get it other places.”

“Inner Soul” is at AVA Gallery and Art Center through winter.

Openings and Receptions

Anne and Mitch Beck, of Royalton, exhibit their mixed-media collages at the Tunbridge Public Library. The Becks use a variety of materials, including repurposed musical instruments, candy wrappers and magazine photographs. There will be a public reception Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. The exhibition will run through Jan. 13.

The Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph holds its annual Artisans Holiday Market, running today through Dec. 21. Work by local artists and craftspeople will be on sale.

The Center for the Arts in New London is sponsoring exhibitions at four “micro galleries” in the New London area, including the 2016 Regional Juried Art Show at the New London Inn at 353 Main St.

The juried show includes the work of 20 artists from the Sunapee and Upper Valley areas. Exhibiting artists from the Upper Valley are: Karen Wihbey, Grantham; Jean Connolly, New London; Mary Gerakaris, Canaan; Laura Graveline, White River Junction; Jack Harkins, Sunapee; Paul Howe, Sunapee; Barbara Hunting, New London; Penny Koburger, Enfield (her work is also being exhibited at the Kilton Library in West Lebanon); Gwen Nagel, Grantham; Yvonne Shukovsky, Sunapee; Lucy Mueller Young, Sunapee.

The exhibition continues through Jan. 17.

“Of Transcendent Joy,” an exhibition of landscape paintings by the late Deborah Frankel Reese is now open at Long River Galleries and Gifts in Lyme. A South Strafford artist, Reese was in the midst of preparing for the show when she died in October. The exhibition runs through Jan. 8.


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.

Cider Hill Art Gallery and Gardens, Windsor. “All the Seasons,” a show of work by Gary Milek, runs through Sunday.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Paul Klee: The World Through My Lens” continues through Dec. 23.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. The photography of Nicolas Doak; acrylics and pastels by Norman Rhodes; work by members of the Upper Valley Ship Modeler’s Guild; fiber art by Dianne Shullenberger; digital art by Gloria King Merritt and oils and acrylics by Prabhjot Kaur are on view throughout the hospital through Dec. 31. For information call the Dartmouth-Hitchcock arts program at 603-650-6187.

Hall Art Foundation, Reading, Vt. “Landscapes After Ruskin: Redefining the Sublime,” curated by photographer Joel Sternfeld, continues through Nov. 27.

Hanover League Fine Craft Gallery, Hanover. The autumn exhibition features work by ceramicists Robin Ascher and David Ernster, textile artists Rachel Kahn and Kathleen Litchfield, and photographer Rosamond Orford.

Hood Downtown, Hanover. The photographs of Laetitia Soulier are on view in the exhibition “The Fractal Architectures” through Dec. 11.

Howe Library, Hanover. An exhibition of colorful abstract work by Amy Fortier, “Mandalascopes and Faux-zaics” is up through Nov. 29.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. An exhibition of work by Enfield painter Penny Koburger continues through January.

Library Arts Center, Newport, N.H. LAC’s annual holiday Gallery of Gifts is open through Dec. 23.

Main Street Museum, White River Junction. “Now, What Was I Doing?” a show of 365 drawings by Sarah Smith (one for each day of the year) continues through Nov. 28.

Osher at Dartmouth, Hanover. Photographer Thomas Urgo shows his work in “World Views” at the Osher offices at 7 Lebanon St., in Hanover through Dec. 20. Also showing photography are Anne Baird, Janice Fischel, Nora Gould, John Lehet and Lilian Shen. Hours are: Monday-Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. A show of work by 20th century commercial artist Louis Chap is on view through Feb. 18.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. The Saint-Gaudens NHS has closed its picture gallery for the season. The grounds are still open to visitors.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. The gallery is closed through Sunday, but reopens next week.

SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual celebration of three-dimensional art continues. While some works have been removed, 80 percent of the show is still on view, with new works coming in. “Grounding,” a show of site-specific work curated by sculptors Jay Mead and Edythe Wright, is on view at the King Farm. For more information, go to sculpturefest.org.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Sue Schiller and Nancy Wightman exhibit their prints through Nov. 30. Two Rivers member-artists are also exhibiting work related to Northern Stage’s productions of Macbeth and A Christmas Carol in the lobby of the Barrette Center for the Arts, through December.

White River Gallery at BALE, South Royalton. “Touching at a Distance,” works by Brenda Garand, continues through Dec. 11. Hours are Monday-Friday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Or by appointment: contact gallery director and curator, Dian Parker at dianparker9@gmail.com.

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