Public Art Pitched In White River Jct.

  • A mock-up of work by artists Lacey Carter, center, and Leah Daz, right, is part of a proposed rotating public art project to be displayed on the back of Revolution's building in White River Junction, Vt. (Courtesy Town of Hartford)

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2018

Hartford — White River Junction’s identity as an epicenter for artists is poised to become a little more visible.

Revolution clothing store owner Kim Souza has submitted a proposal to Hartford’s Design Review Committee that would allow for a rotating outdoor art exhibit on the rear exterior wall of her store.

The brick facade abutting a small parking lot near the corner of North Main Street and Currier Street has for years been home to screen-printed portraits of 1950s-era models by artist Dave Laro. This summer and fall, the wall displayed urban landscape images created by artists Charlotte Patterson and Frankie Carino. The latter pair were mounted on 4-foot-by-8-foot plywood and were displayed from early August until about two weeks ago.

Souza, who is working with South Woodstock-based artist Simran Johnston on the project, is requesting that the wall be home to “a rotating project featuring a new artist’s work every couple of months,” according to the application for the proposal. The works would be restricted to the pre-approved placement on the wall and would be created by artists “asked to consider the aesthetics and design of their work in context with the building and surrounding area.”

The project would be the latest artistic development in downtown White River Junction, already home to numerous art studios and galleries as well as the Center for Cartoon Studies.

“White River Junction has really developed into an arts community,” said Souza, a first-term Hartford Selectboard member whose store sells vintage and sustainable clothing. “There are a lot of available blank canvases in the form of these urban surfaces that we have. This is an opportunity to make one of them more attractive.”

The urban landscape pieces were removed two weeks ago by Johnston and the two New York-based artists whose works would be the next to be displayed. Artists Leah Danze, from New York City, and Lacey Carter, of the Empire State’s Hudson River Valley, visited White River Junction in part to draw inspiration from the village’s environment for their upcoming works.

The pair, who received a small stipend for materials from Revolution, chose a theme of warmth during Vermont’s cold wintry months. Both used house paint to create semi-abstract scenes in cozy dining rooms, Danze’s featuring hairless figures with arms wrapped as though embracing something invisible, while Carter’s has signs of life including plants and wall pictures suggesting togetherness. A smaller version of Danze’s painting is contained within Carter’s.

Johnston, 28, became familiar with both artists while previously residing in the New York City area for art school and, later, as an artist’s assistant.

“It was important that (Danze and Carter) were here only a couple weeks ago and not, say, over the summer, because things change in Vermont very quickly,” said Johnston, who recently opened a small gallery in South Woodstock called the Little House Gallery. “The environment can be drastically different even from one week to the next, but it was cold enough here two weeks ago that they were able to get a sense of how long the winters can be here, and the lack of light.

“The idea was to create something in warm, cozy spaces and be inviting without being too literal. With each of them, you’re looking into a dining room, a living space, but it’s not just like, an obvious window into the room. It’s a little more abstract and complicated than that.”

Johnston said public art is one of the purest ways to remove barriers between art and audience.

“A lot of times, art that is accessible and free, in the sense that it’s in a space that’s free to enter, still doesn’t feel accessible because it might be on a big white wall in an institution,” she said. “This type of art, in a truly public space, is very accessible because so many people are going to see it. That makes it kind of tricky because people are going to see it for better or worse. That’s why, as curator, I took the intention of the work seriously.”

Laro’s black-and-white screen prints — first depicting Marilyn Monroe and later Bettie Page — were approved via sign permit, according to Souza.

Only recently has the town begun developing guidelines for public art, Souza said, and she had to get the most recent projects OK’d because they’re to be displayed in a historic district and within a design review zone.

Hartford zoning administrator Jo-Ann Ells said her department would welcome more such applications, and noted the town is seeking grant funding that supports community projects that integrate art with infrastructure.

“We absolutely encourage these types of projects,” Ells said.

Public art has figured in other Upper Valley communities, most notably with a wall sculpture by Ellsworth Kelley that was installed on the facade of the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover in 2012 to highlight Dartmouth’s new “arts district.”

And a Lebanon task force has recommended the creation of a commission to promote public art and the city’s cultural institutions.

While there are no future artists in line to be featured once Danze’s and Carter’s are taken down, Souza said she hopes the space will house works by Upper Valley residents in the future.

“At some point we’d like to put out a call to local artists,” she said.

The Hartford Design Review Committee will meet at 8 a.m. on Thursday at Hartford Town Hall to consider Souza’s application.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.