Art Notes: AVA Gallery names a leader known for making connections

  • Heidi Reynolds, of Hanover, N.H., is the new director of the AVA Gallery & Art Center in Lebanon, N.H. Reynolds is photographed at the gallery with her two dogs Butter and Sugar on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Heidi Reynolds, of Hanover, N.H., is the new director of the AVA Gallery & Art Center in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2019 4:41:18 PM
Modified: 10/17/2019 10:00:07 PM

Two paths crossed at AVA Gallery and Art Center last winter.

Heidi Reynolds, who was mourning her partner Bob Raiselis, decided to help hang AVA’s annual Upper Valley high school exhibition. Raiselis had died unexpectedly on Dec. 30. Helping out at AVA would get her out of the house, Reynolds said.

That was in February, which was when Paul “Trip” Anderson, who had served as executive director for nearly two and a half years, parted ways with AVA. The nonprofit art center in Lebanon had changed too much, too quickly after the November 2016 retirement of longtime leader Bente Torjusen, and AVA was facing a rare budget deficit.

Since then, while a committee searched for a new leader, Reynolds found a home at AVA, serving as exhibition assistant, then as the interim exhibition manager after Mila Pinigin left for graduate school, then as the permanent exhibition manager in mid-July. The search was supposed to be over by mid-August, but some of the candidates withdrew, causing the committee to reopen its search. It was then, at the encouragement of friends and former colleagues, that Reynolds decided to apply.

AVA announced earlier this week that Reynolds will be its next executive director. She takes the reins at AVA on Nov. 1, and the art center will hold a welcome reception for her from 5:30 to 7 on the evening of Nov. 8. For several weeks, Reynolds, 48, will have the opportunity to learn the job from Torjusen, who led AVA for three decades.

“It’s an overwhelming job,” Reynolds said during a conversation in the galleries on Tuesday morning. But she cited AVA’s “amazing team,” and said she expects to be involved in AVA’s work down to the fine details, much as Torjusen was.

“I’m that type of person,” Reynolds said. “I like talking about the big picture, but I’m a doer.”

Like Reynolds, Torjusen was in her 40s when she became AVA’s executive director. She led the organization, which had been founded in a barn in Norwich as the Alliance for the Visual Arts, to rented space in Hanover, then to the former H.W. Carter and Sons clothing factory in Lebanon in 1990. AVA now owns that building, which has been renovated and is now accompanied by a sculptural studies building named after Torjusen.

Leading the present- day AVA calls for a wide range of skills. The search committee identified four essential traits, said Andrew Garthwaite, chairman of AVA’s board of trustees and a member of the search committee: a passion for art, an ability to make connections, administrative skills and experience managing and developing budgets. The connections might be the most crucial, Garthwaite said. “AVA does so many things,” he said, from operating galleries to teaching classes to working with social service agencies. “The capacity to look across those different categories and to knit them together” was a key trait the board was looking for in a leader.

“Right from the beginning, you could see that she had this ability to connect with people,” Garthwaite said. She was chosen from a field of 36 candidates, most from New England, but some from as far away as California and South Carolina. “In the end, our strongest candidates were from within an hour radius,” Garthwaite said.

Reynolds came to AVA with experience both in art and nonprofits. Born in Minnesota, Reynolds attended high school in the Milwaukee suburbs before studying photography at Columbia College in Chicago. While living in Chicago, she worked at the Four Seasons hotel, where she met her husband, James Reynolds, an investment advisor. They lived in Houston, then in San Francisco before moving to Hanover 11 years ago to raise their daughter, Maia. They were divorced in 2016.

Before moving to Hanover, Reynolds volunteered at nonprofits, including serving on the board of Fotofest, a portfolio review event for photographers, in Houston. Then she worked at the Montshire Museum of Science, in Norwich, from April 2016 to June 2017, managing volunteers and coordinating development events. After that, she worked in development at Northern Stage, where she coordinated visual art exhibitions and managed corporate sponsorships.

It was at the Montshire that she met Raiselis, the museum’s longtime director of exhibits. They were together for two and a half years. He was planning to retire in March and Reynolds’ daughter would be heading to college, at Sarah Lawrence. They planned to travel together and Reynolds intended to turn back to photography. Raiselis died of an aneurysm on Dec. 30.

“One minute he was there, the next he was gone,” she said. Raiselis, it turned out, had terminal cancer, and his sudden death spared him a long, slow decline. “It was a good ending for him. We had just a wonderful time.”

When she saw the opening for an exhibition assistant at AVA last winter, “I said, ‘Well, that’s something I can do,’ ” she said. “It was, for me, a lifeline, to help me just not wallow in depression.”

She hadn’t considered herself a candidate for the executive director job, but others had.

“When I found out that AVA hadn’t hired a new executive director yet … I said, ‘Why aren’t you applying?’ ” said Eric Bunge, who was managing director at Northern Stage when Reynolds worked there. He and others encouraged her to apply. “I thought she was qualified to put her hat in the ring,” Bunge said, citing her strong relationships in the community as a particular strength.

In the longer term, she has found a substantial challenge. AVA grew in staffing and in spending under Anderson, but it didn’t have the revenue to support that growth. It seems likely that AVA will need to hire more staff, in development and marketing, but first will need to raise the money to support those hires, Reynolds said.

She also is likely to be a more visible leader. “We can’t survive if we don’t get the word out about what we’re doing,” she said.

Torjusen, who was 43 when she became AVA’s executive director, sees something of her herself in Reynolds: “We are both a little bit workaholics.” Reynolds herself called the AVA post a “100-hour-a-week job.”

“I just think this is very auspicious,” Torjusen said of Reynolds’ hiring.

Reynolds and the board will begin to discuss AVA’s next steps and form a new strategic plan, Garthwaite said. At the forefront are how to integrate the sculptural studies building into the rest of the facility and how to strengthen AVA’s role in the community.

Reynolds will have to hire a new exhibition manager, and AVA will soon open a new members gallery, which will enable the organization’s artist members to show work less formally than in the main galleries, which are planned out two years in advance.

In the meantime, she plans to draw on Torjusen’s experience. On Monday, Torjusen is due to receive the Distinguished Arts Leadership Award from Gov. Chris Sununu.

“She’s always going to be a part of AVA,” Reynolds said.

On Friday, AVA opens “Remembering Aya,” a retrospective of work by longtime AVA artist Aya Itagaki, with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. At 6 p.m., Ray Chin will demonstrate kyudo, an ancient form of Japanese archery. He also will conduct a daylong workshop for older teens and adults on Saturday.

Also on view at AVA: “Borders of Consciousness: Dreaming in Color,” work in fiber and mixed media Shari Wolf Boraz, of Lebanon, and color photographs by Mary Gerakaris, of Canaan. They will give a gallery talk at 5 p.m. on Saturday. “Compost Compositions,” photographs by Evelyn Swett, of Hanover. Swett will facilitate a talk with Marc Morgan, Lebanon’s solid waste manager, at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and will give a talk about her work at 5 p.m. on Nov. 1; “Martha Stein: A 40-Year Retrospective.” Stein, of Windsor, works in fiber and other materials. She will talk about her work at 5 p.m. on Oct. 25, and her daughter Leah Stein will lead her dance company into AVA on Nov. 2 to perform a work choreographed for the exhibition.

Openings and receptions

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Arts Program opens its fall exhibitions with a reception at 5 p.m., Thursday at the DHMC Level 4 Lounge and a self-guided art walk. The artists include photographer Karen Bobotas, painters Jan Fowler, Amy Hook-Therrien and Ann Young, pastelist Phyllis Orem, textiles by Delsie Hoyt, the Saxtons River Art Guild and Hartford High School Art Students.


Aidron Duckworth Art Museum, Meriden. “Guest Artist Grand Salon,” featuring works by the nearly 60 guest artists who have shown work at the museum over the years, and “Exhibition XXXIV - The Multitudes Contained,” the museum’s final exhibition of Aidron Duckworth paintings and drawings, are on view through Oct. 27, when the museum is slated to close for good.

Center for the Arts, New London. Paintings by Penny Koburger, Ludmila Gayvoronsky and Marianne Stillwagon hang at Bar Harbor Bank and Trust, New London Inn and Blue Loon Bakery, respectively. Through October.

Chelsea Public Library. “Cats, Landscapes and Figures,” mixed media prints by Deborah Sacks. A reception is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 25. Through October.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “An Archive of Feeling,” a group show curated by J. Turk. Through Nov. 3.

Cider Hill Gardens and Gallery, Windsor. Outdoor sculpture by William Ballantyne and paintings in egg tempera and gold leaf by gallery co-owner Gary Milek.

Betty Grant Gallery, Converse Free Library, Lyme. hosts “Serendipity,” street photography by Hanover resident Jim Lustenader. Through Dec. 30.

The Great Hall, Springfield, Vt. “Alchemy: Metal, Mystery & Magic,” features work by Jeanne Carbonetti, Sabrina Fadial, Alexandra Heller, Peter Heller, Pat Musick, Dan O’Donnell, Gerald Stoner and Johnny Swing. and is on view into February.

Hall Art Foundation, in Reading, Vt. Shows include “Made in Vermont,” works by Vermont artists; exhibitions by Richard Artschwager and the super-realist artist Malcolm Morley. On the grounds: “English Sculptors in New England.” Admission is $10, except on the first Friday of the month, when it’s free.

Kendal at Hanover. “Virginia Rice Kelsey: A 64-Year Retrospective” is in the first floor gallery space at Kendal. Through Oct. 31.

Ledyard Gallery, Howe Library, Hanover. “Watercolor Journal: A work in progress,” paintings by Elizabeth Greene. Through Dec. 4.

Library Arts Center, Newport. The Soo Nipi Quilters Guild exhibits around 70 quilts, including three by the late Marie Bugbee, the show’s featured artist.

Long River Gallery, White River Junction. “Feathers, Ferns and Fish,” prints by Coleen O’Connell and “tattooed” guitars by Weathersfield artist Jenna Rice. Through December.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Woodstock. “Creating an American Landscape,” a show of eight of Carleton Watkins’ Yosemite photographs, reproduced from originals in the Billings Family Archives. Through Oct. 31.

North Common Arts, Chelsea. “Hanging Around,” figures made of found materials by Barre, Vt., artist Janet Van Fleet. Through Nov. 9

Piermont Library. “Faces of Piermont,” photographs by Mel Gitchel.

Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, Cornish. “On View in Cornish: American Art at the Picture Gallery, 1948–2019” looks back at all of the exhibitions sponsored by the Saint-Gaudens Memorial and features work by Maxfield Parrish, Marguerite Zorach, Paul Sample, Varujan Boghosian, Ben Frank Moss and Shona Macdonald. Through Oct. 31.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. Fall foliage paintings by Claremont artists Sue Lawrence and Andrew Williams. Through October.

Sculpture Fest, Woodstock. Contemporary sculpture in outdoor settings at the Prosper Road home of Charlet and Peter Davenport, at the nearby King Farm, and at the Woodstock History Center, which hosts “Vermont Carvers & Sculptors Exhibition,” work by 15 Vermont sculptors. Both the King Farm and History Center shows are open through the end of October. The work at the Davenports’ is on view year-round.

Tunbridge Public Library. “Colors in Life,” paintings by members of the Connecticut River Chapter of the Vermont Watercolor Society. Through Nov. 10.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. “Through the Curve,” recent prints by Hartland artist Rachel Gross. Through Oct. 28.

White River Gallery, South Royalton. “Breathe the Wind,” paintings by Kate Emlen. Through Dec. 20.

Zollikofer Gallery, White River Junction. Pastels by Diane Taylor-Moore and watercolor and oil paintings by Cathy Finnegan. Through Dec. 30

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

Correction: Evelyn Swett will facilitate a talk  with Marc Morgan, Lebanon's solid waste manager, at 5 p.m. Tuesday at AVA Gallery and Art Center, in conjunction with her show of photographs of compost. Swett will talk about her work in the gallery at 5 p.m. on Nov. 1. Swett's first name and the dates of the talks were incorrect in a previous version of this column.

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