The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Monique Sakellarios and Michael Cummings. Kelly Sennott photo.

Maison de l’Art

57 E. Pearl St., Nashua, 879-9888,

Artist affirmations
Sakellarios, Cummings on making and selling work

By Kelly Sennott

 Monique Sakellarios is a painter first and foremost, but when it comes to running Maison de l’Art, she’s like a scout, always on the lookout for the next great New Hampshire artist.

Her tiny Nashua gallery tucked away on East Pearl Street is like a “Parisian boutique with New Hampshire prices,” in her words; every square inch of wallspace is covered by her and her artists’ paintings, prints and mixed media pieces. She knows the story behind each one.
“When I start talking about my artists, I can’t stop,” said Sakellarios during a recent interview at the gallery. “Anything I carry in here, I have to love it. If I love it, I’ll sell it.”
Her latest recruit is Michael Cummings, who owns Crosby Bakery a couple doors down. She’d been inside the shop many times to buy sandwiches, cookies or coffee, but learned about a year ago from one of her regular customers (and one of his employees) that Cummings is also an artisan wood turner. When he’s not baking, he’s making bowls, cups and spoons from cherry, maple, white birch, American hornbeam and sycamore trees.
“He first said to me, ‘I’m not interested in selling it. I give it away,’” Sakellarios said. “But I said, it’s quite rewarding to sell. It’s not the money. It’s the appreciation. When people are ready to part with their money for something you do, that means they really love it.”
Cummings likes working with his hands; he’s been baking from scratch the past 50 years, and his house is filled with his own shelves, cabinets and hutches. He learned to turn at Merrimack High School adult education courses in 2012 and became hooked. 
Perhaps it was in his blood; his uncle, Norman Stevens, is the author of three books featuring artisan-made wooden spoons and has an enormous collection. Cummings is particularly fascinated by the trance he enters while making a bowl.
“You’re in your own world. You don’t think about anything else. You’re 100 percent devoted to what you’re doing,” Cummings said. “The bowl is inside the wood. …They’ll dictate to you what they’re going to look like when they’re done. If you try to fight it, they’re not going to come out that good.”
He geeks out whenever he finds wood he knows will transform into fantastic pieces — like a burl that grow on the side of trees (“You never know what you’re going to get inside!”) or spalted wood, which contains coloration caused by fungi.
“Sycamore is the most boring wood. It’s just plain old white. But this is spalted,” Cummings said, picking up a bowl lined with dark spots and stripes. “I get goosebumps just talking about it. I’m not kidding.”
Sakellarios has since sold four of Cummings’ pieces, and she expects she’ll sell many more. She’s like a cheerleader for her artists, encouraging good work and pushing them to make more. About 95 percent of them are from Greater Nashua. 
“Look at this one! How interesting that is,” Sakellarios said, plucking a wooden bowl from the gallery window and holding it up against the light. “Isn’t it gorgeous? You can see the light through the wood. … I’m not a wood collector. But I can see the beauty in this. And talking to him makes me appreciate it even more, because I understand a little more about it.”
Sakellarios would like Cummings to carve full-time once he retires, and he would too; until then, his days are packed, running a business, spending time with grandchildren, raising chickens and pigeons and gardening. His next step is to try to get juried into the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. 
But he had to admit, Sakellarios was right; it’s affirming, to sell your work and leave your mark.
“Sometimes my students don’t want to sell something because they’re attached to it. I tell them, ‘You’re going to do better! Don’t get attached!’ I’m not attached to my work. I always think that what I do next is going to be better,” Sakellarios said. “We’re all going to die someday, but my paintings are not going to die. Your bowls are not going to die. The more people who have them, the more immortal you are. Think about it.”

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