Art Notes: Student Crafts a Portrait to Help a Friend

  • Oxbow High School student Claire Cook poses for a portrait at her home on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 in Bradford, Vt. Cook has a piece in the AVA Gallery student show, of an 11-year-old boy she met while traveling in the Dominican Republic. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oxbow High School senior Claire Cook’s piece “Jhonathan” hangs at AVA Gallery student show on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 in West Lebanon, N.H. Cook won an honorable mention for her piece, which features Jhonathan Almonte, a child Cook met while visiting the Dominican Republic.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2017

One of the works in the 9th Annual High School Art Show now on view at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon is a large portrait by Oxbow High School senior Claire Cook of a young boy staring intently out at the viewer. His look is curious, perhaps a little wary, and weighted by an emotion that’s not easy to read.

The portrait does what a portrait should do: It draws you into the life of someone unknown to you, and asks you to contemplate the nature of that life. And like any artwork, there’s a story behind it.

A year ago, Cook, then a junior, traveled with 15 other Oxbow students, and Oxbow consumer science teacher Wendy Mackenzie to the Dominican Republic, as part of a school program to do community service in the village of Los Cocos de Jacagua, near the city of Santiago.

During their eight-day stay, the students helped paint and put the finishing touches on new houses in the village that were built by Dominicans, as part of a larger grass-roots program led by American Anne Robson-Dice, a friend of Mackenzie’s from their time in the Peace Corps. (Mackenzie will lead a second school group to the Dominican Republic this summer.)

One of the families to receive a new house, replacing the shack in which they lived, were the Almontes, who have five children, the oldest of whom, Jhonathan, 11, has epilepsy. Jhonathan Almonte is unable to attend school because his family cannot afford the medication that would treat the disease.

“You could tell it definitely had done a lot of damage to his well-being as soon as you saw him,” Cook said in a telephone interview.

Although her stay there was brief, Cook saw that Jhonathon had bad days, when he was unable to get up and walk around, and better days, when he could navigate on his own.

Last fall, Cook, who has been making art since she was a child, decided she wanted to do a portrait of Jhonathan as an independent project in her Oxbow art class, taught by Hannah Calley. Working from a photograph of Jhonathan, Cook did the portrait primarily in pencil, with a charcoal background and some watercolor pencils for his eyes.

It then occurred to her that perhaps she could use the portrait to help the Almonte family buy their son the medication he needs.

Cook’s finely detailed portrait is now for sale for $350, in AVA’s high school art show.

It’s the second year that Cook has had a work in the show, and it is one of 11 works by Oxbow students that Calley submitted to the show, which features work in a range of media from students at 16 other Vermont and New Hampshire schools.

The combination of Cook’s finesse and skill in drawing the portrait, and the sensitivity with which she was able to depict something essential in Almonte’s character, Calley said, made it a clear choice for inclusion in the high school art show. It has earned Cook an honorable mention from judge Roger Goldenberg.

What really struck Cook about Almonte was the expression on his face. “You could tell he was trying to figure you out. I wanted to depict it so that he was staring into whoever was looking at him.”

The gallery takes a 40 percent fee on each work sold, and the remaining 60 percent goes to the artist.

In Cook’s case, she will donate that 60 percent to the Almonte family, and, she said, her family will make up the 40 percent so that the entire $350 goes to the Almontes to help buy the medication Jhonathan needs. (Mackenzie said that another student raised $170 through a school bake sale, which also went to the family.)

Using Robson-Dice as an intermediary, Cook sent a message asking the family whether it was appropriate for her to donate the proceeds from the sale to them for medication for their son. They indicated that they would be pleased to accept it.

“In the grand scheme of things the proceeds aren’t that huge and may not make a huge difference, but when we get hung up on making huge differences nothing ever gets done,” Cook said. “I hope this helps them in some way, even if it’s small.”

The 9th Annual High School Art Show continues at AVA Gallery and Art Center through March 10.

Of Note

Scavenger Gallery continues its open studio week in Hartland through Saturday. Hours are 2 to 7 p.m. daily. Scavenger’s White River Junction space is closed through March 10.


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.

Baker-Berry Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover. “Tibetan and Himalayan Lifeworlds” runs 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 Saturday.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “Story Lines,” which features work by Ed Koren, Randolph cartoonist Phil Godenschwager, Burlington’s Alison Bechdel and other faculty and artists from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction is on view through March 11.

Center for the Arts, New London. The center shows work by Penny Koburger at the New London Inn, and 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.

Hanover League Fine Craft Gallery. An exhibition of new jewelry by Upper Valley artists Amanda Cloud, Brenna Colt, Susan Gallagher, Maria Gross, Rosemary Orgren, Matteo Sadaat, Elizabeth Schwartz and Sandra Seymour continues through Tuesday.

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.

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 April 6 through May.

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

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 Friday at the Osher office at 7 Lebanon St., in Hanover.

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 sculpturefest.org.

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.

White River Gallery at BALE, South Royalton. “Expansions,” a show of acrylic paintings by artist and illustrator Jasper Tomkins, runs through April 30.

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