Horse-drawn carriage rides, which were one part of the city’s holiday celebration, also featured visits with Santa and the park’s official tree lighting. Not far from the bundled crowds, far cozier and just as bright, AVA Gallery hosted its annual Holiday Exhibition and Open House, offering a relaxing, art-filled opportunity to welcome the season.
Right as you walked in, peace greeted you. Yes, a wall with handwritten messages of peace, all hung from twine, encouraged visitors to leave a message of their own or to take one as they went. And exploring AVA further, a sense of peace followed you, through every room on every floor, where chance after chance to engage with local art and artists seemed to be waiting.
Overheard at one point in the long first-floor hall: “AVA is like a real-life Advent calendar today.” Each doorway opened to some new delight.
Entering the main gallery you found a beautiful showroom and marketplace with an inspiring variety of artworks by staff and member artists, from painted canvases and sculptures to handmade ornaments and fine jewelry, all available for purchase—a sale that continues seven days a week through December 24, guaranteed to be the most pleasant holiday shopping experience anywhere in the Upper Valley.
A steady stream of visitors wove in and out of artist studios on the second and third floors, welcomed in by the artists displaying works-in-progress up close as well as finished pieces for purchase. A piano recital in the Library sent music throughout the second floor, and venturing to the top floor, you might have discovered the small exhibit of artwork created by children in Allison Zito’s weekly after-school workshop.
In the classroom studios, festive art waited to be made, whether collage ornaments or handmade cards. For the slightly more courageous, in the warmly lit North Studio, AVA faculty artist Karl Neubauer offered to sketch your portrait—that is, if you could sit very still for 20 minutes.
Heading next door into the Bente Sculptural Studies Building was like stumbling upon Santa’s Little Village, where children and grown-ups alike tinkered and toyed with everything from lumps of clay to hot metal.
Santa’s little elves were everywhere. Roger Goldenberg and his trusty apprentice, AVA’s marketing manager Alicia Bergeron, showed off a metal-manipulation process called hot forging and steel inflation. Nearby, Dudley Whitney and Chris McGrody gave a hands-on tour of woodworking implements. Stone-carvers Sandra Silverang and Heather Ritchie shared their workshop, and David Ernster and Karen Earls invited visitors to sink their fingers into clay.
All day and into evening, the holiday spirit gathered and swelled throughout AVA, as outside the horse-drawn carriage made its loop around town. Gathering coats and mittens and purchased art before departing, many paused once more at the wall of peace, to breathe, to read new messages that had been added, to take a little peace with them as they went.
Photos by Michael Seamans