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Amateur artists grab the spotlight at Art on Main

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CAROLINE ASHBY HANGS art for the Community Art Show at Art on Main in Bristol last Thursday morning. The show, which opened Friday and runs through April, features the work of 40 Bristol area artists. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

By KATHRYN FLAGG

BRISTOL — Move over, art pros: the amateurs are taking center stage this month at Bristol’s Art on Main gallery, where around three dozen Addison County artists are participating in the second annual April community art show.

The display, which kicked off with a reception last Friday at the community-supported, artist-cooperative gallery, aims to bring to light work from artists who frequently work without recognition in their own homes and studios throughout the county.

“Part of our mission is community outreach and connecting the arts and the community,” said Carolyn Ashby, the gallery manager at Art on Main. “Showing work by folks who just do art (and aren’t professionals) is an important thing to do.”

Clustered on one wall of the Main Street gallery, the artwork on display delivers a glimpse into the studios of Addison County’s less notable artists — and gets at the diversity of artwork being produced in the homes of amateur artists throughout the community.

Oil paintings by Bristol resident Wayne Michaud demonstrate Michaud’s affinity for portraits of pets. Nearby hangs a whimsical illustration of four little mice, called “Quartet,” by Middlebury resident Betty Hempel. On a small stand are three ceramic vases by Lois Thompson, called simply “3 Landscapes.” The suggestion of trees appears in thin lines on the earth-toned sculptures.

Thompson studied pottery at the Rhode Island School of Design. She retired recently from Mount Abraham Union High School, where she taught art. Despite her background in the arts she said she’s never shown her work before.

“I’m looking to Art on Main to provide an outlet for artists and people in this community,” Thompson said, expressing her hope that the space might eventually be able to fill some of the void left by the closing of the Frog Hollow Gallery in Middlebury earlier this year. She was inspired to put her work on display, she said, because “it’s my community.”

A contingent of painting from Bristol’s Living Well elder care facility hangs on one side of the display. There’s photography, too, and woodworking. Waltham resident Thomas Reno’s Shaker oval boxes are on display, resting near a folk art nativity set carved by Melody and Clayton Perkins of Ferrisburgh.

The show also provides evidence that art is cherished among families. Bristol residents Jenny and Gordon Telling both have paintings in the show, Gordon’s portrait of three brown cows hanging near Jenny’s bright abstract painting “Swirl.”

And the Tellings aren’t the only family well represented in the show. Three generations of the Borden family in Middlebury have work on display. Gail Borden’s quilted textile art, a banner in bright jewel tones she calls “Improvisation,” is joined by her father James’s watercolor. Borden’s 15-year-old daughter, Sophia Manzi, has a three-dimensional painting on display as well.

Borden said the announcement for the community art show originally caught her eye because she thought the show would be a great opportunity for her father, who recently retired to Middlebury from Indiana, to begin showing his work regionally. Though her father owned and operated a family restaurant before retiring, Borden said he’d always had a studio in the family’s basement where he would paint landscapes and portraits.

“He’s never been able to make a living at it, but that’s not really what’s important,” Borden said.

But the painter’s daughter didn’t consider herself an artist, necessarily. Aside from a quilt she displayed once years before in a quilters’ guild show, Borden hadn’t shown work of her own before.

“(My dad’s) the real artist in the family,” said Borden, who works as the human resources manager at the Shelburne Museum.

But then she began thinking about what it would mean for three generations of her family to show their projects in the same show. The call for “all ages” projects — from artists two- to 102-years-old — was especially encouraging.

“This is really the way (community arts) should be,” Borden said, encouraging other hobby artists to get involved in projects like the Art on Main show in the future. “It’s never too early and it’s never too late to get involved in the arts.”

The Bordens’ work, as well as art from between 30 and 40 area residents, will remain on display at Art on Main at 25 Main St. in Bristol through the end of April. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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