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Art Notes: Former Student Shows His Work in Newport

  • Kent Stetson's show "The Art of Handbags" will be on display at the Library Arts Center in Newport, N.H., from February 10 until March 24, 2017. An opening reception is to be held on Thursday, February 9, from 5-7 p.m. (Myke Yeager photograph)

  • Kent Stetson's show "The Art of Handbags" will be on display at the Library Arts Center in Newport, N.H., from February 10 until March 24, 2017. An opening reception is to be held on Thursday, February 9, from 5-7 p.m. (Myke Yeager photograph)

  • Kent Stetson's show "The Art of Handbags" will be on display at the Library Arts Center in Newport, N.H., from February 10 until March 24, 2017. An opening reception is to be held on Thursday, February 9, from 5-7 p.m. (Damian Zed Meneghini photograph)

  • Kent Stetson's show "The Art of Handbags" will be on display at the Library Arts Center in Newport, N.H., from February 10 until March 24, 2017. An opening reception is to be held on Thursday, February 9, from 5-7 p.m. (Ian Travis Barnard photograph)

  • "Climb" is part of Kent Stetson's show "The Art of Handbags" on display at the Library Arts Center in Newport, N.H., from February 10 until March 24, 2017. An opening reception is to be held on Thursday, February 9, from 5-7 p.m. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/9/2017 12:05:20 AM
Modified: 2/9/2017 2:53:53 PM

The cliché about small towns is that they breed small minds, or, alternately, that if you have any talent at all you get out as soon as you can and head to the big city, never to return. And, if asked, you downplay your origins.

But, for designer Kent Stetson, who grew up in Lempster, N.H., and now lives in Providence, R.I., a rural childhood and public school education helped pave the way toward his career in fashion.

Spurred by myriad artistic influences, Stetson creates glittery, boldly designed handbags and clutches that are decorated with a variety of motifs.

His clutches sport such images as stiletto heels, pizza slices, tennis rackets, a crossword puzzle pattern, piano keys and the word “kvetch,” among others.

The larger leather tote bags might sport a 1960s hippie fringe, houndstooth or a red and black spatter pattern. And there are handbags that look like more traditionally elegant briefcases.

Call them wearable art, with a sense of wit.

A six-week exhibition, “Kent Stetson: The Art of Handbags” opens Friday at the Library Arts Center (LAC) in Newport with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m.

The show, which ends on March 24, also marks the beginning of a year-long commemoration of the Center’s 50th anniversary.

Stetson will give gallery talks Friday at 11 a.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and on Thursday, March 23 at 6 p.m. He is also going to speak to art classes in the Newport schools, said Kate Luppold, director of the LAC.

About a year ago Stetson and Luppold had a conversation about showing his work. When a slot became available, Luppold contacted Stetson.

“I felt very honored and I thought it was appropriate to commemorate this anniversary as someone who benefited from the programming at the Library Arts Center,” Stetson said in a telephone interview from New York City, where he was on business. As a child he took art classes at LAC.

The exhibition features larger-scale, sculptural installations that incorporate Stetson’s bags and large-scale photographs from editorial campaigns featuring the bags.

He does not hesitate to credit part of his success as a designer to where he grew up, and to his education in the Newport school system. He graduated from Newport High School in 1997.

“There are lots of artists and really interesting people who are living there and making all kinds of art. I feel very fortunate to have been raised there and I think what I am doing now is not just attributed to my family, but to that community,” Stetson said.

Stetson didn’t come into the fashion world in any predictable way. Stetson’s father is a welder and blacksmith and his mother, who looked after horses, cut, stitched and made her own tack. Watching his parents engaged in work that was practical, but also involved a high level of skill and craft, showed Stetson that there was pleasure and honor in making durable things that, in their own way, were beautiful.

And the art classes he took in high school, offered by art teachers Kathy Bott and Diane Driscoll, gave him the “vocabulary for understanding the history of art,” Stetson said.

After graduating from high school Stetson went to Brown University in Providence, where he’d intended to go on a pre-med track, although he also studied philosophy and art. Combining art and science felt intuitively logical to him, Stetson said.

“Your imagination provides a springboard for ideas, and the scientific method where you have a theory and you test that theory, lends itself to the creative process as well,” he added.

By his senior year, he was making two-dimensional art that combined collage, paint and computer and printing technology, and thought of himself as a multi-media artist. But when a solo exhibition in 2003 didn’t get the reception he’d envisioned, he cut the art out of the frames and turned them into small handbags instead.

Stetson makes bags for the high-end market and has sold them to such celebrities as Olympic figure skaters Michelle Kwan and Johnny Weir, tennis great Martina Navratilova and actors and people in the fashion world. He employs three full-time workers, two part-time workers and an intern in his studio in Pawtucket, which borders Providence.

The show at LAC isn’t really a large-scale commercial for Stetson’s bags, but more a reminder that art makes its way into myriad aspects of our lives, even if we don’t always notice it, Luppold said.

“He really thought about light and shadow and transforming the space into a different place. It fills the gallery in a very different way. It’s very refreshing,” she said.

“This show is one way that I try to tell stories through and around handbags. My hope for the show is that people can walk away knowing that art can happen in very unexpected places,” Stetson said.

“Kent Stetson: The Art of Handbags” runs through March 24 at the Library Arts Center in Newport.

Openings and Receptions

The Hanover League Fine Craft Gallery will host a reception Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. at its shop on Lebanon Street in Hanover for an exhibition of new jewelry. Participating Upper Valley artists are: Amanda Cloud, Brenna Colt, Susan Gallagher, Maria Gross, Rosemary Orgren, Matteo Sadaat, Elizabeth Schwartz and Sandra Seymour. The show runs through Feb. 28.

Of Note

The Chandler Gallery, located in the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph, presents a conversation Saturday at 11 a.m. with Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) President Michelle Ollie and New Yorker cartoonist, and Brookfield, Vt. resident, Ed Koren, as part of its show “Story Lines,” which features work by Koren, Randolph cartoonist Phil Godenschwager, Burlington’s Alison Bechdel and other faculty and artists from the White River Junction cartooning school. The exhibition is on view through March 11.


Aging Resource Center, Lebanon. The Senior Art program exhibition is on view through mid-March. Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media, including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.

ArtisTree, Pomfret. A show of work made daily over the course of a year by local artists concludes Saturday.

Baker-Berry Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover. “Tibetan and Himalayan Lifeworlds” continues through March 31 in Dartmouth College’s Baker-Berry Library.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. “Figuration,” which features the works of Lucy Mink Covello, Mark Goodwin and Fulvio Testa, runs through Feb. 25.

Center for the Arts, New London. The Center for the Arts has organized a show of work by Penny Koburger at the New London Inn, and a show of pastels and oils by Gwen Nagel at the Lake Sunapee Bank on Main Street. In celebration of Youth Art Month, work by students from New London Elementary School is also view at the Whipple Gallery in New London. All three shows end April 29.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Gillian Tyler: A Golden Anniversary Retrospective” is up in the Betty Grant Gallery through March.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. The winter exhibitions include stained glass by Kathleen Curwen; wildlife paintings by Bradley Jackson; watercolors by Kathleen Fiske; a selection of work from the Vermont Watercolor Society; photographs by Seth Goodwin; pen and ink drawings by David Cooper; and photographs by Ruth Connor, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Geisel School of Medicine, who spent time in Western Kenya documenting the work done by I-Kodi, a grassroots non-governmental organization dedicated to improving education and healthcare in the region. Through March.

Hood Downtown, Hanover. “Let the Garden Eram Flourish,” a show of painting, video and drawings by Iranian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Bahar Behbahani, continues through March 12.

Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, Hanover. The Jaffe-Friede Gallery at the Hopkins Center shows an installation by artist-in-residence Zilvinas Kempinas through March 5.

Kilton Library, West Lebanon. A selection of work from the Hanover Street School and the Mount Lebanon Elementary School will be exhibited at the library: Hanover Street students show their art through March 22; Mount Lebanon students’ work will be on view from April 6 through May.

Long River Gallery and Gifts, Lyme. The works of Hanover fiber artist Shari Boraz and silversmith and jeweler Case Hathaway-Zepeda continue through March 5.

“As If — Weavings From Oz,” by Henniker, N.H., artist Doug Masury continues at the Long River store in White River Junction.

Osher at Dartmouth, Hanover. The photographs of Mary Gerakaris are exhibited in “Reality to Abstraction — A Photographic Journey of Perception” through Feb. 24 at the Osher office at 7 Lebanon St., in Hanover.

Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. A show of work by 20th-century commercial artist Louis Chap is up through Feb. 18.

SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual celebration of three-dimensional art generally ends when foliage season does, but 80 percent of the show is still on view. “Grounding,” a show of site-specific work curated by sculptors Jay Mead and Edythe Wright, is on view at the King Farm. For more information, go to

Tunbridge Public Library. “Two Perspectives of Rural Vermont,” a show of multi-media collages by South Strafford artist Jeanne McMahan, and pen and ink drawings by Peter Neri, of Sharon, runs through March 26

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. An exhibition of prints by Sheri Tomek runs through March 31.

Norman Williams Public Library, Woodstock. “In Living Color,” a show of work by painter Patsy Highberg, ends Monday.

White River Gallery at BALE, South Royalton. The Audubon Photography Awards Traveling Exhibit ends today.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. A show of paintings by West Lebanon resident Mary Jane Morse has been extended through Feb. 18.

Nicola Smith can be reached at

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