Art Notes: James McGarrell was a one-of-a-kind artist

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/12/2020 7:01:52 PM
Modified: 2/12/2020 7:01:43 PM

For an artist of such influence and ability, James McGarrell was not as widely known in the Upper Valley as he should have been, by the public at least.

Artists certainly knew him and his work, which walked the dreamlike borderland between reality and abstraction.

McGarrell died Friday at Cottage Hospital in Woodsville. He was 89.

He and his wife, Ann, who died in 2016, had lived in Newbury, Vt., since 1993, when he came here as an artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College after a well-traveled life as both an artist and an academic.

I looked back through the Valley News archives for exhibitions of McGarrell’s work and found only a few: There was a show at the University of New Hampshire in 1998; a show of his monotypes with prose poems by Rosanna Warren in 2004 at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon; a 2010 show of oil paintings at the Aidron Duckworth Art Museum: and a show in 2007 at Studio Place Arts, in Barre, Vt., of abstract paintings, one of his few departures from figurative work.

McGarrell was a big fish, though, with more than a few paintings in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum, among others.

Woodstock artist Peggy Kannenstine sought out McGarrell after he moved to Newbury because he’d taught at Washington University, in St. Louis, where she’d earned her bachelor of fine arts degree. Both McGarrell and Kannenstine’s husband, the late Lou Kannenstine, were fanatical about jazz.

McGarrell worked entirely from his imagination, climbing to the third floor of the 19th-century farmhouse he and Ann lived in. (He also painted a mural around the walls of the house’s dining room: “It goes through his life, and it goes through the seasons and it goes through the time of day,” Kannenstine said in a brief phone interview Wednesday.)

This set him apart in the Upper Valley, where many painters, and perhaps most, work from life, painting either models, or landscapes or still-lifes.

“If you ask him about it, he said it all came out of his imagination,” Kannenstine said.

Gerald Auten, a longtime member of Dartmouth’s studio art faculty, was McGarrell’s student in St. Louis. Retired in Newbury, but still painting, McGarrell was known for surrounding himself with artists and writers.

“For the past 25 years, some of my best memories are dinners or parties at Jim and Ann’s house,” Auten said Wednesday, calling the McGarrells “generous and lovely.”

Auten also remarked on the quality of McGarrell’s work, saying that he assigns students to look at McGarrell’s work in the collection of the Hood Museum of Art. The combination of technique, style and subject resulted in works that were all his own.

“I don’t know anyone else like him,” Auten said.

“No one else works like Jim,” Kannenstine said. “I guess I have to use the past tense now: worked like Jim.”

Openings and receptions

AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon opens one of its most boisterous shows of the year, the annual High School Exhibition, with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday. This year’s show, the 12th, brings together art from 18 Upper Valley high schools. Through March 13.

Last chance

Center for Art + Design, Colby-Sawyer College, New London. Art by members of Colby-Sawyer’s art faculty. Through Friday.

Norman Williams Public Library, Woodstock. “Pages From a New England Storybook: Paintings by Margaret Dwyer.” Through Saturday.

Tunbridge Public Library. “My Winter World,” acrylic and watercolor paintings by Barnard artist Kate Reeves. Through Tuesday.


ArtisTree Gallery in the Village, Woodstock. Recent paintings by Katie Runde. Through March 20.

AVA Gallery and Art Center, in Lebanon, Paintings by the late Ben Frank Moss. Through March 6.

Betty Grant Gallery, Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Focus on the Natural World,” photographs by Lyme residents Scott Kalter and John Skelly. Through March 29.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. Small works for holiday giving. Also, “Family Matters,” work by outsider artists Jordan Laura MacLachlan and the late Morton Bartlett, is up through February.

Center for the Arts, New London. Photographs by Iris Fisher-McMorrow at New London Inn; artwork by Hugo Anderson at Bar Harbor Bank and Trust; artwork by Alan Shulman at Blue Loon Bakery; photographs by Debbie Coyle and oils by Yvonne Shukovsky at Tatewell Gallery; artwork by Proctor Academy students at Whipple Hall Gallery; and work by William C. Turner, Amy Fortier, Amy Hook-Therrien, Kearsarge Regional High School students and Kate St. Cyr at New London Hospital Galleries.

Chew & Co. Design, Hanover: Paintings in egg tempera by Windsor artist Gary Milek. Through February.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. Winter exhibitions include photographers Mark Council and Belinda Emmons; oil painters Kathryn Field, Penny Koburger and Jon Macadam; assemblage and collage artist Lynda Knisley; wood inlay artist Craig Altobello; and members of the Vermont Pastel Society.

Hood Museum of Art, Hanover. “CIPX Dartmouth with Kali Spitzer and Will Wilson,” an installment of their ongoing project, Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange, featuring tintypes of members of the Dartmouth community made last week in one of the Hood’s galleries; “Vision 2020: What Do You See?” a pocket show about how mass media affects how we see. Through March 1; “In the Midst of Something Splendid: Recent Paintings by Colleen Randall,” abstract paintings on canvas and paper by a member of the Dartmouth studio art faculty, through May 31; “Reconstitution” takes on how museums and other art exhibitors “have long privileged Euro-American narratives.” Through May 31; “School Photos and Their Afterlives,” which combines school portraits with works by contemporary artists. Through April 12.

Kilton Public Library, in West Lebanon, shows artwork by Lebanon Middle School students from Friday through May.

Library Arts Center, Newport. Annual “Selections” exhibition, recent work by Carol Corliss, Kate Emlen, Robert Frasier, Matthew Greenway, Michele Johnson, Aaron Kane, Maundy Mitchell and Alan Shulman. Through March 27.

Long River Gallery, White River Junction. “America’s Public Lands: National Parks and Monuments,” paintings by Royalton artist Joan Hoffmann.

Matt Brown Fine Art, Lyme. “Considering Kunisada and the Dynamic Nature of Visual Thinking,” an exhibition of the 19th-century Japanese master’s color woodblock prints. Through March 14.

North Common Arts, Chelsea. Assemblages by Corinth artist Chris Groschner. Through March 14.

Philip Read Memorial Library, Plainfield. “It’s A Seasonal Thing,” mixed-media and fiber art by Cindy Heath. Through April.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. Hand-carved wooden bowls by Ria Blaas and jewelry by gallery owner Stacy Hopkins.

Sculpture Fest, Woodstock. Contemporary sculpture in the fields at the Prosper Road home of Charlet and Peter Davenport.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. “Plate • Print • Process,” a show of prints and plates by the nonprofit studio’s artist-members of opens with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. and runs through Feb. 29.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. “White River Then and Now,” work by Gail Barton, Sue Rump, Keith Burnor, Ann and Johnathan Rose and Carla Kimball. Through March 28.

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

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