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Exhibit shows work of late Cornish artist

  • Richard Gombar and intern Phoebe Singer install a show by the late Charles A. Platt at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, N.H. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

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    "The Hired Man," an early work by the late Charles A. Platt, is on view in "Charles A. Platt: Commemorative Retrospective," at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon. Platt's grandfather, also Charles A. Platt, was a member of the Cornish Colony and the Platt family still lives in the home he designed in Cornish. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

  • A section of canvas by the late Charles A. Platt. His work is on display at AVA Gallery and 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 valley news — Jennifer Hauck (top) and courtesy image

  • The late Charles Platt in an undated photograph posted on his website. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2020 9:42:12 PM
Modified: 10/22/2020 9:42:02 PM

LEBANON — When he was a high school student, Charles A. Platt knew he was going to be an architect and an artist, so certain that on the eve of a final history test he stayed up all night painting, his daughter Virginia Platt said in an interview. He failed his exam and never graduated high school.

Not that it mattered. Platt did become an architect, like his father and grandfather before him. And he became an artist, though not in quite the same way as he might have envisioned when he stayed up painting all night.

Architects construct things, his daughter Sylvia Platt, who was visiting Cornish from Washington state, said in an interview. “His artwork was all about deconstruction.”

The grandson of the celebrated architect, artist, garden designer and Cornish Colony member Charles A. Platt, and son of architect William Platt, Charlie, as he was known to friends and family, maintained a singular artistic practice during his adult life, combining and recombining everyday materials in collages that mix aspects of Platt’s life and experience with his urban surroundings. A generous helping of that work is on display at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon.

Platt had been looking forward to seeing the public’s response to his work, but he died Aug. 18 at the age of 88.

His artistic breakthrough was a humble one. He left a canvas at the family’s home in Cornish, while some construction or renovation work was being done. When the family returned, a pair of overalls was draped over the canvas. Platt was struck by it and pulled the overalls apart and affixed them to the canvas.

“He just loved that,” Virginia Platt, a St. Johnsbury resident, said. That was in 1959, and the piece, titled The Hired Man, is on view in the AVA show. It is perhaps the most fitting piece of art ever displayed at the former H.W. Carter and Sons factory, which manufactured overalls and other work clothes.

For the rest of his life, Platt worked in his grandfather’s studio at the house in Cornish, and in a studio he shared with his wife, Joan, a ceramicist, at Sneden’s Landing, which is on the Hudson River a few miles north of Manhattan.

While most artists will work with an idea for a period of months or years and make a series of related works, Platt pursued a consistent line of inquiry throughout his life.

“He had a vision and he stuck to it,” Sylvia Platt said. “He pretty much knew what he believed and what he wanted in his life.”

He gathered items that had family or personal significance, pieces of fabric that caught his eye and other more humble objects — shoes, wire coat hangers, eyeglasses, pieces of a yardstick, umbrellas, a corner of a New Hampshire license plate, bits of furniture, newspaper clippings, pieces of old 78 rpm records, fragments of riflery targets, gloves and other pieces of clothing, not all of them mentionable.

One piece at AVA contains both a headline from The New York Times (the inside or “jump hed,” as it’s known in the trade) that reads “After Half a Century, Japan Is Confronting a Gruesome Wartime Atrocity,” and the artist’s own dog tags from his Army service in the mid-1950s in a counterintelligence unit in Germany.

Platt had been drafted after graduating from Harvard, then went back to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design on the GI Bill. He was a founding partner of Platt Byard Dovell White Architects in New York.

For most of his life, he made art only on the weekends, particularly in the summer, but over the past 20 years he took Wednesday afternoons off and went to the studio, Virginia Platt said.

While the finished collages can seem like informal assemblages, Platt rigorously planned them, as he would have with a building he was designing, or with his vegetable garden, which was laid out in straight rows. He used materials he could pin things to, starting with Homasote, a thin, soft board that was prone to warping, and later a form of thicker, rigid foam insulation.

“He most of the time worked from a sketch,” Virginia Platt said. Some pieces were inspired by photographs or paintings he’d seen, but he wasn’t particularly influenced by an artist or school of artists, his daughters said.

“For the most part, I think he was seeing things out in the world,” Sylvia Platt said. A piece that she holds was inspired by something he saw on the side of Interstate 91 on the way up to Cornish, “just a pile of stuff on the side of the road,” she said.

Working with his jumble of materials, he often would place the larger boards on the floor and delineate the design with pushpins and string, then glue pieces into place. Sylvia Platt called the process “painstaking.”

Much of the work is quite personal. One piece, titled Blood, Bones and Healing Devices, was made after he and his wife were in a bad car accident in 2000. Some of the works at AVA are marked “sold,” even though the show isn’t open yet. How do you sell a piece of art that contains a family treasure?

“I think we’re all just trying to figure that out right now,” Virginia Platt said. His family want to “let it be loved by other people,” but also to keep some of the works that are central to the family story. “We all have different love for it,” she said.

About 45 members of the family still share the house that the first

Charles A. Platt, who is known to family as CAP 1, built after coming to Cornish in 1890, one of about a dozen homes he designed in Cornish and Plainfield.

Known as CAP 2 (though his dog tags say Platt, Charles A II, no one called him Charles A. Platt II), the artist whose work is now on view in Lebanon remained very much involved in Cornish, including as president of the board of the Saint-Gaudens Memorial, the nonprofit group that helped turn the former home of its namesake sculptor into a national historical park and continues to support the park.

This is only the fourth exhibition of his work. His family has set up a website for the exhibition and there’s a virtual opening reception planned for 6 p.m. Friday evening with members of the family.

“He definitely wanted to show it,” Virginia Platt said. “Even six days before he died, he said, ‘I really, really want to show these works.’ ”

“Charles A. Platt: Commemorative Retrospective,” is on view at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon through Nov. 27. The works are available for viewing on AVA’s website and in person. Call 603-448-3117.

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

Valley News

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