Hanover may boast culture, but where is the art?

by Christopher Moore | 10/12/01 5:00am

In light of the "Hanover" theme this week, I had hoped to review local art galleries. Unfortunately, Hanover has none.

Hanover does have a branch of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (next to Rosey Jekes), where one can purchase crafts including wooden and ceramic bowls and kitchen accoutrements, some silky formless clothing, and beautiful but insignificant cherry furniture. It has become the major outlet for New Hampshire craft-makers, forming tight relationships with its suppliers.

This exclusivity, and Vermont craft-makers' connections with their guild, "Frog Hollow," leave places like "Foreign Accents" (in the Nugget Mall) only soap and candles for their selection of local goods. Soap is not art, but neither is most pottery. The League gathers together the "artful" for $50 or less.

The Howe Library has monthly shows of works by local artists, and they publish a price-list, but their "gallery" is a locked room in their basement. The current exhibition, a series of pastoral watercolors, will hardly be seen by anyone other than those bored of looking at back issues of Consumer Reports.

Dartmouth College does not own a gallery, but rather it allows artists who show their work in the Upper and Lower Jewett corridors and the Jaffe-Friede Gallery to submit a price-list to the Hop. Much of the work is wonderful, and tends to sell well, but one will find no "for sale" signs. The galleries are meant as showcases for nationally-recognized working artists whose work will not appear in the Hood Museum.

Hanover is no Woodstock, VT, nor is it a Queechee. Even Lebanon has a place for art: the Ava Gallery, which up until about 10 years ago was in Hanover. For such an art-filled place -- leaf peepers, up on busses called Peter Pan and Leprechaun, come to fawn over nature's artistry, her pointillistic trees and metallic red-orange leaves, her abstract expressionist sunsets and surrealist temperatures -- in which generous salaries are not uncommon, and artists and professors of art in great numbers, up from New York and the best art schools in the country, the absence of galleries in Hanover seems especially strange.

The Hanover Chamber of Commerce has no idea why it represents no art galleries.

Its best hypothesis was that the Hood Museum satisfies the average visitor's desire to see art. The town need not provide anything in addition to the Hood because the Hood is part of the town, the Chamber said. And the Ava Gallery is only down the street in Lebanon.

Roberta Shin, at the Hood Museum, tried to explain the lack of galleries. Downtown commercial space is not inexpensive. Places have gone out of business. However, plenty of other towns have pricey main street real estate and art galleries that still survive, even if they have to locate on the second floor.

In the end, the question may still come down to simple economics: not enough buyers. The tourist season in Hanover lasts no longer than a falling leaf, and the college-tour traffic has SATs on its mind, not contemporary Primitivism.

Jerry Auden, who directs the art shows at the Hop, believes that Hanover is just "too small of a community" to support any inventory-laden, slow-selling, major-purchase venue, especially an art gallery. No matter how nice it would be to drop by a gallery, talk with its clerk or curator or owner in the afternoons, the most cosmopolitan, wealthy community in the Upper Valley cannot support working or display studios. Woodstock can do so, because it has a more than negligible population base and year-round tourism.

We will discuss, in later weeks, current works of significance. 'Till then, take particular note of all three gallery spaces in the Hop (especially Iona Park '92's abstract work in the Lower Jewett Corridor -- it's magnificent), Ty Garland '02's digitally-printed photographs in Collis, the Hood's current and regular exhibitions (and loans -- this summer they were borrowing another Rothko) and even ORL's new purchases of work by Studio Art major '01s for its dorms. Many offices, I have noticed, have begun to put large bodies of photography on their walls; the pieces on the second floor of Collis are not unenjoyable.

When in downtown Hanover, then, we can only say: praise the work of Autumn, for her show moves south in a month.