Keene’s two-day annual celebration of visual art marking the end of summer
Thoughts collected about Art in the Park in anticipation of talking with Dan Mitchell of WKBK on Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Q&A about 2023 Art in the Park
Tell us about the organization behind this event
I can’t say enough about the members of Monadnock Area Artists Association (MAAA) who each have assignments that contribute to the running of this event. An artist takes care of getting the sign up at the post office, another hangs the banner on the archway to the park, another gets the maps and artist listing printed in time for the event. Another makes sure the main tent is reserved and erected by Elegant Settings. Another issues press releases to all the media in Southern NH and lists the event on every calendar she can find. It is inspiring to hear about all the myriad pieces getting done and coming together like an exquisite impressionist painting.
The event and the organization run this way. An artist does the e-newsletter each month. An artist manages the web site with tech support from her friends. All volunteers, all doing their piece of the puzzle. It’s really beautiful. And they have been doing it for many, many years.
How did you become involved with MAAA?
It’s a little-known fact is that I was an art major in college (my professors thought I was better at writing). Inside, I feel like an artist. I self-define as an artist. And although I have designed about a hundred logos over 47 years and worked as a designer and marketing person, I have a personal passion for fine art and pastels in particular. Five years ago, I joined MAAA as a member, hoping to become more active when I got to retirement. Last winter, the organization was looking for volunteers and I found myself wanting to help. Kristina Stewart, an artist new to the area, volunteered to organize Art in the Park 2023. She really saved the day. Kris was looking for someone to handle the online registrations and I thought I could do that part.
What is special to you about Ashuelot River Park?
My enthusiasm for the park goes back to 1990 when Jeanna Hamblet, Dave Putnam and my brother Chuck Simpson were dreaming about the park. The NH Landscape Association took on the park as a service project and held a big work weekend in the fall of 1990. I worked with NHLA for years designing their newsletter so I was at the build event helping with PR. A designer working with me created the logo for the park organization, reflecting the pretty carved wooden sign that was at the park then. The engraved stones in the park include many of my family members alive and deceased and my company, Sterling Design & Communications, has a stone. When MacMillin was celebrating its 50th anniversary and donating the park’s bridge, I helped with the event management and PR for that celebration, including creating a graphic of the bridge.
What is special about Art in the Park?
I have been a longtime fan of Art in the Park and try to get there every September. Over the years, in addition to enjoying each tent’s art, I have run into old friends. The last time I had a chance to speak with Ken Jue was at Art the Park (Ken, the leader of Mondanock Family Services, was my client for nearly two decades). I run into people like Louise Zerba whom I knew from many area causes, Jean Nelson and her husband Doug who contributed so much to the music scene in Keene. My kids played sports with two artists’ kids (David Bulger and Mary Iselin) so it’s fun to check in on the kids. Last year I wandered through and ran into Mary Delisle, a person I have always admired. When I heard Mary had been running the event but would not be going forward in 2023, I wanted to help—but strictly behind the scenes. My experience with organizing, spreadsheets and database editing have come in handy.
The focal point of Art in the Park is the artists and their art. There are 56 returning artists including many who come every year. Some have come since the event was held on Central Square including Sue Doyle who works in colored pencil. It’s very exciting that 10 new artists will be participating in their first Art in the Park including two I’d like to mention: Sue Hum from Hancock who does thought-provoking, creative watercolor, acrylic art (I saw her work at Artwalk and it stood out for its freshness and execution) and Ryan Curtis of Keene who does large mixed media works and needed two tents. His tents are on the right as you enter the event: head back toward the river and the bike path to see his booths. I always go to the right first, it’s a little quieter and I can really appreciate the art before things get social.
As for the art, you can expect to see lots of beautiful work in oil. About 1/3 of the artists work in oil. I always thought of that as the most serious medium for the real professionals. The media of the masters… but not my media! There are 2-3 pastel artists and it’s certainly worth the trip to see Gill Truslow’s command of pastels. She is a celebrated local artist who has won many awards for her pastels and is also a stalwart volunteer who has helped the organization for many, many years.
Geographically, the artists represent NH and the Monadnock Region well but there are many from other parts of NH. There are two artists from MA, one from VT and one from NC—Kyle Stuckey—who I’m told grew up in our area. His work is show-stopping so you want to visit him in booth 57. There is one posthumous artist, Bob Askey, whose daughter will be hosting Bob’s tent, a wonderful thing in itself.
Sculpture, photography, mixed media, oil, watercolor, color-penciled, printmaking. The show is a great education in the visual arts. Categories are judged and awards are made in each category.
Besides art, what else can a visitor expect at Art in the Park?
There is also a unique raffle program. Each artist who participates designates a piece and posts a sign that says, “Win me.” Visitors buy raffle tickets for $5 each, 3 for $10, and fill in the number of the tent that has a piece they would like to win. You don’t need to be present to win. A secret extra feature of the raffle celebrating the 65th year: one of the food vendors, Jenna’s Deli and Market, has provided a big gift basket and the buyer of a ticket randomly marked with 65 will win that door prize. Frisky Cow has some gift certificates in the secret anniversary raffle too. Proceeds of this raffle go to Scholarships at the two local high schools. A donation from the overall event proceeds goes to the Friends of the Ashuelot River Park for the upkeep of this treasured local resource.
The event runs from 10am-4pm Saturday and Sunday and makes a great outing combined with coffee from neighboring Starbuck’s, lunch or an early dinner. New this year, Jenna’s Market and Deli is offering items from their menu at a tent in the park but visitors can also walk over to their shop right next door. Frisky Cow gelato is returning to provide their refreshing treats as well.
Give me a good reason to stop doing weekend chores and go to this event.
To wind down the summer season and bridge into fall, you really can’t go wrong strolling through the beautiful oasis on West Street, Ashuelot River Park, which blossomed from an eyesore old carwash into a place where prom pictures are taken. It’s always a lovely way to see the seasons, bird watch, kayak up the river and back down, or ride a bike along the trail. The frosting on the cake over Labor Day weekend is that 66 artists each displaying their fine art in individual art shows make for an ideal artists’ date. (Julia Cameron promoted artists’ dates in her book The Artists’ Way for weekly creative recharging… and most stress-management programs promote balancing lifestyles by including a cultural component.) Once you’re in town, it’s always fun to walk through and hear some of the music at the Keene Music festival on Saturday and enjoy our beautiful city. Fun!
Mary Delisle, who managed Art in the Park for the past few years, spoke with Dan Mitchell in 2021. Here’s that interview.
Press release written by artist Liz Larson: Art in the Park, Celebrating 65 years – 1958 to 2023
The 65th Annual Art in the Park sponsored by the Monadnock Area Artists Association, will be held at Ashuelot River Park, West Street, Keene, NH, Saturday and Sunday September 2 & 3, 10 am – 4 pm both days. The show features more than 65 artists from around the New England area representing a wide variety of styles and media. Other highlights include an art raffle to support the MAAA scholarship fund, food by Jenna’s Deli and Gourmet Market, and frozen treats by Frisky Cow Gelato. Admission to the event is free and the park is handicap accessible.
The Monadnock Area Artists Association, formerly known as the Keene Art Association, began in 1958 when a loose knit group of artists displayed their artwork on Central Square in Keene. The City provided snow fencing upon which the paintings were hung. That humble seed blossomed into the annual “Art in the Park” event with over sixty to eighty artists displaying their work.
From the Central Square location, the show was held for a few years on the campus of Keene State College. In the 1990’s Ashuelot River Park on West Street was founded and the entrance and decorative archway were built a few years later when the City of Keene acquired the land out to West Street. With the help of the Keene Parks and Recreation Department, working with the Keene Art Association, Art in the Park moved to Ashuelot River Park on West Street in 1993.
Many artists have returned year after year to participate in this long running outdoor art exhibition and sale, highlighting some returning artists. Sue Doyle first exhibited at the Central Square location in 1970, and continues to participate in Art in the Park. Active since the beginnings of Ashuelot River Park are Steve Previte who has been doing this show ever since the association has been using Ashuelot River Park. Growing up in Hollis, NH, sisters Harriet Winchester, and Liz Winchester-Larson went to visit outdoor art shows around the region on family trips. Harriet began doing Art in the Park in 1993, Liz in 1997, now they exhibit together, sharing a tent. Mary Iselin says “so long she doesn’t remember, maybe about 25 years”.
New artists are always coming to exhibit at Art in the Park, among those this year are: Sue Ann Hum is a multi-media New Hampshire artist, Kate Shaffer shows colorful and texture-filled paintings, and Ryan B. Curtis has a double site for his large mixed media works.
New artist Amy Owens shared “I’ve attended Art in the Park for years as an art enthusiast, but this will be my first time participating as an artist. Although I’ve painted my whole life, I’m finally seeing what it might be like to develop my passion into a career, and part of that has been seeking opportunities to show my work. I’ve always loved the atmosphere of Art in the Park–accessible, friendly, and with plenty to inspire an aspiring painter–so this was definitely a venue I hoped to join. I’m thrilled to now have the opportunity to do so and very grateful for all the work and planning I can now see behind the scenes that makes this such a great event”.
Our annual art raffle: Our guests coming to Art in the Park have the opportunity to win an artwork of their choice, raffle tickets are $5 each or 3 for $10. You do not have to be present to win. Raffle drawings are both Saturday and Sunday. Proceeds from the raffle go to the Art Scholarship Fund, benefiting graduating students from Keene and Monadnock Regional High Schools who are going on to major in art at a 4 year college or university.