Walpole - an artistic haven
Barbara Tarantino holds a work in progress, a watercolor of an amaryllis, in her Walpole studio. From authors to filmmakers, the town of about 3,600 is known to many as an artists' haven. Photo by MICHAEL MOORE / Sentinel Staff
Town revels in the arts
Small community draws big names.
Keene Sentinel Newspaper, Keene, NH
Monday, January 09, 2006
Jake Berry - Keene Sentinel Staff
WALPOLE - The artists of Walpole are both the keepers and creators of a sacred tradition.
Through their art, the painters, writers, composers and other craftsmen are preserving the town's rich artistic history one that dates back centuries just as they are authoring a new period of creative expression in the town.
"Artists have been here forever," said Cynthia Reeves, director of the Spheris Art Gallery, which moved recently from Walpole to Bellows Falls.
"But this is definitely, now, a marvelous, thriving and rich artistic community, much more so than it was 30 years ago," she said.
Barbara J. Tarantino paints watercolors; Ray Ruseckas creates pastels; Patricia B. Fargnoli composes poetry; mat hias Gohl produces film music and Ken Burns makes documentary films.
And they make up only the most recent though perhaps most accomplished by many accounts collection of artists to inhabit the town.
"I think if you look back into the history of Walpole," Burns said, "this has always been some magical magnet that has drawn writers and artists.
"I don't know if there's something in the water, in the air or in the magnificent landscape, but it drew me and it's drawn thousands of others.
"It's really an amazing thing to be a part of," he said.
Scenery, community appeals to local artists
Walpole, tucked in the hills of the Connecticut River Valley, has been inspiring art for as long as it has hosted it.
Painters were creating landscape pieces depicting the hills of Walpole as early as the 18th century, according to Tara A. Sad, a trustee on the board of directors of the Walpole Historical Society.
And author James Michener references the town in the opening of his famed 1959 novel "Hawaii," which was also written in the town.
Walpole's likeness continues to cover the canvas of many works, including a number of paintings by contemporary landscape artists Eric Aho and Wolf Kahn.
And the town, with a population of about 3,600, has recently inspired written work, too.
"It is to pass each white house with its barn, each well / each stack of old baskets, the six brown horses on the hill," wrote Fargnoli in her poem "Walking on Reservoir Road."
The poem was written specifically about her experiences walking along that Walpole byway, said Fargnoli, the recently named N.H. Poet Laureate.
"This town is so beautiful, it just inspires art," she said.
The sheer beauty of the town is not the only artistic draw, however, according to Tarantino, the watercolor painter. The townspeople and the community as a whole serve to attract artists as well, she said.
"This town is very welcoming to artists," said Tarantino, who founded the Barbara Tarantino Gallery & Studio in 2001.
"People are genuinely excited about your abilities and your dreams and your goals here," she said.
And not just the artistic types.
The town's combination of farmers, shopkeepers and other workers complement the collection of artists to create a broad-based community fit for the arts, said Reeves, who directs the Spheris gallery and is also creative director of the Great River Arts Institute in Bellows Falls.
"It's a very interesting amalgamation of some people who are in the arts, and some people who have apple orchards," Reeves said.
"That makes this a very real community. And that gives a sense of authenticity to the art that comes out of it," she said.
Such authenticity also stems from the natural setting in which the art is created, said Burns, the documentary filmmaker.
"This area is particularly rich with, not just artists, but people as well, who have understood that there is an ongoing conversation with nature that has to take place," he said. "And that attitude really reflects the work that we do up here."
Filmmaker brings about an artistic renaissance
The history of written and visual arts in Walpole is a rich one.
Author Louisa May Alcott authored her 1877 novel "Under the Lilacs" from her uncle's Main Street residence, according to Sad, member of the Walpole Historical Society. And Michener wrote "Hawaii" from an apartment overlooking the town square, she said.
"Walpole has always had a sense for the arts," she said. "But it has really taken off in the last 30 years."
The artistic renaissance began in the late 1970s, she said, when Burns made Walpole his permanent home and home to his film company, Florentine Films.
"That made a big difference," Sad said of Burns' 1979 move. "He brought a lot of film people with him, and that sort of created a buzz around the town."
And the buzz continues today, according to Reeves.
"Florentine Films has continued to bring individuals that have a certain sophistication and cultural awareness to Walpole," she said.
"I think that has helped my business (Spheris gallery), and I think that helped the art community here to grow and thrive."
Gohl, for one, the award-winning film score producer, moved to Walpole in 1996 when both he and his wife were working on Burns' production "Jazz."
"We fell in love with the area," Gohl said. "And we never left.
"It's entirely different working here. We have windows. Most studios don't have windows," he said.
Artistic communityboasts a bright future
Walpole's art community continues to grow.
This past fall, 11 local artists participated in the third edition of the Walpole Artisans' Tour an annual event in which local artists open their doors to the public to come through and view their work.
The tour consisted of only two artists in its first year, Tarantino said herself and Walpole furniture maker Mark Putnam, with whom she started the tour in 2003.
And as much as it has grown in only three years, Tarantino expects that it will grow even more in years to come.
"When you open your doors and you have people come through, one of out of every five people is themselves an artist, who you never met before," she said. "And they'll want to do it next year.
"There's a lot of artists hiding in the woods here."
Jake Berry can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1433, or email@example.com.