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Art notes: Printmaking studio’s manager is irreplaceable

  • Longtime studio manager Sheri Hancock-Tomek, of Hanover, N.H., at Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction, Vt., on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Hancock-Tomek and her family are moving to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where she and her husband grew up. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2021 9:47:09 PM
Modified: 6/16/2021 9:47:16 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Among the local arts organizations that have grown up over the past two decades, Two Rivers Printmaking Studio is often overlooked.

Housed in the Tip Top Media Arts Building on North Main Street, Two Rivers is a smallish, workmanlike place, but it has had great staying power, and that is attributable in no small part to the work of Sheri Hancock-Tomek, who has managed the studio for most of its history.

“Having a manager there is key,” Hancock-Tomek said this week. There are often novice printmakers learning to use the presses and other machinery, and there are workshops and other events to wrangle, at least when there’s no pandemic.

Soon, though, the studio will be under new management: Hancock-Tomek and her family are planning to move from Hanover back to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where both she and her husband, Ivan Tomek, grew up and her mother and his parents, among other relatives, still live.

As a celebration of her years of oversight and of her own artwork, the studio is hosting an exhibition of Hancock-Tomek’s recent prints. She has for years been a maker of solarprints, often of abstract natural shapes, and lately has been using Styrofoam as a printing medium. There is no reception planned, but the studio is open 2 to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, from 5 to 7 p.m. on First Fridays, and by appointment.

In addition to the exhibition, the longtime manager’s departure is engendering some momentous change at the printmaking studio. The studio has hired a new manager, in the person of Center for Cartoon Studies graduate Natalie Wardlaw.

But the studio’s board is talking to leaders of AVA Gallery and Art Center about taking over the studio’s financial management. Such an arrangement would bring the studio full circle, said Sheryl Trainor, who is on the Two Rivers board and also works at AVA. AVA was the fiscal agent for Two Rivers when it first opened. It also will enable Wardlaw to keep the studio running without worrying about the financial management.

Finding one person to replace Hancock-Tomek would be nearly impossible, Trainor said. Her unwritten job description encompasses everything from bookkeeping to scheduling exhibitions and workshops to keeping the studio tidy.

For a little while, when she first started at Two Rivers, Hancock-Tomek received a salary, but it soon became clear to her that the studio couldn’t afford it. She has worked as a volunteer since then.

“It seems like she was always there, whether she was in a management position or not,” Trainor said. “Definitely, in the last 10 years or more, it’s just been Sheri doing almost everything.”

The studio operates unlike any other arts organization in the area. A person can join at a cost of $75 a month, if they commit to a year’s membership.

“You get a key and you have access anytime you want,” Hancock-Tomek said.

Membership confers both the use of the studio and a discount on workshops.

Typically, the studio has had 12 to 15 “artist-members,” but just before the pandemic it had hit a high-water mark of 24. Also just before the pandemic, the studio received a $20,000 anonymous donation, which Hancock-Tomek called “huge.”

“Two Rivers is doing great,” she said.

The pandemic made it hard for members to come into the studio and work together, and membership has declined over the past year, Trainor said.

Camaraderie has been a key feature of Two Rivers, and Hancock-Tomek has been essential to fostering that, Trainor said.

“The biggest thing about Sheri is how much we’re all going to miss her,” she said.

Hancock-Tomek, 53, is looking forward to living in her hometown, which overlooks the Bay of Fundy and is home to Acadia University.

“I have a little studio space that I’m going to be working in in a garage up there,” she said. The timing of the move is uncertain, as Nova Scotia is currently under lockdown after a spike in coronavirus cases. “They’re just very, very strict,” Hancock-Tomek said.

Regardless, she plans to visit Two Rivers regularly, she said. “It’s hard to walk away from something when you’ve put a lot of time and work into it.”

Gallery and garden to close

When Gary and Sarah Milek purchased what became Cider Hill Gardens & Gallery, on Hunt Road in Windsor, it was an overgrown orchard of gnarled trees.

They raised five children there and have paid a lot of attention to the soil and its gifts. At the same time, Gary painted and, for 17 years, taught drawing and painting at Dartmouth College.

The routine is much the same as it has always been, but it will end in July, when the Mileks move into a house in Brownsville with their daughter Molly Keating and her young son.

This weekend, the Mileks are holding a sale to disperse the plants from their nursery and to sell the paintings in their gallery. Cider Hill is under contract and will become a private residence.

“It was sort of a run-down orchard,” Gary Milek said in a phone interview. They made cider on a press so old that it now belongs to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts.

Milek paints with similarly old-world materials — egg tempera, which mixes egg yolk and powdered pigments, and gold leaf. His choice of media bonds him to one of the Upper Valley’s most celebrated artists, the late George Tooker.

Milek assisted Tooker with paintings he made for Windsor’s St. Francis of Assisi Church, in the 1980s. He helped Tooker learn how to deploy gold leaf, and Milek stuck with it thereafter.

Milek likes egg tempera and gold leaf for their durability. Unlike, say, watercolors, they don’t need to be framed with protective glass. He likes, too, that they sell for more, no small thing when you’re making a living from art and plants.

After the move, he plans to keep painting.

“My arms and my brain still function very well,” he said. And he’s represented by Boston’s Vose Galleries, the Hub’s oldest.

The closing sale runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday. The Cider Hill website says “masks encouraged.” The owners are either side of 80.

They’re moving, Milek said, because “we have to sort of explore how we’re going to deal with the rest of our lives.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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