Howe offers space to local artists

by Jessica Zischke | 10/5/14 4:20pm

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People tend to use libraries as quiet study spots or places to pick up books for class. Although Dartmouth students don’t typically visit the Howe Library in town, its staff members are working to challenge this notion.

To library director Mary White, these spaces house more than books.

“We are truly a community center,” she said. “People come here for programs or to visit someone in the café and for things like the Ledyard Gallery. It’s just one more way to reach out to the community and make them aware of the Howe.”

The Howe’s 2005 expansion and renovation project, which nearly doubled the library’s square footage, included the addition of the Ledyard Gallery. The gallery is named after Ledyard Bank, which partially financially supported the project. Located on the library’s second floor, it often exhibits displays of 20 to 40 works, which rotate every one or two months, Howe development coordinator Michelle Schembri said.

Before this expansion, the library would show artwork in a meeting room, which was not as accessible to patrons.

“The Mayer Room is a closed, locked meeting room, so as soon as anyone wanted to see anything, one of us had to go down and unlock it,” head of the circulation services department Kristina Burnett said. “It’s a nice meeting room, but it’s not a great space.”

Burnett has displayed her hand-hooked rugs in two exhibits at the library since the renovation.

Since its opening, the gallery has become an important venue for artists in the Upper Valley. Schembri said that although the Ledyard Gallery is not exclusively for those living in the area, nearby artists tend to show greater interest.

“There are limited areas to [show work] in the Upper Valley, and we offer it for free,” Schembri said. “If they do sell works, which does happen, we just take a 10-percent commission, which is very small compared to other galleries. We’re really doing it for [the artists].”

A four-member jury, including White, Schembri and two volunteers who are also artists, determine what works will be displayed.

Sometimes artists will be turned down because the work is not up to the jury’s standards, there is not enough material or there are concerns of risqué content shown where children could walk through, White said.

White noted that while the gallery is open to all patrons, adults mostly use the space.

“It’s right in the open, so that’s why we’re sometimes sensitive as to the subject matter,” she said.

Word of mouth has proven to be a powerful tool in spreading news about the Ledyard Gallery to artists in the community, Schembri said. The gallery space is currently booked through early 2016.

Often, artists will suggest the Howe to other artists in the community, although the library will also sometimes seek new exhibits by including an announcement in its monthly e-newsletter, Schembri said.

The jury works to ensure that a variety of artwork is shown, Schembri said, including watercolors, block prints and rugs. Though the space is not well-equipped for three-dimensional pieces, White said, the ground level occasionally displays smaller pieces.

Despite its close proximity to the College — its doors are 0.3 miles from the Green — the Howe does not often collaborate with Dartmouth in what is shown at the Ledyard Gallery, although the two work together in other ways.

Schembri said that because the community has such close ties to the College, past or current faculty and staff will show their work at the Howe.

The gallery now features an exhibit called “Mindscapes” by local artist Naomi Hartov, which will continue until Oct. 29. The show features collage works made using scraps from magazines, calendars and catalogues.

Hartov said she appreciated that the Howe jury was receptive to work that had a deeper meaning and was not only meant to sit on the wall and look nice.

“I’ve had shows at [Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center] before,” Hartov said. “They like mostly pretty images, things that don’t cause people too much introspection or might be frightening in any way or thought provoking. So many of these pieces have never been shown, because that’s sort of my venue.”

After 10 years of contemplating having her work shown at the Ledyard Gallery, Hartov contacted Howe staff about six months ago, showed them her pieces and was put on the waiting list.

For Hartov, collage is “a subliminal process” during which the meaning of the work forms as the piece comes together. She said she enjoys that people often see things in her collages that she had not seen, so the meaning of one piece can grow more complex.

“I don’t mind if people read whatever they want to into them, and sometimes people express back to me thoughts that I may not even have realized that I probably had when I put these pieces together,” Hartov said.

Schembri estimated that the gallery has shown approximately 110 shows since 2005. The space sees three annual shows: the Elden Murray photographic competition and exhibition, the senior art show and a display by Hanover High School students, which occurred for the first time this past January. Artists cannot show their work more than once every other year.

Although the Ledyard Gallery is the Howe’s main exhibition space, the library also features art displays in the café and teen room that rotate monthly.

The Howe also houses a permanent art collection. This collection includes pieces by famous illustrators in the children’s section and features a large owl leading into this section, lovingly known as Howl. The children’s section also features rotating art created by local preschool students.

Visitors may also check out pieces of art from the library.

Upcoming exhibits in the Ledyard Gallery include works in oil and pencil by Jean Gerber in November and a show by the Center for Cartoon Studies, which is based in White River Junction, in March and April.

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