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Art Notes: Friends and Family Mount a Show for Plainfield Painter

  • The barn in Brenda Phillips' home in Plainfield, N.H., is being readied on Oct. 21, 2017, for an exhibition of her work. (Medora Hebert photograph)

  • Alison Moynihan sorts through her mother Brenda Phillips' many paintings while preparing for an opening of her work at the family's barn in Plainfield, N.H., on Oct. 21, 2017. (Medora Hebert photograph)

  • A detail of one of the many paintings that are part of Brenda Phillips' retrospetive show in Plainfield, N.H., on Oct. 21, 2017. (Medora Hebert photograph)

  • Brenda Phillips and her husband Ted Moynihan on their porch in Plainfield, N.H., on Oct. 21, 2017, with their dog Dixie. (Medora Hebert photograph)

  • Jim and Rachel Jordan, of Hanover, N.H., help hang Brenda Phillips work in her Plainfield, N.H., barn while preparing for a show on her work on Oct. 21, 2017. (Medora Hebert photograph)

  • The show of Brenda Phillips' paintings is being prepared in their barn in Plainfield, N.H., on Oct. 21, 2017. (Medora Hebert photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/26/2017 12:05:01 AM
Modified: 10/26/2017 10:52:26 AM

Over the past three decades the artist Brenda Phillips has painted hundreds of glowing, vibrant canvases of mythic figures, birds, magicians, women, rivers and mountains that are reminiscent of the dreamscapes of Marc Chagall.

The paintings are refuges from a very difficult childhood, said Phillips’ husband Ted Moynihan, who speaks for Phillips now that she cannot.

In 2005, Phillips, now 60, was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease which Moynihan describes as an early onset Parkinsonian dementia. It has robbed her, for the most part, of her speech and she is not able to paint anymore with ease. But Phillips is still there inside, said her daughter, Ali Moynihan. (The Moynihans also have two sons.)

The Moynihans have arranged a large art show and sale of Phillips’ work which will go on view Saturday in the barn on the property on River Road in Plainfield where husband and wife live. Titled “Memory in Oil and Canvas: a Retrospective,” the show opens at 2 p.m.

While her friends and family were putting up paintings this past weekend, Phillips walked around the barn looking curiously at what was going where, and smiling and listening to her friends and family. Asked if she were pleased to re-encounter paintings she hadn’t seen in a while, she said, slowly, eyes bright, “Yes.”

Phillips grew up in Tampa, Fla. and endured, Moynihan said, a painful and abusive childhood before she escaped to college, at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts. Her family on her mother’s side seemed to pass, from mothers to daughters, the same early onset dementia that Phillips now has; the family called it the “Curse of the Burbages,” after an ancestor in South Carolina whose wife died at a younger age, apparently from some form of dementia. Moynihan, a Dartmouth College graduate, met his future wife while they were both in college; they were married in 1985.

After a post-college stint in the Bay Area, they returned to New England. Phillips worked as a technical writer at Creare, the engineering services company in Lebanon, and was also a board member at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon. For many years she was part of a painting group, which still meets and which, Moynihan said, asked how they could help pull together the exhibition of Phillips’ work.

“A nucleus of energy made this possible,” Moynihan said.

Her friend Rachel Jordan, who was part of the group, was always struck by “the consistency of (Phillips’) vision. She always seemed to know what she wanted to do. You’re always searching for something as an artist, but she wasn’t searching, it just came out.”

After her diagnosis, Phillips began to memorize poetry by William Butler Yeats, to show that she could, and to paint scenes inspired by his poems, some of which are in the exhibition.

“I’ve never seen anyone fight so hard to hold onto her memories,” Jordan said.

Many of the paintings show a woman who looks like Phillips on a long road leading into the distance, often with houses nearby. These are safe houses, which was a continuous and important theme in her work, Moynihan said. After achieving a reconciliation with her parents before they died,  Phillips’ paintings became even bigger and more exuberant, as if the canvases could barely contain her elation. She also made multi-media works combining collage and painting, with images drawn from popular culture.

Her studio in the barn has not changed even though Phillips has not been able to paint. On one wall Phillips pinned a statement articulating why she wanted to make art:

“I find the process of making beautiful images is a powerful, joyful technique for bringing revelation into my life. This revelation can sometimes feel like a message of universal truth and at other times it is more a conversation with hidden portions of my own self.”

Outside the sky was a crystalline blue and light slanted through the trees and off the Connecticut River, which was low and dry. Phillips sat on a bench on a porch leading up to the house’s interior, with her old dog Dixie, a Labrador with a graying muzzle, at her feet. Basking in the sun, Phillips smiled while her husband and daughter, and friends, came and went with canvases in their hands.

There will be an opening reception for “Memory in Oil and Canvas: a Retrospective” Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m. The show will also be open Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. From Monday through Thursday, Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, hours are by appointment only. The show concludes with public hours on Friday, Nov. 3, from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 4, from 1 to 5 p.m.  The address is: 449 River Road, Plainfield. Contact Ted Moynihan at ted.moynihan@hotmail.com.

Ongoing

AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon. “Doors and Windows: Open and Closed,” a juried exhibition featuring 16 works by 16 New England artists. Rebecca Lawrence, former director of the New Hampshire State Arts Council, selected the show from 126 works submitted by 74 artists. The featured artists are: Charlet Davenport, Stephanie Gordon, Nira Granott Fox, Chris Groschner, Medora Hebert, William B. Hoyt, Carol Lake, Margaret Lampe Kannenstine, Travis Paige, Rebecca Rolke, Adele Sanborn, Helen Shulman, Stefania Urist, Janet Van Fleet, Jeffrey Wallace and Susan Wilson.

Also at AVA: “Every So Often,” paintings by Mary Hart, a Portland, Maine, artist who graduated from Dartmouth College and whose work has been exhibited at the Portland Museum of Art and the University of Maine Art Museum. Another Portland artist, Vivien Russe, shows abstract work in “Lumen.”

Norwich artist Robyn Whitney Fairclough rounds out the AVA exhibitions with her “Recent Works,” featuring floral paintings that demonstrate her mastery of color. She will give a gallery talk next Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

All of the shows at AVA run through Nov. 10.

Barrette Center for the Arts, White River Junction. “Opening Doors to the Heart, Mind and Imagination,” a show of work by Elizabeth D’Amico and Rich Gombar, continues through Nov. 3.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. The wood sculptures of Hugh Townley are on view through Dec. 2.

Center for the Arts, New London. Three exhibitions are on view in micro-galleries throughout town: “Kearsarge and Beyond,” a collection of photographs by New London resident Larry Harper, are on view at the Lake Sunapee Bank in New London. Enfield artist Amy Fortier exhibits “Faux-Zaic Designs” in the micro-gallery at Whipple Hall. Maria Blanck, a part-time resident of New London, and Yvonne Shukovsky, of Springfield, N.H., show their work in the exhibition “Potpourri” in the lobby of the New London Inn. The exhibitions end Saturday.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “From Green to Fall: Celebrating Creativity in Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery,” an exhibition of work by local artists concerned with issues of mental health, runs through Nov. 5.

Chelsea Public Library. “In The Garden,” a show of watercolor and mixed-media paintings by part-time Corinth resident Megan Murphy, runs through Monday.

Chew & Co. Design, Hanover. The water photographs of Rockland, Maine, resident Joan Wright are on view through November.

Cider Hill Gardens and Gallery, Windsor. “Converging Viewpoints,” a show of work by Gary Milek and Charlie Shurcliff, ends Saturday. Also on view at the gallery and gardens are sculpture, painting and installations by Steven Proctor, Herb Ferris, Gary Haven Smith and the Mythmakers.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Landscapes: Lyme and Tuscany,” an exhibition of work by Greg Gorman in the Betty Grant Gallery, runs through Dec. 29. Gorman will donate 10 percent of his art sales to the Friends of Lyme Library.

Aidron Duckworth Museum, Meriden. The museum exhibits the sculpture of Ernest Montenegro in “flatmensquared”; “Pride of Plainfield,” a community exhibition celebrating the town’s agricultural richness through photographs, articles and audio; and “Everything Underlying: Work from the DNA and Evolve Series Massachusetts,” an exhibit of paintings and assemblages by Massachusetts artist Tracy Spadafora. All three shows end Sunday.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. East Randolph artist Marcia Hammond exhibits oil portraits through Jan. 31.

Library Arts Center, Newport. “Fall Into Quilts: an exhibit by the Soo-Nipi Quilters Guild” ends today.

Long River Gallery and Gifts, White River Junction. “The True Beauty of Clay,” a show of sculpture, pottery and jewelry by artist-in-residence Anna Hranovska Vincelette, runs through Tuesday.

Norwich Public Library. An exhibition of photographs by Norwich resident Seth Goodwin, “Spaces and Places: Photographs from Near and Far,” ends Saturday.

Piermont Public Library. “Connecticut River Valley and Beyond: Oil Paintings and Photography by Nancy Griswold” is on display through Nov. 29.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. Canadian sculptor Cal Lane’s show “It Was Never Like This” runs through October.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. The gallery exhibits shadow boxes, assemblages and short films by Thetford resident Richard Fedorchak in addition to the jewelry of Stacy Hopkins.

Tracy Library, New London. Father and daughter Alan Gepfert and Grace G. Cooper exhibit, respectively, their sculpture and landscape paintings through Nov. 3.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Lois Masor Beatty and Maureen O’Connor Burgess show recent work through November.

White River Gallery, South Royalton. The sculptures of John F. Parker are on view through Dec. 31.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. An exhibition of work by members of the Vermont Pastel Society continues through Dec. 27. There will be a reception for the artists on First Friday, Nov. 3, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.




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