History is Everywhere

Posted by Stephanie Tickner on Saturday, January 11, 2014 Under: Art Exhibits

It is so nice to have some wonderful, quiet time on this mid-January day. The holidays were lovely, but they are very busy, and I am grateful to be in this more peaceful time. It also gives me some time to reflect back on the fall exhibit season. Ever since I participated in the Brattleboro, Vermont Gallery Walk in The Whetstone Studio for the Arts on November 1, I've been thinking about the history of that building and what I learned about it in online research since I exhibited there. This also made me realize that there is fascinating history in all the buildings where I tend to exhibit, so I have since done some more research to add to that I already knew. In this post I will share some of the interesting stories I have learned. 

The Brattleboro Gallery Walk in the Whetstone Studio was a new event and location for me. I had a wonderful night and I met some great people. I shared a studio with a baker who makes vegan, gluten free desserts, and a seamstress who repurposes clothes. Other artists were set up in other studios in the huge building. While I was walking around looking at the other work, I noticed a photo in the hall of one of the artists standing in front of the building with its back end collapsed. Whetstone Brook runs behind the studio, and I the day I was there, it was gently flowing along. Then I remembered that many places in Vermont, including Brattleboro, were greatly impacted by the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. When I got home I decided to do some online research to see if Irene was what had damaged the studio.

It turns out that the studio was, in fact, damaged by the raging waters of Whetstone Brook during Irene as it raced towards downtown Brattleboro. This video of the back of the building being washed away is very humbling and scary. I learned more as I read articles about the storm's affect on the building, and of artists, including owner, David Parker, losing most of their materials in the flood. Then I also read of Mr. Parker's efforts to rebuild the studio, which at one time must have been a factory or mill, possibly as early as the mid-1800s, in the Centreville section of Brattleboro. On September 7, 2012 the studio reopened with great fanfare during The Whetstone Studio for the Arts Gala Celebration of the Grand Re-Opening & Restoration on the first anniversary of Hurricane Irene! It must have been such an emotional and wonderful event. I am glad they were able to recover and rebuild. This video documentary tells the whole story. It is really interesting to watch.

Stone garden outside the studio

View of Whetstone Brook out the window of the studio where I set up

My setup in the spacious studio room

One of the coordinators took photos of some of my paintings

My 2013 Ashuelot River painting

Me in the studio

Image from the video of the Whetstone Brook overflowing
its banks from Tropical Storm Irene and damaging the studio
(c) Copyright 2011 Lester Humphreys

Photo of the damaged studio after the waters receded
MICHAEL MOORE / Sentinel Staff | Posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 12:15 pm

The rebuilt studio as it looks today
Photo by MICHAEL MOORE/Sentinel Staff

The Orchard School Holiday Craft Fair was November 21 and 22 at the Walpole, NH Town Hall. This fair has been held in Walpole for several years now. When I started thinking about the history of the various buildings where I exhibit, I thought it might be fairly easy to find the story of the Walpole Town Hall. Like with my research into the Whetstone Studio, I spent much more time than I expected looking for information. I really enjoyed reading through materials that are available online, especially when tales were told of areas I know, including interactions with Native Americans, various historic battles, and even run-ins with bear and catamount! There are parts of this area that are still very wooded and somewhat wild. It must have been incredibly challenging and, at times frightening, for early white settlers here.

I spent quite a bit of time browsing through an online book, "Walpole as it was and as it is: containing the complete civil history of the town from 1749 to 1879, together with a history of all the church organizations; also, a history of one hundred and fifty families that settled in the town previous to 1820, with biographical sketches of a large number of its prominent citizens, and also, a census of the town taken April 1, 1878" (how's that for a book title!). I'm especially excited that it is available as a downloadable pdf file so that I can go back and read more later. From this book, and also from the online books "An Address Delivered at the Re-opening of the Town Hall at Walpole, N.H." by Frederick Newman Knapp, and "In the Woods, and Elsewhere" by Thomas Hill, I learned that, "In 1786 the Town of Walpole voted to build a new New Meeting House, which was located on Meeting House Hill and completed in 1789. In 1826 the building was removed to its present site in the village of Walpole. It was used both as a Church and Town Hall from 1789 to 1842, and since for town purposes only. In 1886 it was remodelled, and reopened Feb. 1, 1887."

I am always amazed to read about these large buildings being moved during the 1800s. It must have been such a sight to see. I also read in the online article, "Tale of two towns: A Walpole, Mass. native's look into Walpole, NH" that, "Walpole Town Hall, located at Westminster and Elm, was rebuilt a year after the devastating 1917 lightning-sparked fire that destroyed the original building which nearly a century before had been moved there from its original home on Prospect Hill in the 1820s." As much as I searched, however, I could not find any other records that mentioned this fire.

The Orchard School Fair was very fun, as always. I enjoy seeing old friends, and meeting new people. Along with two floors of local crafters and artists, there is delicious food available from the cafe, supported by Orchard Hill Breadworks and families of current Orchard School students, and roaming musicians who add to the festive feeling. When my family watched my table, I was able to finish so much Christmas shopping of my own.

My exhibit on the 2nd floor of Walpole Town Hall

The view of the Orchard School Fair from my table

Two of the roaming musicians who entertained shoppers and vendors during the day

Old postcard of the Walpole Town Hall c. 1920

I didn't think to take any photos of the outside of the town hall when I was there,
but my mother's husband, Bill, took this artistic shot of the front.

Bill also took this wonderful photo through the wavy glass of a window on the second floor

Historically, this same weekend in November, I have been set up at Christmas on the Pond, organized by the Marlow Women's Fellowship of Christian Service. Unfortunately, this year The Orchard School Fair had to change weekends due to conflicts at the town hall, so I missed the Marlow fair. That said, I have participated for many years in this fair in the town where I live, set up on the second floor of the historic Jones Hall. The ground floor of Jones Hall houses the Marlow Town Library. The second floor has a stage up front, and a balcony in back. Benches can be moved in place for when there is a play or other event on the stage. The wooden floors are wavy and move when people walk on them. It makes it challenging to display paintings on a standing rack and have them stay straight! I have read a lot about Marlow history in the book "History of Marlow, New Hampshire" from the writings of Elgin Jones, who died in 1934. His book was never finished, but in 2002, the Marlow Historical Society printed a version, edited by Elizabeth Batchelder, former president of the historical society. It was then republished in 2011 for Marlow's 250th anniversary, with added history and photos. According to the book, "Jones Hall has had a long, and sometimes stormy history. The first action taken to build a meeting house for the town was an article voted upon at a Town Meeting called on September 13, 1792, when the town voted on an article 'to see if the town will vote to build a meeting house and agree upon where to put it.'" It was agreed to put the building on Marlow Hill (up the hill from where I live), "but warring factions, mostly between the Baptists and the Universalists delayed the building and not much progress was made." It was listed in the Cheshire Country Registry of Deeds in May 1799, having been completed by private citizens. Throughout its history on Marlow Hill, it was "used as a meeting house by the Methodists, Congregationalists, Universalists, and Baptists" as well as for town meetings, "until 1845 when it was taken down under the direction of a man from Alstead and moved to South Marlow", the current village, where it was reconstructed and still stands today. Other buildings in the current Marlow village were also moved down from Marlow Hill, which can be seen in these photos from the 2011 edition of the book.

This photo collection shows the dates when the Methodist Church, Jones Hall (formerly the Meeting House),
and the Grange Hall...called Murray Hall (formerly the Universalist Church) were moved from on top of
Marlow Hill to Marlow Village in the 1800s, a distance of about 4 miles.

These recent and old photos of Jones Hall also appear in the "History of Marlow" book.
In 1890, author Elgin Jones and his father John Quincy Jones took ownership of the building 
and undertook major interior reconstruction. The spire was removed in 1891. On John Quincy's
 80th birthday in 1897, the building "was conveyed to the Town by the family,
and was to be known as Jones Hall".

My 2012 Christmas on the Pond setup in Jones Hall

My next holiday craft fair is the Antioch University New England's Winterfest Craft Fair, hosted by the Student Alliance on Thursday, December 5. I work in the Management Department at Antioch in Keene, so this fair is always a great community event for me. In 1994 Antioch University New England, formerly Antioch New England Graduate School, moved from its location on Roxbury Street in Keene, "to a six-acre property, located off West Street in Keene, which has been retrofitted into an environmentally-sensitive campus with expanded student services and enhanced facilities". The building on this property on Avon Street was the former Sprague & Carleton Company chair manufacturing factory. "The Sprague & Carleton Company began its production of porch rockers and settees in the Beaver Mills in 1899, finally moving out in the 1920s to build its own factory" on Avon Street. At the tum-of-the-century Keene was known as the "porch chair center of the United States", producing nearly a million rockers annually.  In September 1988 it was reported in the Keene Sentinel that "Sprague and Carleton Co. Inc., one of Keene’s oldest manufacturers, would be closing its doors by the end of November...The reasons given for the closing were stiff foreign competition, lower-than-expected volume, and the need to consolidate operations from three plants to two."

I started working at Antioch in 1998, four years after the Avon Street campus opened. In my research about the building's history, I could not find any photos of it when it was the furniture factory. At least I have some sense of how it looked because there are framed architectural drawings and an old photo in one of the conference rooms. It is hard to imagine how the building must have been inside back then. There are a few signs, like fixtures in the walls, and I was told by someone who has worked at Antioch for 35 years, that you can see wear marks in the wooden floors of some of the classrooms from where the workers used to stand. I haven't seen those myself, but I am really curious to look for them now.

My setup in the Antioch Community Room for Winterfest 2013

View of the Antioch New England building now. My office is on the second
floor to the right of the blue canopy
behind the branches

The Community Room where I was set up is to the left of the cupola.

Old photo of the Sprague & Carleton factory in one of the Antioch conference rooms.
This looks like the back, which was along the railroad tracks. The tracks are a bike path these days.

Old drawing of the factory. I have not been able to figure out which direction this is
after all the times I have looked at it in meetings. I'd love to figure it out.

Old signs from the factory in the same conference room

It's hard to see here, but I love the handwritten note on this sign.
It says, "and put the dam (sic) thing back straight"

I still have one exhibit currently up in the mayor's office on 3rd floor of City Hall in Keene through the rest of January. Both the 1st and 3rd floors of City Hall are exhibit spaces for the Monadnock Area Artists Association. I have exhibited on both floors several times, and I have placed paintings in the first floor windows there for the Keene Art Walk twice. I even painted on the sidewalk outside City Hall on the day of the art walk when area school children walked downtown to meet and talk with all the artists.

I found a great resource online to learn about the history of the City Hall site on the Keene Public Library website called "Upper Ashuelot"; a history of Keene New Hampshire by the Keene History Committee c.1968. The following was written in the section BLOCKS - KEENE, NEW HAMPSHIRE (Arrangement—by Proximity) by Jane Elliot Larson, "CITY HALL-1-13 Washington Street. A blacksmith shop stood on this site before 1800. A house was located here when John G. Bond acquired the property in 1807. There were several owners up to the time Justus Perry bought the house and wheelwright shop in 1821. The town purchased the lot and buildings in 1848 and erected the main part of the present City Hall. The belfry and tower were added in 1864. City Hall was enlarged and remodeled several times through the years, the last time in 1960 when the roof was lowered, the second floor auditorium rebuilt into rooms and the exterior modernized. For many years stores occupied the ground floor along with the town offices, and at one time the town library was located in the building". It's hard to imagine how it must have looked at the site before the large buildings were there that I see now. I could have easily spent a lot more time reading about Keene history in this amazing resource. I really enjoyed looking through old photos in the library collection on Flickr as well. The information we have available to us on the internet are invaluable.

Set up outside the 1st floor of City Hall in Keene during the 2007 Keene Art Walk, with my paintings in the window.

Some of my paintings on the 3rd floor of City Hall

More of my paintings in the Mayor's suite on the 3rd floor of City Hall

Looking out a window of the 3rd floor of City Hall. In the distance is the former
Keene Middle School, which before that was the Keene High School

Current view of the outside of City Hall on the left

Old photo of Keene City Hall from the library archives.

This post took me a lot longer than I ever imagined. I got the idea of a connecting theme of the history of all these places where I have exhibited art, but the research turned out to be rather time consuming. That said, I still had to myself stop reading once I found the information I was seeking or the photo that I needed. Learning about how things were in earlier times is incredibly fascinating to me.

And, now that I am done, I will shift gears and start working on some commissions that have come in. It will be great to get back to my art room again.

In : Art Exhibits 

Tags: "art exhibits" "holiday craft fairs" brattleboro "whetstone studio for the arts" "tropical storm irene" "new hampshire history" "the orchard school" "walpole nh" "marlow nh" "antioch university new england" "keene nh" 
blog comments powered by Disqus
blog comments powered by Disqus

Connect with Stephanie Tickner Watercolors on Facebook