Art Notes: Rochester’s BigTown Gallery Displays Wild Footwear

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    Rick Skogsberg's installation of painted shoes is part of the show "Toward Form" at Big Town Gallery in Rochester, Vt. The show runs from October 5 to November 19, 2016. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

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    Marcy Hermansader's "In Deep" is part of the show "Toward Form" at Big Town Gallery in Rochester, Vt. The show runs from October 5 to November 19, 2016. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2016 12:05:23 AM
Modified: 10/27/2016 12:05:32 AM

If Marvel Comics produced its own line of high-end shoes, they might look like the vintage shoes given a second, artistic life by Rochester painter Rick Skogsberg, now on display at BigTown Gallery in Rochester.

They’re the first objects to catch your eye when you walk in the door. Not what you’d expect to see in an art gallery, necessarily, but Skogsberg, and gallery owner Anni Mackay, make the case for them as art.

They’re part of the exhibition “Toward Form,” curated by Mackay, which also includes Western landscapes by Randolph artist Laurie Sverdlove and collages by Dummerston, Vt. artist Marcy Hermansader.

Skogsberg has exhibited his shoes and boots before at BigTown, and they are anything but ordinary.

He takes pumps, platform shoes, sandals, boots, men’s wingtips and Oxfords, and paints them with wild patterns and vivid colors. Each shoe within a pair is different, but also complementary. In some cases, Skogsberg has scribbled graffiti-like text over the surface of the leather.

The shoes reminded me, in no particular order, of the Pop Art of Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselman and James Rosenquist, the far-out cartoon world of R. Crumb and the gilded, encrusted surface of Fabergé eggs, with some of the intense, glowing color palette of Wassily Kandinsky thrown in for good measure. There’s so much to look at that you have to really gaze at them to see the level of detail.

The allure of Skogsberg’s shoes is that they’re not merely imitative or allusive, or even decorative: they’re their own unique thing.

If you sauntered into a Manhattan restaurant on a Saturday night wearing any of Skogsberg’s creations (and they are meant to be worn, not just exhibited), you’d be noticed, and applauded.

They’re eccentric and witty in a way that feels like a certain segment of Americana that operates defiantly outside the art establishment.

Some artists and historians have called such work “outsider” art, which often describes those artists who haven’t passed through the portals of academic programs. Sometimes that description can feel like a nice-doggie, pat-on-the-head for those artists who don’t fit in neatly to any one category, and don’t particularly want to jump through establishment hoops to get there.

Skogsberg’s shoes strike me as being in that category. The shoes seem part of the movement to push at the boundaries of what’s considered “art.”

Since the post-World War II period, these boundaries have been fluid and shifting, as the scope of what we call art has broadened.

People are art. What we wear, or don’t, is art. What we tattoo on, and drape over our bodies, has become art. Ideas alone, and sometimes not even their execution, are art.

Sometimes that kind of conceptual art does smack of the emperor’s new clothes, an empty exercise played on an audience that suspects it’s the butt of a joke.

But Marcy Hermansader’s black collages, which are conceptual but also invitingly tactile, are the kind of works that make us think about such elemental questions as: what’s color? Is a lack of color, color? Why is the artist asking us to stare into an abyss, and what’s going on there?

If you’ve seen any of the 20th century American painter Ad Reinhardt’s famous “black” paintings, (black squares in oil that seem to be only black at first glance) you know how mesmerizing black can be, particularly when you realize that there are very subtle gradations of black within black, blacks that shade toward blue or gray. It’s not just one block of color.

So when you examine Hermandsader’s collages you begin to see the painstaking way that she has pieced them together (hundreds of precisely-cut pieces of paper) and the way she gradually leads you from one zone of color, and construction, to another.

In their own way Hermansader’s pieces remind me of construction zones, of work being done and the processes involved.

They ask you to think about how she makes them, and the effort that goes into the work, which adds to their value. It’s a very different proposition from looking at the work of a painter such as, say, John Singer Sargent who, for all his bravura handling of the paint, the swashes and cascades of satin, tried to dispel the idea that actual labor was involved.

Sverdlove has contributed oils on canvas and works on paper, all landscapes which look as if they’re set in the American West.

Through her eyes it’s an enormous terrain of mountains, desert, farmland, barbed wire, latticework, sticks, junk, and in the midst of all that, lush plant life that thrives, out of the notice of humans.

They’re not literal transcriptions of what Sverdlove saw but landscapes reimagined and reanimated through her unerring sense of color. Brash oranges, candy reds, azure blues, bleached grays, brilliant greens.

She juxtaposes weird, sometimes alien-looking objects that, seen together, make new forms, new life, which is one of the reasons we keep looking at contemporary art — for the thrill of discovery.

Also at BigTown Gallery: The textile art of Randolph artist Bhakti Ziek is on view in the exhibition “Lexicon,” in the Projects Gallery, through Nov. 26. Ziek will talk about the work this Saturday at 5:30 p.m.


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 Gallery, Pomfret. “Local Color,” an exhibition of work by area artists on the theme of fall, ends Sunday.

AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon. “Take Home Geometry,” an exhibition of work by Gerald Auten, the director of the Studio Art exhibition program at Dartmouth College, and John Kemp Lee, also in the studio art exhibition program, continues through Thursday, Nov. 11. Both artists will give a gallery talk on Nov. 11 at 4 p.m.; a closing reception will follow at 5 p.m.

The “Vermont Watercolor Society’s Fall Juried Exhibition,” which features the work of 40 Vermont artists, runs through Nov. 11.

Cider Hill Art Gallery and Gardens, Windsor. “All the Seasons,” a show of work by Gary Milek, runs through Nov. 20.

Claremont Opera House. Marilyn Ray, a radiologist who works at a number of hospitals in the Upper Valley, exhibits paintings inspired by the Baha’i faith in the John D. Bennett Atrium. The show runs through Nov. 17.

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. The exhibitions close 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.

Hopkins Center, Hanover. The sculpture and paintings of artist-in-residence Diana Al-Hadid are on view in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery, and “Speak! Listen! CT! A Kaleidoscope of Architectural Elements for Public Space,” with work by Zenovia Toloudi of Studio Z, and students, is in the Strauss Gallery, both through Nov. 13.

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 2017.

Library Arts Center, Newport. “Voices & Visions: Empowerment Through Art,” an exhibition addressing sexual and domestic violence ends Friday.

Long River Galleries, Lyme. “Following the Silk Road: From India to New England,” works by textile artist Ann Peck, through Nov. 6.

Main Street Museum, White River Junction. The museum’s exhibition of memorabilia associated with the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s ends Friday.

Mill at Maxham Meadow Way, Woodstock. The Mill exhibits the work of Rachel Gross, Lisa Kippen, Anne Mapplebeck, Amy Morel, and Edythe Wright. The artists are part of an ongoing critique group. This is the last weekend to catch the show. The mill will be open from noon to 4, Saturday; a reception follows from 4 to 6.

Norwich Public Library. “Mixed Bag,” an exhibition of abstract and realist work by Lynda Knisley and Linda Reeves Potter ends Saturday.

OSHER at Dartmouth, Hanover. Photographer Thomas Urgo shows his work in the exhibition “World Views” at the OSHER offices at 7 Lebanon Street in Hanover through Dec. 20. Also showing photography are Anne Baird, Janice Fischel, Nora Gould, John Lehet and Lilian Shen. Hours are: Monday through 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. Sue Lenfest shows works related to nature and agriculture through Saturday.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. Multimedia artist Candice Ivy exhibits her work in the exhibition “Within Above Below the Skin,” which ends on Monday. The Saint-Gaudens NHS closes its gallery for the season after that.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. Margaret Jacobs exhibits her sculpture in “Lost and Found” through Dec. 2.

SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual celebration of three-dimensional art continues through foliage season. “Grounding,” a show of site-specific work curated by sculptors Jay Mead and Edythe Wright, is on view at the King Farm, while the Prosper Road site also shows new work. For more information, go to

Tunbridge Public Library. “Facial Recognition,” a show by painter Marianne McCann, continues until Nov. 4.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Sue Schiller and Nancy Wightman exhibit their prints through Nov. 30. A reception is planned for First Friday, Nov. 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. Two Rivers member-artists are also exhibiting work related to Northern Stage’s current and upcoming 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” 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

Nicola Smith can be reached at

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