The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Robert Eshoo, former Currier Museum Art Center director, teaching in the 1970’s. Courtesy image.

See “Transforming Lives Through Art: 75 Years at the Currier Art Center”
Where: Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester
When: The exhibition is on view through March 9
Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $9 for students, $5 for youth ages 13 through 17, free for members and children younger than 13.

75 years of “Transforming Lives”
Looking back at the Currier Art Center

By Kelly Sennott

 Even after a heavy winter storm, the Currier Museum of Art was bustling with activity during a recent Saturday morning. Former Currier Art Center Director Robert Eshoo was teaching a master watercolor painting class, and the museum’s most recent exhibition, “Transforming Lives through Art: 75 Years at the Currier Art Center,” was filled with families, artists and onlookers admiring students’ work.

One of those artists was Bruce McColl, the current Art Center director and exhibition curator who has become the center’s unofficial historian over the past eight months. Here, he and his daughter, 7-year-old Eve McColl, talked about the significance of the Art Center, in their lives and in the community itself. Eve has been taking classes there since age 3.
“I like that the Art Center allows people to come in and make art,” Eve said. 
Petite, blonde and proud of her work, she pointed out three of her pieces on display, all of which were made during the fall semester. 
The exhibition contains work by the Art Center’s former and current students and a historical timeline detailing the past 75 years. Bruce McColl hopes Currier visitors appreciate the significance of the Art Center’s 75th birthday, not just for art’s sake, but also because of the center’s importance to the Southern New Hampshire community.
“In our culture today, most young people see athletics as a way of coming together. What the Currier does at the Art Center is that it tells the story of how arts can do the very same thing,” McColl said
“Transforming Lives through Art” is laid out like a timeline. Start out by the exhibition entrance and you’ll find newspaper clippings, notes, photos and scrapbooks from the art center’s beginning in 1939. These clippings highlight some of the Art Center’s big moments and big players, including Eshoo, the art center director from 1958 through 1995, who’s distinct in the old images due to his long, thick mustache.
There’s an interactive section of the exhibition, too. Settled in the back of the space is an activity area that, last Saturday, hosted several families. 
“We’re a homeschooled family, and we appreciate the exposure it [the Currier Art Center] gives them. It allows them to see a world bigger than theirs, with mainstream classes and lots of art,” said Stacy Fuller, whose two daughters had just finished class at the center that day and were coloring pink houses at the art table.
Some Art Center students, like Eve, are beginner artists, while others, like George Woodman, Jon Brooks, Katherine Paras and Linn Krikorian, have moved on to become successful artists and educators.
But they haven’t forgotten their beginnings. 
“My winter classes at the Currier perhaps gave me more than my two years in graduate school 10 years later,” Woodman wrote in his alumni testimonial, on display in the exhibition. “I tell you this because you need not forget how important your classes have been to artists for many years, and your students need to realize that, for some of them, your classes now may shape their lives tomorrow.”
Jon Brooks began taking classes at the museum in the 1950s when he was 7. He suffered from undiagnosed learning disabilities in school, but the exception was in art; the Currier Art Center allowed him to shine in an environment “where learning was delightfully satisfying,” he said.
“It offered a place to become seriously engaged with materials and the creative process, and our teachers were full-time artists,” Brooks wrote in his testimonial. “I knew at a young age that studio art was a place where I could communicate fully in ways other languages could not provide.”
Their stories, while fulfilling to hear because of their outcome, are not unique, McColl said. In his eight months curating, McColl can attest to this through interviews and old history files uncovered by Currier librarian/archivist Meghan Petersen and a number of volunteers. Research required a lot of sifting and a lot of re-organizing, but they were able to uncover some poignant and remarkable primary source documents.
One of those sources is an excerpt from a radio broadcast transcript in 1937, with words by Maud Briggs Knowlton, the Currier Museum director at the time. 
“The importance of training young children to become familiar with, and appreciative of the beauty that lies within their field of vision, cannot be stressed too strongly,” Knowlton said in the transcript. “The creative work of the children cannot help but influence their lives in years to come, and consequently make them more appreciative of everything round about them.”
The idea of arts in education, McColl said, hasn’t changed much.
“Her words more or less speak to this idealist, high-minded, very utopian idea that many of us believe: that arts education, for children, is important in creating a healthy community of educated and visually aware children,” McColl said. 
The Art Center, he said, justifies the act of being creative — students here can learn from the museum’s artists, educators and staff members that you can make a career from art. The Art Center’s museum backdrop also inspires students in a way that public school arts programs can’t always do.
“It gives students license to experiment and to think in a non-linear fashion. To teach creativity is such a necessary thing to do, more so today than ever before,” McColl said. 
As seen in the February 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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