Art Notes: Hartland Resident Moves From Engineering to an Art Gallery

  • Rachel Obbard, of Hartland, Vt., is the new owner of Long River Gallery in White River Junction, Vt. Obbard was interviewed at the studio on June 6, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rachel Obbard, of Hartland, Vt., is the new owner of Long River Gallery in White River Junction, Vt. On June 6, in the gallery she was spending part of her time writing comments to her students at Thayer School of Engineering. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • "Stubborn Leaves," an encaustic on board by Piermont artist Stephanie Gordon, is part of a show of her work at Long River Gallery in White River Junction. (Courtesy image)

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2018

Two years ago, Rachel Obbard was living out of a tent in western Antarctica, collecting frozen sea cores under a sun that shone 24 hours a day, her hair newly dyed blue.

Two weeks ago, the blue freshly re-dyed, Obbard left her research job and assistant professorship at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering for another adventure, this one considerably closer to home: running a White River Junction art gallery.

Given her engineering background, Obbard might not seem, at first glance, like someone who would have jumped at the chance to buy Long River Gallery and Gifts from its longtime owner, Dave Celone. But she did.

“I’ve been excited to see the recent changes in (White River Junction),” she said, citing new restaurants and business investments, as well as the popularity of the First Fridays downtown. Her husband, Howard Roscoe, has played at a few of these celebrations at Long River as part of the musical duet Meadowlark, which is how Obbard got to know Celone. The Hartland resident said she is “thrilled” at the prospect of contributing to the arts and culture scene downtown.

And anyhow, Obbard sees key similarities between engineering and art: both hinge on materials — their properties, their applications and their possibilities.

“I think materials are so cool, in all their incarnations,” she said during a lull at the shop last Wednesday, in the middle of her first full week at the helm of the business. Obbard is a master of materials, literally; she has a master’s degree in materials science from the University of New Hampshire, and it’s this fascination with structure and function that brought her to the Upper Valley in 2002, to pursue her doctorate at Thayer.

“No material resonated with me as much as sea ice,” she said. “When I look at it, I just see a lot going on.” Opening up an app on her phone, she pulled up an image of a cube of sea-ice with a kind of X-ray filter, which Obbard manipulated to highlight a complex, intertwined network of “brine channels,” formed when the top layer of sea ice expels its salt into lower layers.

“I’m interested in the geometry of it, if you will. We call it topology,” she said, using her thumb to rotate the image of the cube. “How big is the throat size, how it transports gas and liquids between the oceans and the atmosphere.”

But recently, while collaborating on a project with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Library of Congress, she started to think about materials not just as a vehicle through which to learn more about the physical world, but also as a way to eke out our place in it.

“I began to think about materials as cultural artifacts … as cultural heritage,” she said. The project looked at how to repair damage caused by “tide lines,” or the discoloration caused by a chemical reaction between contaminated water and certain surfaces.

“It’s what gets left behind when you put a Coke can on a piece of paper,” she explained, demonstrating with a can of seltzer water. “It really got me thinking about the importance of preserving cultural things.”

Obbard doesn’t have a formal artistic background, but feels passionately about art, in all its forms, she said. Walking through the shop, she spoke about the artists and their work with admiration and fondness.

“I love how he gets texture,” she said, flipping through prints by the Hartland photographer John Lehet. Gesturing to two framed works that hung by her desk, she commented on the Cornish oil and pastel painter Liliana Paradiso’s “evocative” re-imagining of history, such as portraying an interracial playgroup that Obbard said would not have existed during the time period Paradiso was capturing.

Which is all to say that the collaboration with the Met and the Library of Congress wasn’t the first time Obbard had gotten excited about art, though it might have been the first time she took this excitement as indicative of what kind of career she might like. A third-generation engineer, it was difficult to resist being pulled into that orbit. But she was artistic as a child, she said, and throughout her life has loved to build things: gingerbread houses; studio apartments for fairies; nanostructured ball bearings whose titanium carbide and chromium interlayers could withstand space travel; Legos.

And even from an early age, she found a way to monetize the materials that stimulated her imagination: After the moon landing, when she was 7 years old, “I built a thriving cottage industry going around the neighborhood in my little red wagon selling ‘moon rocks,’ ” she recalled, noting with a laugh that the overhead costs were “practically nothing.”

She tapped into this business-minded spirit years later, when she worked in finance as a young adult.

“It was well-paid but, I’ll say it this way, not personally satisfying,” she said. “I felt like my job was just to earn money for the stockholders. Which, I mean, was my job. … The only people who seemed to be having fun were the techies.”

After 10 years earning her living by earning other people’s livings, with half an MBA degree to her name, she decided to switch to a field that no one goes into for the money: She became a middle-school math teacher in Cambridge, Mass., which led her to realize that she wanted to teach at the college level. She went off to UNH for her master’s.

“I was 38 and a single mom,” she said. “You could say there were some lean times.”

While she loved certain parts of the engineering life, it was frustrating at times to be a woman in a field where men still outnumber women 4 to 1.

“It’s like pushing a boulder up a hill every day of your life,” she said. “You spend your life pushing it.”

She always knew earning respect in her field wouldn’t be easy — ever since one of her science professors announced, to a huge auditorium of students, “You girls have no right to be here” — but she’d hoped that by now, things would have improved more than they have.

“Twenty years ago, I thought, ‘In 20 years things will be different. It’ll be 50-50,’ ” she said. “But I’ve learned that things change very slowly.”

That’s another reason why she left Thayer; she felt she had hit the “glass ceiling” when she was passed over for a tenure-track position, despite feeling as though she was the most qualified candidate. Instead, the job went to a young man. Again.

Obbard hasn’t given up science, though, or ice. She was recently awarded a grant from NASA to build an instrument that will explore Mars’ polar caps. She will continue to teach courses in Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric, which focus on science and technology writing. Last Wednesday, she wore a necklace with a penguin pendant, as homage to her Antarctica days.

To Celone, Obbard’s multifaceted resume is what made her stand out from the other parties interested in buying the business, of which there were several.

“Rachel’s background and love of the arts made her the best next steward for the gallery … I call her ‘illuminating’ for the bright light I expect she’ll help Long River Gallery and Gifts project around Vermont, New Hampshire and more broadly,” he said in an email exchange this week.

As for why he decided to pass the reins now, a little over a year after moving the gallery from its original location in Lyme, Celone “felt the timing was right to bring in fresh and creative ideas, and the all important personal networks a new owner naturally brings to a small business,” he wrote. “My goal in passing the proverbial torch was to help keep things fresh and growing as any creative type will realize is crucial for any business, and particularly for one that’s so focused on bringing new and fresh artistic work from and into the local community.”

Obbard is cobbling together a vision of how to make the gallery — which has carried work by hundreds of local artists and artisans over the years — her own: She wants to promote more diverse artist perspectives and styles, while also bringing a more selective curatorial eye to the gifts side of Long River Gallery and Gifts, so as to “open up the space” and help individual items stand out more, she said.

“And maybe I’ll think about updating the ceiling. … If I make it into a glass ceiling, I’ll feel right at home,” she joked.

She wants to get back in touch with the 7-year-old whose moon-rock business represented both her entrepreneurial and creative sides. “The MBA stuff came back right away,” she said. “It’s like second nature.” And though she admits that her artistic skills are “rusty,” she plans on taking classes in a variety of mediums. Sculpture, and using industrial and reclaimed materials, excites her the most.

During the lulls in the shop, she can grade student papers, or chip away at her project, or just breathe. She enjoys feeling the rumble of the trains chugging by, even if they make some of the pictures hang askew.

“It’s peaceful here,” she said. The hours are more regular, more reasonable, “so going home will mean being home, being present.”

She acknowledged that, after years of Celone being the public face of Long River, it will take some time for her to get to know people, and for people to get to know her. But in the grand scheme of things, she feels she has time.

“The way I look at it,” she said, “I was in finance for 10 years, academia for 20 years and I’ll be in art for 30 years. That should take me through to 85.

“After that, who knows?”

A show of encaustics by Stephanie Gordon, of Piermont, continues at Long River Gallery and Gifts through August.

Openings and Receptions

Enfield printmaker Patty Castellini shows new work from her summer collection of monotypes at the Woodstock Gallery, starting Saturday with an opening reception from 3 to 6 p.m. The whole show will be up through June 23, with more of Castellini’s work continually on display at the gallery.

Friday night from 5 to 6:30, Plainfield’s Philip Read Memorial Library will hold an opening reception for Plainfield artist M.J. Morse. Morse’s exhibit of oil paintings, “Marking the Moments,” continues through Aug. 15.

Of Note

AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon. Tom Leytham, a watercolorist from Montpelier, shows work in “Hiding in Plain Sight” that conveys his fascination with ruins and the stories behind them. Leytham will give a talk today at 5.

Leytham’s show continues through July 6, as do “Roads Taken” by the Boston-based painter Pennie Brantley, and “Unintended Objects” by Norwich artist Scott Gordon.


Aidron Duckworth Art Museum, Meriden. “Exhibition XXXI: Forms Hidden, Forms Revealed,” an exhibition curated from three series of Duckworth’s work, continues through July 22, as does “Strata Series,” an exhibit of new prints by Sheri Hancock-Tomek.

Column II, an outdoor sculpture by artist and musician John McKenna, is on view through Oct. 22. McKenna grew up in Norwich and lives in Barrington, R.I

Black Family Visual Arts Center, Hanover. Dartmouth College seniors majoring in studio art show work in the Nearburg Gallery through Sunday.

Center for The Arts, New London. Work is shown in three micro-galleries: at New London Inn, showing paintings by Vicki Koron, of Sunapee; at Bar Harbor Bank and Trust, featuring work by Newport, N.H. oil painter Ludmila Gayvoronsky; and at Whipple Hall Gallery, which displays the work of Proctor Academy students.

Chelsea Public Library. “Common Objects and Uncommon Places,” a show of acrylic paintings by Chelsea artist, and founder of the Chelsea Art Collective, Carrie Caouette-De Lallo, is on view through June.

Chew & Co. Design, Hanover. Artwork by recent Dartmouth graduates is on view through mid-July.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. Kathy Swift, of Lyme, shows “Japanese Ink Paintings on Paper” through June. Ten percent of sales go to Friends of Lyme Library.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. The D-H Arts Program’s spring exhibit features work by two Upper Valley oil painters, Ludmila Gayvoronsky of Newport, N.H., and Rae Newell of Bridgewater Corners. The other artists are watercolorist Diane Bell of Weston, Vt.; Evelien Bachrach of Hancock, N.H., who works in multiple mediums; acrylics painter Laura Ewing of Cambridge, Mass.; and photographer Ira Gavrin of Marlborough, N.H.

Gifford Gallery, Randolph. Tina Valentinetti, of Moretown, Vt., shows wildlife and landscape photographs at the Gifford Medical Center gallery through July 11.

Hood Downtown, Hanover. “The Firmament,” drawings by Toyin Ojih Odutola that explore the conceptualization of race, is on view through Sept. 2. An artist talk and reception is scheduled for June 23 from 4 to 7 p.m.

Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover. Dartmouth College seniors majoring in studio art show work in the Jaffe-Friede and Strauss galleries through Sunday.

Howe Library, Hanover. “O This Verdant Valley,” an exhibit by the Upper Valley’s en plein air Odanaksis Art Group, is in the Ledyard Gallery through Aug. 1.

Library Arts Center, Newport, N.H. Today is the last day to see the Selections Exhibit 2018, showing work by the seven winners of the Library Arts Center’s annual juried regional exhibit: Shari Boraz, Cyn Cooper, Betsy Derrick, Stacy Friedman, Elizabeth R. Moore, Gail Smuda and John Teti. The juror was Doris Nelson, former director of the Library Arts Center.

New London Hospital. The latest rotating art exhibition features Garrett Evans, a South Sutton, N.H.-based photographer; Bow, N.H., photographer Charles S. “Whitey” Joslin, Jr.; and Enfield painter Penny Koburger. Through Aug. 31.

Norwich Public Library. “Miss Match — Pixels to Paint: Photos Re-Imagined,” a collaborative exhibition between Norwich artists Becky Cook and NatEli Boze, shows through June 30.

Osher at Dartmouth, Hanover. Norwich painter Jo Tate shows work through June 28.

Roth Center for Jewish Life, Hanover. In “Commentary: Fiber Art by Shari Boraz,” the Hanover artist’s hand embroidery remarks on such themes as feminism, nature and symbology. Through July 8.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. An art installation in the Caretaker’s Shed by students from Claremont’s Stevens High School and Springfield (Vt.) High School examines “Nature and Change.” Through July 1.

“The Etcher’s Journey: A Retrospective of Prints by Charles A. Platt and Stephen Parrish” features the work of two Cornish Colony artists, in the Picture Gallery through July.

“Natural Forces: Three Sculptors’ Visions,” featuring work by Fabienne Lasserre, Clive Moloney and Rosalyn Driscoll, is scattered around the site through Oct. 31.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. In “Rebirth,” owner Stacy Hopkins shows recent mixed-media assemblages and prints, as well as jewelry, her primary medium.

Steven Thomas, Inc. Fine Arts & Antiques, White River Junction. Work by Upper Valley “vintage” artists, such as Alice Standish Buell (1892-1964), Arthur B. Wilder (1857-1949) and Ilse Bischoff (1901-1990) is on view.

Tunbridge Public Library . “Reverence,” a show of paintings by Randolph artist Jan Fowler, shows through June 28.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. A show by Carol Lippman, a part-time resident of West Newbury, Vt., runs through June.

White River Gallery, South Royalton. Betsey Garand of Hancock, N.H. shows a variety of printmaking techniques in “Petroglyphs, Flora and Frenzied Encounters: The Hand-Pulled Prints of Betsey Garand.” Through Friday.

Zollikofer Gallery, White River Junction. “Birds of the Bayous,” watercolors by Norwich resident Judith Miller, shows alongside “Lichen,” photography by her son Scott McClure Miller. Through June 30.

 EmmaJean Holley can be reached at ejholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

Correctio n

The sculptor and musician John McKenna grew up in Norwich and currently lives in Barrington, R.I. An earlier version of this story misstated where the artist is based.