Raindrops on Roses
Greetings from your neighbor to the North! Believe it or not, despite our weird libertarian streak (Live Free or Die people!) subsequent limited state funding, over the past year, New Hampshire has produced some interesting cultural events and is home to very talented artists. Here are some of the best NH artists and events of 2011 according to me, an artist, an educator, and a native Granite Stater. Many of the events and people are from the Monadnock region, which is where I live, but is also an area of the state known for its arts and cultural activities. Generating this list made me realize how many great things happen here. Hopefully this list can serve as an example that art can exist outside of cities. Yokelism lives! —Rachelle Beaudoin
Joseph Keckler at MacDowell Downtown
MacDowell Downtown events are held monthly in Peterborough from April to November and range from traditional artist talks, musical performances and poetry readings. I have not had a chance to be a fellow at the Colony, as you can imagine, it is kind of a tough sell on the application as I try to explain to the committee that I need “to get away from it all” when I live on the same street as the retreat. The events they host keep me feeling connected to other creative types and bring some fascinating artists from all over the world to the Borough (Short for Peterborough.) The Downtown talks are mostly attended by sweet white-haired townspeople but the events can be avant-garde, challenging and are always interesting.
Keckler’s work [pictured above performing at MacDowell] is hard to describe—he’s part humorist, part opera singer, sometimes animator and story-teller. He put on a show that was truly unlike anything else I had ever seen. Really I can only suggest that you attend a performance of his because I don’t think watching the videos really do his work justice. At the local bar after the talk, he was mobbed by middle-aged women in wool sweaters who wanted to stare longingly into his eyes and hear more stories. Although the talks are popular, that was the first time I witnesses so many audience members become so engaged in the performance and so blatantly enthralled by a Colony fellow.
*broke! and The Thing in the Spring
Organized and founded by a group of young artists and musicians including Mary Goldwaithe-Gagne, Eric Gagne (who also happen to be my friends), and Ryan Wilson, these events make our little town cool, even if just for a short while. An influx of young people, often bearded, wearing tight jeans and various styles of nonfunctional boots come to the town to hear music in a 3-day-long festival that includes events like performances by Thurston Moore and J. Mascis, along with lesser-known but still awesome bands like Cokeweed, film screenings, and an outdoor picnic with live music and live animals.
*broke, the affordable arts fair, brings together ceramicists, painters, textile artists, illustrators etc. to sell their wares at reasonable prices. At *broke, there is always a huge range of items and styles and each artist has agreed to sell the majority of their work for under $50. I always find several things to buy. In the past at *broke I have picked up a cute stuffed owl, a logger print, a small painting of my hometown, arm warmers, a hacked steam punk broach and some really tasty cupcakes.
Anna Von Mertens
Anna Von Mertens is an artist who is originally from NH and has returned to the state with her family to live and work here. She is the most sweet and unpretentious person in the world, which is why you wouldn’t know that she was recently awarded a United States Artists Simon Fellowship unless I told you.
Her work is incredibly labor intensive and it clear that she loves what she does. Her work manages to combine the traditional craft of hand quilting and concept in surprising and successful ways. [Pictured above: "Kurt Cobain's aura (Zoe's), after Elizabeth Peyton," 2009, hand-dyed, hand-stitched cotton, 13 3/4" x 11"] The hand-dyed colors are fantastic and the stitching is equally well done but I always like the pieces even more when I read the titles and a whole other level of the work is revealed. She will be exhibiting her work this January in the Decordova Biennial.
Beth, a gifted New Hampshire illustrator, is coming off of a 2009 Caledcott win for her work in the book “The House in the Night” by Susan Marie Swanson. Her most recent illustrations do not disappoint and focus on a subject I personally find fascinating—spirals. “ Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature” by Joyce Sidman, with scratchboard illustrations by Krommes investigates that amazing shape that appears so readily in nature from fiddleheads to galaxies. The detail is impressive and each page is really a joy to look at. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
Gwarlingo is a blog by Michelle Aldredge, a local writer and a friend, who is interested in all forms of art. The entry on Sol Lewitt’s letters to Eva Hesse is a must-read for any artist who feels like a complete loser from time-to-time and is in need of some sound advice. “Don’t worry about cool. Make your own uncool.” Noted. She also includes music reviews, writing about her own travels, a Sunday poem, and studio visit interviews with artists. The site is filled with great links and high quality images.
“iImage” at Portsmouth Museum of Art
Saving us a from ubiquitous landscapes and paintings of sheep one show at a time, the Portsmouth Museum of Art is doing a lot of interesting things and has programmed shows that are focused on contemporary art for a young audience. Because of this they are a unique venue and are filling a void in New Hampshire. The space is unusual because it is connected to an office park so it doesn’t feel like a typical museum and the scale is much more like a gallery. The “iImage” show featured a variety of work by some well-known artists including Laylah Ali, Do Ho Suh and Robert Wilson. Even more exciting was the number of new media artists included in the show like Daniel Rozin, R. Luke Dubois, Evan Roth and Aram Bartholl. PMA is not afraid to take risks and that is desperately needed in the NH art scene.
Muppet-like puppet Proposal
To be fair, this happened in December of last year but it was at the tail end so it didn’t have a chance to be included in a “best of” list like this. Local artist and photographer Sid Ceaser created an elaborate short film preview starring Muppet-style puppets (I am pretty sure we can’t use the M word here) in the likeness of he and his girlfriend. He lured her to the Red River Theater to see a movie but the theater was filled with family and friends and the preview that played was this strange little film. This is wonderful and is every nerdy girl’s dream. Who doesn’t want a Muppet-style puppet of themselves acting out the most romantic moments of your courtship? It is so frickin cute (although there is an off-color joke about littering that I really can’t understand and can’t get behind because in my opinion littering is always wrong) and is so sweet that it, of course, went viral and was featured on several national News shows last year.
Fred Marple “Yoga for Yankees”
In the grand tradition of New England “Bert and I” humor, Fred Marple (Ken Sheldon) took NH by storm this year with short videos to promote his live show, “Frost Heaves.” This video is hilarious. The yoga poses themselves aren’t necessarily that funny on their own but the extras in the background are so New England—taciturn, plaid-wearing, folks who somehow got roped into being in this video with their neighbor, probably in exchange for some zucchini or a half a cord wood, that you can’t help but laugh. Their expressions are priceless.