Art Notes: Among these artists, everyone’s a critic in Upper Valley crit groups

  • Amy Morel, left, and Edythe Wright, center, of Barnard, look at a sculpture by Morel as Rachel Gross, of Hartland, photographs them at the Mill Building in Woodstock on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. They are members of a critique group that gather to discuss their work in progress. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Lisa Kippen, of Tunbridge, is one of five members of a critique group that gathers roughly every month to discuss work in progress. Kippen and three other members of the group spoke with Alex Hanson of the Valley News at the Mill Building in Woodstock, Vt., where they have a show on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

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    Rachel Gross, of Hartland, left, shows work of artists she saw on a recent trip to New York to fellow members of her critique group Edythe Wright, of Barnard, middle, and Amy Morel, of Barnard, right, at the Mill Building in Woodstock, Vt. where they have a show, on Oct. 27, 2021. "There's no gatekeeper, there are no institutions we have to adhere to, there's no hierarchy," said Wright of the group. "You create your own community," said Morel. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/28/2021 6:03:07 AM
Modified: 10/28/2021 6:03:14 AM

Some of the visitors to the pop-up gallery space next to Amy Morel’s studio in the east end of Woodstock Village have asked about the title of the show on display there: “Crit Group 2.”

What does it mean to be in a critique group, to gather with other artists to talk about your work and theirs?

For the past 12 years, Morel has gotten together monthly with Rachel Gross, Lisa Kippen, Anne Mapplebeck and Edythe Wright. They drive out to one of the artists’ studios, usually at 10:30 on a Friday morning. They drink tea and maybe eat a little something, and they look at the recent output of the artist whose studio they’re visiting.

“Because we’ve been here for so long, there’s a lot of trust,” Morel said in a conversation with four of the group’s five members. They can say what needs to be said about the direction a group member’s work is taking. “Mostly it’s like, ‘Keep going, keep going.’ ”

Upper Valley viewers have an unusual opportunity right now to get an understanding of critique groups, which break up the solitude of art-making and help artists push their work in new directions. Where the Old Masters had the guild system, and their 19th century descendants had schools, in a rural area in the 21st century artists make their own communities.

In addition to the exhibition in Woodstock, AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon is hosting a sprawling show of paintings by a group of artists who have been meeting together for nearly two decades.

“8xONE: What You Get Is What You See,” brings together work by eight painters who meet monthly at AVA. The painters will gather on Thursday at 5 p.m. to talk about their work and their crit group. Viewers can attend in person or via Zoom; a link is available on the AVA website,

Formed in 2002, the 8xONE crit group is modeled on one founded in the mid-1990s by Clifford West, who led it for several years. Absent a figure like West, a beloved teacher at AVA who died in 2006, the group operates like the group that now shows its work in Woodstock, but with a few key differences.

They gather monthly, usually in the evening in Rachel Jordan’s studio at AVA. There’s usually a meal, a glass of wine. Everybody brings work, or is invited to, whether finished or not.

“Each member gets about 15 minutes of the group’s time,” Joseph Saginor, a Cornish resident and member of 8xONE, said in a phone interview.

While members of the group exhibiting in Woodstock are almost all art school graduates, the 8xONE members have a wide range of careers. Saginor is a psychologist; Kate Cone, of Thetford, is a videographer; Charles DePuy, of Lebanon, and Jonathan Rose, of Thetford, are architects; Anne Rose, Jonathan’s wife, owned a travel agency; Rachel Jordan worked at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, where she did pioneering work researching snow cover; David Fisk, of Post Mills, also worked at CRREL; and Jim Jordan, Rachel’s husband, is an outlier, having taught studio art in the Midwest and art history at Dartmouth College.

Though they’re all dedicated to painting and are all working in the middle ground between representation and abstraction, each works in their own vein. Fisk paints jumpy abstractions that mix geometric forms with overpainting and textured surfaces. Cone is a straightforward plein air landscape painter, while Rachel Jordan paints still lifes and looming figures.

“We influence each other in a variety of ways,” Saginor said. Group members will perceive things others might miss in their own work.

“Everyone is on their own path,” he said. “And at the same time, we are really respectful of each others’ perceptions.”

The crit group is an art-school staple, and often a traumatizing one, members of the group showing in Woodstock said. But as adults, it’s something else entirely.

Making art can be a lonely endeavor; a crit group serves as both a support network and a taskmaster. Before her group visits, Rachel Gross, who lives in Hartland, said she feels compelled to clean her studio and to finish work.

“The motivation factor is really valuable,” she said.

Since there are five members of the Woodstock-area group, each gets at least two studio visits a year. One of the rules is that every group member has to be present for every meeting; for 12 years, none of the members has missed a session, Morel said.

That devotion speaks to the value of the group and of what members get from it and give to it. The four members gathered in the gallery Wednesday morning (only Anne Mapplebeck, of Sharon, was missing) were effusive on that subject.

“After crit I’m like, ‘I’ve got my marching orders,’ ” Morel said.

“Our conversations are multi-level, in a way,” said Edythe Wright, who like Morel lives in Barnard. Sometimes, a member will present a technical challenge, such as how to work with a particular material, and get answers that vault their work forward, she said.

Lisa Kippen recalled getting a very specific kind of feedback on a series of drawings: “Rachel finally busted me by saying, ‘What is this work all about?’ Then I had to jump off a cliff and say, ‘Well, I think it’s all about hope.’ ”

The five members work in very different media. Morel makes steel sculpture; Kippen draws by making marks and then obscuring or subtracting material; Gross, who also has work on view at Burlington City Arts right now, paints and makes prints, often of geometric forms; Mapplebeck makes reliefs from paper bags and Wright’s current work consists of colorful paintings based on topographical maps. If there’s a common theme, they said, it’s the natural world and living in it among the machinery and technology of contemporary life.

Making art is inchoate, Gross said, and having to articulate what it’s about is essential to that process. Showing it to the crit group is a key step before it goes to a show.

The group also is key to what it means to be a successful artist outside the urban marketplaces where money does all the talking.

“Really, I think being an artist is a war of attrition,” that consists of “sticking with it and sustaining your practice,” Gross said in an earlier interview.

In that, there’s a lesson for pretty much every profession, isn’t there? Talk to your peers and colleagues, learn from them, ply your trade, and because you’re out here in the woods, cherish your freedom to create.

“There’s something that we’re doing here that we’ve chosen to do,” Wright said. “There’s no gatekeeper.”

“Crit Group 2” is on view Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. at The Mill building, 2174 Maxham Meadow Way, in Woodstock. A closing reception is planned for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13.

“8xONE: What You Get Is What You See,” is on view at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon through Nov. 12.

Sites worth saving

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s annual “Seven to Save” list of properties worthy of greater care and attention includes some arts-related locations in Sullivan County.

In Cornish, both Blow-Me-Down Farm, which Opera North is renovating to establish a national park for the arts, and the home of writer Percy Mackaye, which his family is trying to preserve, are on the list.

And a broad entry, the state’s historic theaters, includes a comment from Andrew Pinard, executive artistic director of Claremont Opera House. The opera houses in both Claremont and Newport are essential venues in Sullivan County.

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

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