In what seems to be becoming a trend, the arts began the year under attack from state politicians. But, just like 2010, this year will be remembered for great exhibitions and local talent getting the recognition they deserve.
Once again the State Council on the Arts was put on the chopping block, as legislators tried to cut any and everything from the state budget. This also happened in 2010, but 2011 was different because steps were taken to go even further. In fact, the House Finance Committee voted to dismantle the Department of Cultural Resources and allocate its various offices to other state departments. That decision, had it not been voted down by the Senate, would have made New Hampshire the only state in the country without a centralized arts council.
The arts also struggled because of a weak economy when many people had less disposable income to spend on art. But not everyone. Sarah Chaffee of McGowan Fine Art said it is always gratifying when people still put down cash for art even in difficult times. “It still ranks high in many people’s budgets,” Chaffee said.
She was also hopeful, saying that things weren’t going to get any worse and in fact would improve. This is a good thing because New Hampshire, of all states, should have a thriving arts scene.
Two of the state’s most prominent artists had major retrospectives of their work this past year. Jon Brooks’ wild wooden furniture was on display beginning in March at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. Brooks’ “Collaboration with Nature” showed visitors that furniture can be both functional and artistic. Potter Gerry Williams, who was previously honored with the state’s Lotte Jacobi Living Treasure Award, exhibited his work in September at Colby-Sawyer College in New London.
While it was a good year for legendary artists, it also brought some new blood into the state. Nashua’s Main Street got a nice boost with the addition of 263 Gallery, which is owned by Pong Maynard and is located on the second floor of an old Victorian home where it joins hair stylists, a nail salon and a massage therapist as part of a house of beauty. And the Picker Building, also in Nashua, became better known as a house of art. There are numerous jewelry makers, photographers, sculptors and potters within the old mill building. They opened up their studios in a joint venture in May.
Manchester also got a new gallery, called Sage Gallery... A Fine Art and Metaphysical Meeting Place. It is owned by Janice Donnelly and features both traditional artists and metaphysical readers. Perhaps the new studio with the coolest introduction was Wyatt Art Studios in Rochester, which during its first few months exhibited prints by famed rock & roll photographer Bob Gruen. Owner Matt Wyatt said he wanted to put Rochester on the map. Showing off the legendary photo of John Lennon in circular sunglasses and a New York City T-shirt was a good start.
That exhibit was just an appetizer of rock photos compared to the main course that was on display at the Currier. The museum featured the personal collection of one avid rock photography collector, which included intimate shots of rock royalty including Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin, Grace Jones and Kurt Cobain, to name but a few. The exhibit “Backstage Pass: Rock & Roll Photography” (which is continuing until Jan. 15) is a double whammy of famous names both in front of and behind the lens. The images were taken by more than 50 photographers including Kate Simon, Laura Levine and, yes, Bob Gruen.
This popular take on art wasn’t lost on independent filmmaker Rick Dumont of Sweaty Turtle Productions, whose Up from the Underground gatherings showcased artists of all kinds, many of them just beginning their careers.
“There are some amazing artists in the state,” Dumont said previously. “You don’t have to go to the Louvre to see phenomenal art. You can come to this event and actually take the art home with you.”
Many of these careers began at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, which continued to expand, creating a larger footprint and a bigger impact in Manchester. The institute brought big names to its campus, like Chris Van Allsburg, writer and illustrator of The Polar Express.
This year some artists traveled great distances to create new works. Art teacher and sculptor Andy Moerlein and his close friend, Boston artist Donna Dodson, spent two months at a high-altitude sculpture residency in Verbier, Switzerland. The two sculptors, along with artists from Switzerland, Britain and New York, created large monuments that sit atop a Swiss mountain.
Others worked closer to home, like the group of artists who transformed Cat Alley in Manchester. And everyone could see the world’s best art without ever leaving their homes, thanks to the Google Art Project, googleartproject.com.
“I am a huge fan of the Google Art Project, as it makes some of the finest collections of art accessible to everybody with an Internet connection,” artist Ryan Haywood previously wrote via e-mail. “It is a remarkably ambitious program, in that you can actually take a virtual tour of these museums.”
The Google Art Project was certainly revolutionary, but so was Not Your Grandma’s Craft Fair, which was held in November in Manchester and exposed a whole new generation to crafts. It was created by two friends, Jessica Gilcreast and Heather Marr, who wanted to gather, in a single room, all of the talented people in the area creating handmade alternative crafts.
The state also enjoyed another installment in the longest-running craft fair in U.S. history, as the League of NH Craftsmen held its annual fair for the 78th year in a row. It was a big year for the League, which got a new headquarters and educational center in Concord.
The Soo Rye Gallery in Rye hired David Christopher as its new director; “It is pretty exciting,” Christopher previously said.
It may be the beginning for Christopher, but 2011 brought the retirement of Mary McGowan. After more than 30 years, McGowan stepped down as head of McGowan Fine Art in Concord and handed the reins over to Sarah Chaffee.
“She [Mary] really pushed people to value art,” Chaffee previously said. “She really got people to understand the importance of art.”