Your first sign that something unusual—possibly wonderful—was going on around Lebanon’s Colburn Park on Saturday, December 1 might have been the one that said: “Caution: Horses.”
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.
As welder for Dartmouth College, Jimmy Martel often finds himself in pretty tight spots. Among any number of labor-intensive tasks, he repairs the pipework for the enormous underground steam system that supplies heat to the campus. “Yesterday I spent six hours in a spot no bigger than a cardboard box, ten feet underground,” he says.
Martel has been welding for 35 years, most of those running his own business near his home in Wilmot, NH, and the last six years with the College. “I cut my teeth on construction welding, and that became my niche.”
This fall, Martel begins as an instructor for AVA’s introductory welding classes, an opportunity that sort of fell into his lap. An acquaintance on campus who knew about his work suggested he apply for the position. “She kept telling me, ‘AVA needs you!’” he recalls. “A couple weeks later, she came back and told me she went in already and gave them my name.”
If a little unexpected, the opportunity lets Martel scratch a longtime itch. “I’ve had a yearning to teach for some time,” he says.
Except, he insists, “I’m no artist.” His primary objective is to introduce the basic, critical techniques of welding—to be learned before self-expression and improvisation can factor into any trade or craft. “And it takes time. The first thing I’ll say to my students is that you have to make a conscious decision to be patient enough to learn all aspects of welding. It can be physically demanding, and there’s no instant gratification.”
If not instant, Martel knows that gratification, when it comes, is long-lasting. “One of the greatest rewards for me,” he says, “is when I see old customers of mine, and they say, ‘Remember that truck body you built years ago? I’m still using it! It’s still going strong!”
By committing to learning the techniques, students also stand to gain a new appreciation for welding in everyday life. “Think of all the things surrounding you that you use. Welders built most of those things. Cars, buildings, furniture.”
And Martel hopes it inspires students to create their own functional, durable, and beautiful objects. “To be able to share this skill and expertise—it’s a treat after all these years.”
CLICK HERE to explore and sign up for welding and metalworking classes offered for teens and adults at AVA this fall!
Sabrina Fadial, blacksmith artist and one of the newest metalworking instructors in AVA’s Bente Building, found her way to the craft by mistake.
“It’s a lesson for why you should always leave yourself open to new possibilities,” she says.
Living in North Carolina in 1997 and wanting to expand her creative skill set, she had signed up to take a glass-blowing workshop. “But a week before the class started, they called to say they’d overbooked it and asked if I’d be interested in a blacksmithing class instead. I said ‘sure!’ And it was life-changing.”
Fadial soon sought out more metalworking workshops, set up a studio near her home, quit her job at the high school, and focused full-time on producing and selling her work. In 1999, she decided to deepen her knowledge even further and enrolled in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) in Montpelier.
“Rhododendron,” 2011. Permanently installed at the Linda Candler Memorial Garden in the Brevard Music School, Brevard North Carolina
Her journey led her next to Oakland, CA, for about a decade, before she was drawn back to VCFA as the new assistant director of the visual arts program, then later as director of alumni relations. The work was meaningful but eventually kept her from creating. “I needed to start making things again,” she says, “because I’m a miserable person if I’m not making. I knew I needed to carve out space and time for it, to work with intent.”
In 2017, to mark 20 years as a blacksmith, Fadial opened her own studio, which adjoins her home now in South Barre, VT. Stevens Branch Studio, she says, is “a creative incubation space” that offers classes, mentoring, and short-term artist and writer residencies. Some programs are specifically designed “to empower women and girls through textiles and metal arts.”
She believes it’s the perfect medium through which to express feminine strength as beauty. “Beauty has become so marginalized and commodified in this world,” says Fadial. “By documenting endangered beauty—in nature, in women—we can reclaim and rescue it from those margins.”
“Wildflower,” 2015. An indoor and outdoor sculpture temporarily installed at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
And she brings to AVA that firm belief that bending steel is for women as well as anyone. To the newcomer who’s unsure about embarking on a medium that involves extreme heat, large equipment, and heavy materials: be patient. “The hardest thing is learning to be comfortable wearing welding gear and how to move around in it.”
As for developing one’s welding skills, it’s akin to learning a new language and appreciating how uniquely you can express yourself that way. “I can say things with steel that I can’t say with cotton or with words,” Fadial says. “The more languages you know—in art, in anything—the better you can communicate whatever you’re trying to say.”
Read more about Sabrina Fadial and her work here.
Sign up for Sabrina’s “Steeling Nature” workshop or explore all metalworking classes offered at AVA this fall!
By Tom Haushalter
The longest day of the year could have gone on forever, as far as we’re concerned.
A golden light and pleasant temps presided over AVA’s second annual Summer Solstice Party on June 21, as more than 150 community members joined us to celebrate several achievements and milestones over the past year, including the first anniversary of the Bente Torjusen West Sculptural Studies Building (affectionately the “Bente Building”) and the generous donors who made it possible.
With food and drink provided by Three Tomatoes Trattoria and Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, partygoers freely explored the Bente Building, moving among works-in-progress in the Kelsey Stone Carving Studio, getting up close to state-of-the-art equipment and live metalworking demos in the welding studio, and mingling on the adjacent open-air Terrace Studio.
Since its opening in Fall 2017, the Bente Building has welcomed 85 students into its new sculptural studies program, and 12 new sculpture instructors have joined AVA’s faculty.
Outside the building, before gathered onlookers struck in awe, ceramic artist David Ernster demonstrated a pottery-making technique called raku, which involves a rapid heating and cooling process that gives the pottery unique and unexpected colors and surface patterning.
Andrew Garthwaite, Chair of AVA’s Board of Directors, took to the microphone to honor and acknowledge the many donors, members, staff, volunteers, bequests and benefactors—“so many moving parts”—that came together to make the Bente Building a reality. The process from start to finish to this one-year anniversary, he said, “embodies AVA’s mission of ‘Branching Out, Deepening Roots’ in the community.”
Board Secretary Jill Mortali highlighted three significant legacy bequests—from the Middleton family, the Hollister Art Trust, and the Leede family—totaling more than $400,000 and going to support capital and operating needs as well as scholarship funding.
Capping off the many causes for applause, AVA Executive Director Trip Anderson publicly thanked the area individuals and organizations who donated equipment and their expertise to the new building. Special acknowledgment was made to the Osgood-Hilles Charitable Trust for donating the Terrace Studio, Bill and Betsy Peabody for the building’s solar panels, and to William Dunn for the lobby where anyone can “Enter and Create.”
A painting by Bill Peabody—an encaustic painting of a sailboat, titled “June”—was presented to the Bente Building’s architect, Stu White, whose other love is sailing.
Before the evening, too, sailed on along a light breeze and conversation, Anderson summed up the occasion with an important call to action: “Help us celebrate AVA’s vital role in our community. Help make Lebanon and the Upper Valley an arts anchor. Help make art part of our everyday life!”
Photos ©Michael Seamans
By Tom Haushalter
In a class on the art of the tropical rainforest, it makes sense to want to work with a lush, aqueous medium like tempera. What you may not expect a group of fifth-graders to grapple with are notions of perspective and realism in a painting—or the lack thereof.
But Susan Davis Shimko, creator of one of AVA’s newest community outreach programs, called Art Detectives, has kids looking at rainforests—and art in general—in a whole new way.
Drawing on her own experience as an educator and her love of art history, Shimko developed Art Detectives to forge stronger connections between the grade-school curriculum and ideas in art. She schedules special visits to Upper Valley elementary classrooms and discusses with each teacher beforehand what subjects the students are learning. “Then we decide on a subject that lends itself to doing something enriching with art,” she says, “and I look for an artist and a piece of their work to integrate into their learning.”
Those fifth-graders were studying the environment when Shimko arrived one day with a print of Henri Rousseau’s “The Equatorial Jungle.” A lively discussion of rainforests and their importance led to observations about Rousseau’s painting and how it was made. “The class was very interested to learn that Rousseau had never actually been to a rainforest,” she says, “but had drawn his tropical plants from sketches made at the Paris botanical gardens!”
And they learned that Rousseau had such high regard for his raw, natural talent that he never took art lessons—which shows in his paintings’ overall lack of perspective and sophistication. Then out came the tempera paints, and Shimko asked the students to create their own rainforest paintings, following Rousseau’s style.
In another class studying the 1960s Civil Rights movement, Shimko introduced a piece by painter Jacob Lawrence
, known for his vivid depictions of African American life.
For another she came with Picasso’s rooster
, while the students had been hatching chickens in the classroom. “To be able to connect Picasso with actual chickens makes Picasso that much more engaging.”
Shimko is just as amazed by what the children say about these works of art. “You don’t expect a first-grader to look at a painting and say, ‘This shading makes me feel sad, and I think the artist was feeling like he wanted to show sadness.’”
Adds Shimko, “I tell them that there aren’t right or wrong ways to talk about art. It’s all about their exposure and experience of it, and I hope they begin to look at museums and AVA as places they aren’t afraid to visit.”
On Friday, June 1st, they’ll get their chance to visit AVA—and to find their own art on display. Culminating Shimko’s work with 19 classrooms in five different Upper Valley schools over the past year, the Art Detectives Art Show will feature an astonishing 298 pieces of student art. Visitors can explore the work exhibited throughout the hallways of AVA Gallery.
“It’s amazing that this program has had this level of success,” says Shimko, reflecting on the past year of Art Detectives. “And I’m excited to see how much further it can blossom.”
The Opening Reception is Friday, June 1, 4-6pm. The show is on view until June 9.
Parents and caregivers who are interested in Art Detectives should contact their teachers, and interested teachers should email ArtDetectives@avagallery.org.