Maame, by Jessica George

Maame, by Jessica George (St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages)

There’s a lot to like about 25-year-old Maddie Wright, the main character in Jessica George’s debut novel. Born in Ghana and living in London, Maddie is navigating her unique brand of young adulthood struggles, from low-key workplace racism to familial responsibilities and expectations. She is sweet and kind and very innocent, at times frustratingly so. But watching Maddie grow up and figure out who she is and who she wants to be is what Maame is all about, and it’s a charming journey.

In some ways, Maddie is forced to be more of an adult than many 25-year-olds; she’s taking care of her dad, who has Parkinson’s disease, and her mom, though still married to her dad, spends most of her time in Ghana running a hostel while Maddie and her dad live in London. Her mom is critical of Maddie and the fact that she isn’t as engaged in her Ghanaian heritage and customs as her mother would like her to be — yet Maddie is the one paying all the bills at home and sending money to her mom in Ghana, while her brother does little to help.

In other ways, though, Maddie seems younger than most women her age, and she knows it. That’s why she sets a goal to transform herself into “The New Maddie.” She makes a list of who she wants to be, which includes “drinks alcohol when offered, always says yes to social events, tries weed or cigarettes at least once (but don’t get addicted!), goes on dates, is not a virgin,” and so on.

Maddie gets the chance to work on these goals when her mom returns to London for a year to take over the care of her husband. Maddie moves out and into a flatshare with two women her age, both very different and seemingly more worldly than she is, which gives her a whole new opportunity to live her own life. At the same time, she starts a new job at a publishing house, and, of course, there’s suddenly a new guy hanging around. (Happily, though, romance is not a central plotline but rather a nonintrusive piece of Maddie’s coming-of-age puzzle.)

George expertly depicts both Maddie’s Gen Z traits and her innocence through her frequent Google searches. She Googles random things like “back pain in your mid-twenties” and gets mostly-useless answers from random people: “CC: ‘It’s all linked to the Government. … From a young age we’re told office jobs are the goal. Then you sit at a desk hunched over 9-5, 5 days a week for most of your younger years.’ LG: ‘Why would the government want a nation suffering from back pain?’ CC: ‘So we don’t take over.’”

Many of her questions show her uncertainty and lack of confidence, particularly in the social domain. Waiting to hear back from a potential love interest, she Googles “How long do guys wait before asking a girl out on a date?” (Some very realistic Google answers range from: “I spent four months getting to know my now-girlfriend before I asked her out on a date” to “One hour.”) George incorporates these searches sparingly enough that they’re not annoying and they add some relatability to Maddie’s character no matter how different she is from the reader. We can all relate to the frustration of such drastically diverse search results with no definitive answer from a source — the almighty internet — that is supposed to have all the answers. (Honestly, who hasn’t Googled “weird rash” and been led to believe it’s either totally normal or a sign of impending death?)

Maame covers all the bases of growing up with cultural barriers, without being heavy-handed or preachy. Despite Maddie’s sometimes cringy naivete, I was rooting for her all along. Her story is often funny, and always heartfelt and engaging. A

Ms. Demeanor, by Elinor Lipman

Ms. Demeanor, by Elinor Lipman (Harper, 304 pages)

I’ve never before finished a book and thought, “That was delightful,” but that’s the phrase that kept running through my mind as I transitioned from the fictional world of Ms. Demeanor to the bleak reality of New Hampshire in winter. It was a bright spot in a string of cold, gray days, and it’s a step up from the typical beach read romance, with a unique plot, witty writing and fun, well-developed characters.

Protagonist Jane Young, a spunky, sassy lawyer, is under house arrest for public indecency, having been caught on camera by her nosy neighbor as she was enjoying an intimate moment with a coworker on her semi-private rooftop.

This house arrest leads to Jane meeting an amusing cast of characters, including cute, age-appropriate Perry Salisbury, whom she learns from her doorman is also under house arrest, also for a white-collar crime. (I said it was a unique plot, not necessarily a believable one — regardless, a nice change from the average fictional meet-cute.) I like that Perry is just a normal dude. In many chick-lit-type novels, the male characters who end up with the female protagonist are often portrayed as pompous jerks who eventually show that they have a kinder, softer side worth loving, or as friendly next-door-neighbor types (as opposed to an actual neighbor, a la Perry, who is neither annoyingly friendly nor a pompous jerk). He’s a great foil to Jane, pretty chill and tolerant compared to her less relaxed, quicker-to-anger vibes.

Lipman’s minor characters are well-developed and quirky. There’s Mandy, another building dweller Jane introduces herself to, because why not, being stuck there for six months, and there are Dani and Krzysztof, whom Jane meets because of their relation to the old woman who called the cops on her. Even Perry’s parents are hilarious, his mom especially, being all posh and snotty but also likable somehow.

This book features a lot of relationships of convenience. Jane and Perry’s relationship is transactional at first, starting with food — Jane is trying her hand at making food from the 1800s and posting her cooking videos on TikTok, and she agrees to make meals for Perry as well, which gets her a bit of a paycheck and helps him curb his fast-food habit. That quickly transitions to a friends-with-benefits situation.

Dani and Krzysztof, meanwhile, are looking for green cards through any means necessary so they don’t get deported back to Poland. They ask Jane to hook Krzysztof up with anyone she knows who might want to get married, like perhaps her twin sister Jackleen, who is saved from the absurdity of even considering that plan because when Jane mentions it to Mandy — a quirky woman who apparently has no qualms with marrying someone, anyone, because her biological clock is ticking — Mandy jumps on the opportunity.

Some of Ms. Demeanor’s plot seems to go off the rails at times. For example, there’s a possible murder situation that isn’t really resolved — but that didn’t bother me at all because a resolution wasn’t really the point. The whole cooking on TikTok thing, which Jane is doing because for some unknown reason her sister has been asking her to for years, was kind of pointless. Jane cooking for Perry would have made just as much sense without that, though it may be more that I don’t understand how people use TikTok. Like, she’s making very old-school foods while complaining about her current house-arrest situation — why would anyone care? But my teenage kids tell me it’s normal to follow random people doing random things. My daughter was just watching a total stranger getting ready for a first date while talking about the guy’s red flags. So, there’s that.

The easy, witty writing made me want to keep reading no matter which storyline Lipman was on. Plus, it’s a quick read with those deliberately short chapters that make a book hard to put down (just one more chapter, I thought many times). I think the readability is one of the reasons it’s so delightful. Sure, there’s no going back to read over gems of sentences; this isn’t Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination. It’s fast-paced and fun and at no point trying to be a contender for a Pulitzer Prize. So if you’re looking for serious, this isn’t it. B

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine, 384 pages)

You know when a book’s protagonist is really hard to like but, for reasons that you can’t quite understand, you root for her anyway? That is Carrie Soto.
When we meet Carrie, she’s 37 and has been retired from professional tennis for six years. After watching Nicki Chan match her Grand Slam record, she decides to come out of retirement and win back her spot at the top of the tennis world.
Taylor Jenkins Reid has created a character in Carrie who is so real, I keep expecting her to show up in daily sports headlines. But her name appears in fictional media stories time and again, as Jenkins Reid uses sports commentary and news articles to help shed light on what the world thinks of Carrie. And the world sees her exactly as she is: supremely talented but ruthless. In fact, she was given the nickname of “the Battle-Axe” when she was in her prime.
We see some of that ruthlessness during a press conference that takes place during her first event back, the Australian Open. One of the reporters asks if there’s truth to her comeback being a stunt. Carrie responds, “I’ve proven so far that my game is outstanding. So everyone can whine and moan all they want about me being here, but I’ve earned the right.”
Another reporter asks about her upcoming match, to which she replies, “I’m gonna crush Carla Perez and anyone else I play on my way to the final. I’m going to hold their beating hearts in my hand.”
That’s Carrie, inside and out. She’s as abrasive internally as she is externally; it’s not just a show for the media. She’s hard on everyone else, and she’s equally hard on herself. We see this in the thoughts that permeate her mind during her games, including during a tight match against Natasha Antonovich, one of her more formidable rivals.
“I do not look at my father. I do not want to see the worry in his eyes. I tell myself: Do not let her win this set. You are either a champion or a ****up. There is no in-between.”
Rarely, we see Carrie’s vulnerability. She puts a hard wall up against Bowe Huntley, a fellow tennis pro with whom she’d gotten too close to in the past. She has the chance to train with him again, and she imagines a scenario in which she does let him back into her life.
“He’ll say something wonderful at some point, and I’ll start to believe he means it, despite all evidence to the contrary. And then I’ll start to like him or love him or feel something that I swear I’ve never felt before. And then one day, when I’m in too deep, he’ll stop liking or loving me, for one reason or another. And I’ll be left with a hole in my heart.”
Also softening the storyline is Carrie’s relationship with her dad and coach, Javier, a former pro himself. Their relationship, at first, seems all business; when Carrie trains with him as a child, Javi is demanding and has what some might see as unrealistically high expectations. But as the story goes on, we see how deeply he loves her and just wants her to be happy. And Carrie’s feelings for him change, seeming to soften over the years. She had fired him as her coach during her pre-retirement career, but she agrees to work with him for her comeback. Javi becomes a likable character, an endearing foil to Carrie’s hard-headedness.
Carrie Soto is Back is very much about tennis, but don’t let that stop you from picking it up, even if you care nothing about sports in general or tennis in particular. I’ve never played tennis, never watched more than a few minutes of tennis, and never really cared to. But Carrie is tennis, and who she is is expressed through her intense tennis practices, tennis games and tennis relationships.
It helps that Jenkins Reid has done her homework. According to an Aug. 29 interview on The Cut, Reid has played tennis for fun, but “I don’t think I’ve ever won a game, let alone a set or a match. … I had to learn it all for this book, and I’m very insecure about it. Did I learn it right? I don’t know, guys. I’m an imposter. I’m trying really hard. I’m trying to learn as much as I can so that I can give you a good time.”
Jenkins Reid has done just that. Carrie Soto is Back is a good time, not in spite of Carrie’s brashness — or the intense focus on tennis — but because of it. A-

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf, 416 pages)

If a great writer is someone who can take a subject like video games — loved by some, maligned by others, inconsequential to the rest — and use it to weave together a story that even the latter two categories of people can appreciate, then Gabrielle Zevin is a great writer.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is about love, friendship and, yes, video games. That might sound like the premise of a young adult novel written to entice middle school gamers to put down the controller and pick up a book, but no; this is a beautifully written, emotionally complex story that unravels over the span of 30 years through various characters’ points of view — though mainly protagonists Sam Masur and Sadie Green’s — and in settings that range from hospitals to living rooms that serve as creative epicenters and offices, to inside the world of a video game that Sam creates.

Sam and Sadie met as kids in a hospital, where Sam was recovering from a car accident that killed his mom and Sadie was visiting her sister, who had cancer. Their very first interaction drew me in, with some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read. Sadie walks into the hospital’s game room, where Sam is playing Super Mario Bros. She sits down next to him and watches him play.

“Without looking over at her, he said, ‘You want to play the rest of this life?’

Sadie shook her head. ‘No. You’re doing really well. I can wait until you’re dead.’

The boy nodded. He continued to play, and Sadie continued to watch.

‘Before. I shouldn’t have said that,’ Sadie apologized. ‘I mean, in case you are actually dying. This being a children’s hospital.’

The boy, piloting Mario, climbed up a vine that led to a cloudy, coin-filled area. ‘This being the world, everyone’s dying,’ he said.

‘True,’ Sadie said.

‘But I’m not currently dying.’

‘That’s good.’

‘Are you dying?’ the boy asked.

‘No,’ Sadie said. ‘Not currently.’

‘What’s wrong with you then?’

‘It’s my sister. She’s sick.’

‘What’s wrong with her?’

‘Dysentery.’ Sadie didn’t feel like invoking cancer, the destroyer of natural conversation.”

Thus begins their relationship, though it’s derailed after 14 months when Sam finds out that Sadie has been counting the time she spends with him at the hospital as a community service project: “Their friendship amounted to 609 hours, plus the four hours of the first day, which had not been part of the tally.”

Sam and Sadie reconnect in their college years after a chance meeting at the subway station. They end up collaborating on a video game, Ichigo, which is a huge success and propels them toward future collaborations. Over the years, though, that work is complicated by emotions and miscommunications, deep love and unrequited romantic love, outside forces and other people, like Sam’s roommate, Marx, and Sadie’s professor/lover, Dov. These characters are what make Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow the compelling story that it is, and they’re a big part of the reason why people who don’t like video games can still appreciate this book. These are characters that readers can care about, and get mad at, and grieve with.

Zevin’s writing is exquisite; there are so many passages and sentences in the book that are worth reading more than once — an especially good thing when time jumps and perspective shifts get a little confusing and you need to stop for a moment and reread to make sure you know what’s going on.

There are some people who are not going to be able to get past all the video game references, because there are a lot. There are references to old-school games, and there are some technical aspects related to the behind-the-scenes work of creating a game, like design and programming and graphics engines (I’m still not quite clear on what such an engine does or why it can seemingly make or break the quality of a game, but those details don’t take away from the ability to understand what’s going on). There’s also a whole section that takes place in a video game called Pioneers, and while it wasn’t my favorite part, I can appreciate the depth that it adds to the storyline, as the game becomes an essential part of Sam and Sadie’s relationship.

I haven’t considered rereading a book in years — who has the time when there are so many new books waiting to be read — but this is one that I’m definitely going back to again, to savor the prose, spend more time with the characters and possibly get a better handle on what a graphics engine does — not that it really matters. A


Book Events

Author events

PHIL PRIMACK presents Put It Down On Paper: The Words and Life of Mary Folsom Blair in a Literary Lunchtime event at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Thursday, Sept. 8, at noon.

MINDY MESSMER presents Female Disruptors: Stories of Mighty Female Scientists at the Bookery (844 Elm St., Manchester, 836-6600, bookerymht.com) on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 5:30 p.m. Free admission; register at bookerymht.com.

SUSIE SPIKOL, a naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, will discuss her book The Animal Adventurer’s Guide: How to Prowl for an Owl, Make Snail Slime, and Catch a Frog Bare-Handed, on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 11 a.m. at Toadstool Bookshop (12 Depot Square in Peterborough; toadbooks.com, 924-3543).

JOSEPH D. STEINFIELD presents Time for Everything: My Curious Life at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 6:30 p.m.

BOB BUDERI author of Where Futures Converge: Kendall Square and the Making of a Global Innovation Hub will beat the Bookery (844 Elm St., Manchester, 836-6600) on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 5:30 p.m. for a discussion with special guests C.A. Webb and Liz Hitchcock. Free admission; register at bookerymht.com.

SUSIE SPIKOL, a naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, will come to Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St. in Concord; gibsonsbookstore.com, 224-0562) to “teach your kiddos how to find critters in their neighborhood” on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 11 a.m. with her book The Animal Adventurer’s Guide: How to Prowl for an Owl, Make Snail Slime, and Catch a Frog Bare-Handed, according to a press release. The book, which is slated for release Sept. 13, features “50 hands-on activities and adventures that bring you closer to wild animals than you’ve ever been,” the release said. Spikol will also bring supplies to do one of the crafts from the book.

MARGARET PORTER presents The Myrtle Wand at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 6:30 p.m.

Poetry

OPEN MIC POETRY hosted by the Poetry Society of NH at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com), starting with a reading by poet Sam DeFlitch, on Wednesday, July 20, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Newcomers encouraged. Free.

MARTHA COLLINS and L.R. BERGER hosted by the Poetry Society of NH at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, gibsonsbookstore.com) on Wednesday, Nov. 16, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Writers groups

MERRIMACK VALLEY WRITERS’ GROUP All published and unpublished local writers who are interested in sharing their work with other writers and giving and receiving constructive feedback are invited to join. The group meets regularly Email pembrokenhtownlibrary@gmail.com.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. 844 Elm St., Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email bookclub@belknapmill.org.

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.

Language

FRENCH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE CLASSES

Offered remotely by the Franco-American Centre. Six-week session with classes held Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. $225. Visit facnh.com/education or call 623-1093.

Getting back into the creative flow

Nashua art advocate’s work on exhibit at the library

When she wasn’t busy running Positive Street Art in Nashua, or working as the constituent services and cultural affairs coordinator in the city’s Office of the Mayor, Cecilia Ulibarri carved out some time in the past few years to work on her own art, including during an intense residency at the Factory on Willow in Manchester. The result of those efforts can be seen in her new exhibit, “Journeys of an Artist,” on display in the Nashua Public Library Art Gallery now through June 30.

“It has some of the pieces from when I first started through what I created through the residency,” Ulibarri said. “I thought it was kind of cool to show that journey of my role as an artist.”

She grew up with a family of artists so was always exposed to it, she said, but she never really took art seriously until she was about 30. And once she did, she found it challenging to share her work with others.

“Unless you’re part of [an artists’] group it was really hard to get in spaces if you didn’t have … traditional art,” she said. “A lot of my stuff is abstract contemporary.”

Ulibarri started with small shows at her home, then started to expand and became part of RAW Artist Collaborative from 2011 to 2014, showcasing in Boston and once in New York.

Also during that time, she met Manuel Ramirez — now her husband — and connected through art.

“We started wanting to do murals in town,” Ulibarri said. “We talked to a bunch of citizens, and it seemed like that was something the citizens would actually embrace.”

In 2012, the couple founded Positive Street Art, a Nashua nonprofit that is still beautifying the community today.

And then her own art fell by the wayside again.

“While I was building the nonprofit, I kind of got lost in my own workflow,” she said. “I would work most of the time while Manny was the lead artist on most of these murals, so I didn’t give myself time to create.”

More recently — and in large part because she had some extra time to slow down and think during the pandemic — Ulibarri realized she wanted to start making more time to create.

“I need to keep doing the things that make me happy and fulfill me,” she said.

She dove headfirst into the artists in residency program at the Factory on Willow; she and Ramirez did it together and stayed onsite in the Manchester space in order to get the full experience.

“I was so intimidated to get back into the creative flow and purge some of the ideas that I’d been holding on to,” Ulibarri said.

She said the Factory on Willow doesn’t dictate what you’re working on, but it does offer help and resources on whatever aspect of your art you want help with; Ramirez, for example, wanted to revamp his website. Ulibarri focused on her abstract art.

“I’m inspired by many things, and I don’t like to limit myself on my mediums on what I do,” she said. “I guess my creative flow just stems from shapes and colors and using the feelings that I’m having behind them transporting them onto canvas.”

Some of her works in the show feature new-to-her techniques.

“I fell in love with foils,” she said. “There’s just something about shiny things — it adds some luxury to it, and it just attracts the eye.”

There’s also a piece that layers wood pieces and resin, creating a kind of 3D effect that she hadn’t done before.

“I would like people to realize that abstract and contemporary art is more of a chance to be able to … look at themselves or feel through the art that they’re looking at, to really be able to experience it in a different way,” she said. “When you take yourself away from the heaviness of society … and really just connect with shapes and colors, really just feel the art … [it’s] a little bit deeper than just walking by [a piece] and saying, oh that’s a landscape.”

While the show is called “Journeys of an Artist,” Ulibarri said the average person might think it’s like looking at works from two different artists.

“I feel like we try to keep ourselves in a box, but I feel like that’s very limiting,” she said. “I like to take myself out of that box sometimes and get out of that comfort zone.”

Ulibarri was set to take another step out of her comfort zone on June 1, transitioning from president and cofounder of Positive Street Art to executive director. The organization just rented a larger space, and a grand opening is scheduled for June 5, from 1 to 5 p.m. at 48 Bridge St. Tickets are $30; find the event on PSA’s Facebook page.

“We’re creating [more] safe spaces for artists,” she said.

“Journeys of an Artist”
Where: Nashua Public Library, 2 Court St.
When: Now through June 30 anytime the library is open. There’s a Meet the Artist reception Thursday, June 2, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Visit: nashualibrary.org

Featured photo: Savoir Faire. Art by Cecilia Ulibarri. Courtesy photo.

Sculpted merriment

Visit artists at work at Nashua International Sculpture Symposium

Three artists have spent the past two weeks carving merriment out of metal and stone as they work toward their final creations for the 15th annual Nashua International Sculpture Symposium.

The theme this year is merriment — in part to honor Meri Goyette, a major Nashua arts supporter who inspired the event — and you can still watch the artists bring that theme to life at their worksite outside the Picker Artists building, where they’ve been since May 12, for about 14 hours a day every day.

“This is all for the sake of the public, for accessible public art,” said Jim Larson, the event’s artistic director. “The art produced is not a luxury object that you would see in a gallery — it is everyday artwork that is impactful and powerful. [It shows] we need artwork in our life every day, like food.”

As it has been since the pandemic started, the artists this year are all from the U.S.: Anna Miller is from Connecticut, Brent Howard is from New Jersey and Corinna D’Schoto is from Boston.

“We usually have international sculptors,” symposium president Gail Moriarty said. “[But it’s] really cool that they speak the same language.”

That makes for a different atmosphere than some past years, when artists have needed interpreters or have spoken limited English.

“They have amazing chemistry and a lot of dialogue,” Larson said. “The definition of symposium … is a gathering of people to converse, drink and share ideas [and they’re] really leaning into that.”

The artists are chosen not necessarily for their past sculptures, but for their potential.

“Two of our artists had never carved a piece of stone in their life, and they’re absolutely killing it,” Larson said.

One artist hasn’t worked with either metal or stone, he said, and it’s not unusual for the symposium board to choose artists who don’t have experience with large-scale sculptures and materials. Larson likened it to hiring someone for a job who has a great resume and the right attitude and is a good fit even if they don’t have the specific experience of that position.

“My job as the director here is to kind of make that leap,” he said. “You end up with a new take, a fresh perspective, and it shows in the finished work.”

Once they saw the site and the materials and tools they have to work with, the artists spent their first days in Nashua planning and sketching.

“We let them do whatever they want — it depends on the creative process of the artist,” Moriarty said. “It’s different for everybody, and we welcome that.”

Part of the purpose of the symposium, Larson said, is to give artists the support to try something new, including access to tools and materials.

“[The event] allows them to make work that they couldn’t or wouldn’t otherwise make,” he said.

Larson, who has a background in structural metal fabrication and structural stone masonry, sources the materials for these projects.

“[Some of] this year’s stone came from a small family quarry operation in West Rutland, Vermont,” Larson said. “It’s some of the nicest white marble in the world, and it’s a delight to carve.”

One artist is using Lake Champlain black marble that’s full of fossils and is from the oldest known reef on the planet, Larson said. Because of his background, Larson said, he knows what materials are best for carving, and where to find them. But part of his role is teaching these sculptors the art of sourcing their materials.

“An artist that has a really fruitful, creative practice, who is a widely creative person … should be able to creatively source their material as well,” he said.

The artists will be at the Picker building until about June 1, when they’ll start transporting their pieces to the installation site. Sculptures from years past can be seen throughout the city; this year, they’ll be at one site on Commercial Street, Moriarty said, next to the old bridge.

“They’ll be in the middle of the big push to get their work done,” Larson said of the artists’ final weekend of sculpting. “It’s the most exciting time.”

Visitors are encouraged to stop by the site while they’re finishing up the final touches.

“It’s such a rare thing to be able to see an artist working through these tangible things,” Larson said. “They’re working in front of a huge brick wall that becomes [like] a stage. It’s a pretty absurd look.”

Nashua is the only city in the country to host an international sculpture symposium, and both Larson and Moriarty emphasized the importance of the community in being able to host the event. Residents host the artists in their homes, bring meals as they work and provide transportation.

“The public is what keeps us going every year,” Moriarty said.

15th annual Nashua International Sculpture Symposium
Where: The Picker Artists building, 3 Pine St., Nashua, until June 1, when they’ll start moving their pieces to the installation site near the old bridge on Commercial Street
When: Visit the artists at the Picker building from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day until they start transporting their pieces to Commercial Street, where will be a closing ceremony on Saturday, June 4, at 1 p.m.
More information: nashuasculpturesymposium.org

Featured photo: Corinna D’Schoto is sketching details to make cuts/curve out contours of a clavicle bone (suspended by gantry). Courtesy photo.

Huzzah!

Get two weekends of swords, ladies and lords, music and more at the NH Renaissance Faire

Knights, archers, jousters, pirates — you’ll find them all at the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire, back in person and happening over the course of two weekends, May 14 and 15 and May 21 and 22, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

“We’re very excited,” said Marc Bernier, general manager and president of the Board of Directors for the Renaissance Faire. “There have been a lot of changes because of Covid, and it’s been a lot of work. … Some of our acts and vendors have had to shut their doors either because of their health or [for financial reasons] … [but] we have a number of new acts.”

There are also new food vendors and new interactive activities for kids, including ax and knife throwing. And the whole fair has moved across the street to a bigger field.

“People will be parking in the same parking lot but just walk in the other direction,” Bernier said.

Traditional favorites will be back, including archery demos and practice shooting with the Junior Olympic archery division, as well as the Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword and the jousting demos.

Bernier said about 30 percent of the people who attend dress in full Renaissance “garb,” which is what they call costumes, and about 20 percent come in partial garb.

“A lot of people will build their costumes as they go to fairs, so they might start with a tunic and then add a cloak [at the next fair] and then add footwear,” he said.

Each day of the fair has a theme, and visitors are encouraged to dress up based on the day’s theme: There’s Wizards and Fairies Day the first Saturday, and Heritage Day the first Sunday, then Pirates and Barbarians Day the second Saturday, and the last day is Literature, TV and Movies.

“Ren faires have probably gotten a little bit of an odd or bad rap — a bunch of nerdy kids running around in costumes,” Bernier said. “But thousands of people come in [and are able to] let their inner nerd out a little bit, because everyone is doing it.”

The Hippo reached out to some of this year’s entertainers, who shared via email their techniques for getting into character, their favorite part of the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire and more.

Marc Bernier as Master Marcus Bowyer, archer

Bernier is also the general manager and president of the Board of Directors for the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire.

man at renaissance faire dressed in costume
Marc Bernier. Photo by Triple-G Photography.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I am the general manager of the Faire and I have been involved in ren faires for over 20 years in one capacity or another. I have worked in nearly every aspect of Faire except food service.

What’s your process for getting into character?

I play a variety of characters. The process depends on which, but most of them are primarily based on the garb (costume) the character wears.

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

I don’t generally have to. I slide right into the role.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

This also relates to the character. I try to fit the theme for the day unless I have a specific role. I like being available for pictures with people and improvised interacting.

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

The charity donation we raise is my reason for putting in the work.

J.D. Lauriat as pirate Avery Meritt

Lauriat is the Village Cast Director and Combat Director for New Hampshire Renaissance Faire and one of the members of the musical act The Penniless Jacks.

man in costume at renaissance faire, playing hand drum
J.D. Lauriat. Photo by Triple-G Photography.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

Well, I have been working/performing at various renaissance faires since 2006. I started out as part of a village cast that focused on patron interaction and mixed in a bit of singing and sword fighting. Fast forward to today and I’ve been director at a few events, I’ve been part of several stage shows and performances, and [I have] traveled throughout New England doing everything from acting to fight performance to music shows to directing cast to teaching stage combat.

What’s your process for getting into character?

It ultimately depends on the character that I am playing, but I always tell my cast, especially those who are new to this, to use a piece of your costume as a sort of catalyst for getting into character. It could be your hat, or a doublet, or even something mundane like a pin or brooch that you wear. I’ve played several very different characters over the years, from Pirate to Grave Digger to Nobility. This year, I am simply the owner of a local tavern. For me, it’s often the hat. The main process for getting ready, for me, is to silently role-play or act out a scene that my character might be in. It’s often a variation of the same scene each time, but it’s something that really encompasses the mindset and characteristics of the person I’m going to be playing for the day.

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

As I mentioned, I will often play out a scene that the character could be in, but that doesn’t work for all situations. Some shows, when I’m just performing with The Penniless Jacks, don’t lend themselves well to being a character because we spend so much time on stage. So the start of the day is typically a bit of panic with a dash of fear. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and a stage show still terrifies me, and I suspect it always will. I had a wonderful director years ago tell me that it’s a good sign to have a bit of fear before a show, because it means you care.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

My character, Avery Meritt, brings a sense of protection to the rest of the village. Many of the locals are unaware of his past, but they know he isn’t to be trifled with. Still, he runs the local tavern and inn, and keeps the doors open as a sort of hospitality house for his neighbors. For the patrons attending the faire, he brings a warm welcome, a bit of conversation, and music to remember.

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

Honestly, aside from the fact that it’s a charity event, I would say the music. Throughout the years, I have seen so many amazing musicians and acts pass through, and many of them have become good friends. I love that it’s a rare moment that you don’t hear wonderful songs echoing throughout the grounds.

Ilkka Eskelinen as Lord Sheriff Alistair Fynne

Eskelinen performs with the Shimmynanigans, belly dancers at the Faire.

man at renaissance faire, resting on cushions
Ilkka Eskelinen. Courtesy photo.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

My regular day-to-day work is as a job superintendent for a commercial construction company, as well as the safety officer and equipment trainer. I’m 52, born in Fitchburg, Mass. I have been a performer since 2010, originally as a villager. I sang shanties with a pirate crew for a few years. I also perform as a Viking, and recently had the honor to lead a service for a Viking-style funeral.

What’s your process for getting into character?

My process for getting into character: It all starts as soon as I wake on the day of faire. Getting my gear together for the day, sorting through and choosing what particular accouterments I’ll wear that day. While my costume stays fairly constant, I’ll adjust my outfit based on the temperature and weather outlook. My mindset, I go through a mental checklist of what’s lined up for the day, meet up with my fellow castmates and confirm everything is set. If doing stage combat, doing a few dry runs to make sure my partner and I have things in order.

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

I remind myself of some of my favorite memories from previous faires. One story in particular stands out, and I’ll try to keep it brief but I’d like to share it so you have the mental picture. Around 10 years ago, I spent some time chatting with a woman at faire, and was about to head off to a show. I asked for her hand, kissed it gently, and wished her a good day. She started crying! I asked what was amiss, and she told me (paraphrase) that no man ever pays her as much attention as I did that day. I still remember what I said to her (paraphrased of course): “Miss, you are very lucky! You have avoided being stuck with some idiot who doesn’t appreciate you! You are now free for an intelligent man to see you for who you really are, and be who you deserve.” I saw her again the following year at faire, and I didn’t recognize her at first. She had lost a lot of weight, changed her style, and introduced me to her boyfriend of several months. How wonderful is that?! The thought of making someone’s day even a little brighter, bringing a smile, a laugh, a shared moment — it brings me back year after year.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

I am a wandering performer. I travel around the site, greeting people, engaging in conversations, perhaps joining a wandering singing group to sing a song. … This year we are introducing stage combat, and I will be doing a fight with one of the villagers. I love to make folk laugh. We never know what kind of day someone is having when they set foot onto the faire site. If I can bring a smile, a laugh, and give them a pleasant memory to take away from the day, it is all worth it.

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

Aside from my wanderings, my favorites are watching full-contact fighting in armor, such as The Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword, or listening to the various singing groups and their stage performances, like The Penniless Jacks, The King’s Busketeers, and Myschyffe Managed.

Brian Caton as Sir Brian de Caton, Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword

Caton formed the historical reenactment group at the Faire that demonstrates combat.

men in armor fighting in front of audience at Renaissance faire.
Photo courtesy of Brian Caton.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

Well, I started in the ren faire scene roughly about 26 years ago as a merchant but joined a reenactment group that performed at the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire in 2007. In 2015, several educators in the group and I formed the Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword.

Our primary focus is educational reenactment of the medieval time period. Our goal is to show the difference between real history and Hollywood. We present at ren faires and schools throughout New England. At faire we will set up a hands-on medieval encampment where patrons can come in and see people performing period chores and also try on armor and weapons.

We also perform several types of presentations. One being our weapons presentation/life on the battlefield presentation. Another, and our most popular, is our fully armored, full steel fight show where we demonstrate fighting styles of the time period and modern-day tournament fighting in full-speed, full-contact combat.

What’s your process for getting into character?

My character, Sir Brian de Catton, portrays a knight from 1475 Yorkshire England. My armor and garb are all patterned off examples from the time period and are all handmade. At NHRF, I am also the Queen’s Champion.

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

I’d say that I start psyching up for the faire or getting into character by putting the garb on in the morning and our fighters, myself included, start psyching up for the fight show with the process of putting the armor on. Which can be a pretty involved process.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

My favorite part of a faire is experiencing the crowds and especially the children when they see our fighters in armor and when they themselves get to try the armor. The making of memories is very important to us.

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

At NHRF, my favorite part is the Faire family that has come together to put on the charity event. From performers, merchants to volunteers and staff. There is a real sense of family at the event.

Danny Scialdone as Lord Aspergillius Gleekman

Scialdone is also the entertainment director of the Faire.

man dressed in jester hat, riding pony with horn on its head
Photo courtesy of Danny Scialdone.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I have been performing as a variety of characters at renaissance faires for 15 years now and found my way to NHRF in 2011 as their first official court jester, Aspergillius Gleekman, joining the rank of the royal court. In 2012, I took on the role of entertainment director for NHRF as well as Treasury Senior Officer for the Three Maples Renaissance Corp (a 501(c)3 charity organization). As for my character, Aspergillius is an energetic, spontaneous silly man that tends to do just the thing you don’t expect him to … he likes to keep people on their toes. A trusted advisor to Queen Catherine and a compassionate soul that ensures that there is a smile on everyone’s faces.

What’s your process for getting into character?

Put on my garb, simple as that. Aspergillius is really just my own everyday goofball personality, which makes it very easy for me to get into character … put on my costume (or “garb” as we call it), flip the switch, and off I go … 40 jingle bells and all!

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

Honestly, nothing really. Just like I said, flip the switch.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

Happiness, smiles and laughter

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

That is a tough one, there are so many … if I had to pick one, I would say the interaction with patrons, especially the kids. Kids really soak up the whole renaissance faire experience like no other, you can actually see the magic in their eyes and smiles. The best ones, though, are those that are only at the faire because they got “dragged along” by friends or family. When they come through the gate they arrive with an obvious disinterest, but by the end of the day, they end up having the time of their life and can’t wait to come back!

Brian Weiland of the Misfits of Avalon

The Misfits of Avalon will perform the second weekend of the Faire.

3 string musicians standing in arched stone windows, dressed in historic costume
Photo courtesy of Brian Weiland.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

My group is called the Misfits of Avalon, and we are a Celtic music act based in Massachusetts. Since our founding in 2009 we have at one time or another performed at pretty much every renaissance faire in New England, including performing at the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire every year since 2011. The core of the group is two lifelong best friends — myself on the hammered dulcimer and mandolin, and Max Cohen on guitar and vocals. All three of my children have also performed in the group over the years, and currently my youngest son, Aiden, is our fiddler. When I am not at faire I am a public school music teacher, and Max is a full-time professional musician.

What’s your process for getting into character?

Our characters are basically street musicians, which in renaissance terms means that we are definitely among the lower-class inhabitants of the realm! We therefore mostly wear simple peasant garb, though when we want to look a little fancier we sometimes wear full kilts. My mindset as a renaissance musician is actually not dissimilar to my mindset as a modern musician: I am there to hopefully gladden the hearts of all who hear me, from the humblest peasant to the queen herself!

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

Hopefully what the Misfits of Avalon brings to the faire is a little bit of beauty, a little bit of history, and maybe even a little bit of magic. I have for my entire life believed that music is a form of magic, and we do our best to cast good spells! We play several stage shows each day, but we actually spend the majority of our time — pretty much every moment when we are not on stage — busking around the fairgrounds, so that as visitors wander around throughout the day, the delicate ethereal tones of the hammered dulcimer playing beautiful Celtic melodies transports all within the realm back to a more mystical and beautiful time and place!

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

My favorite part of faire is the friendships and camaraderie. The people who work at ren faires are some of the most wonderful creative talented quirky people I know. We all have our own mundane lives and jobs and burdens, and we all live in this great big complex world, but we have all chosen to invest a pretty serious amount of time, effort, preparation and money in order to occasionally get together and create this little alternate world whose entire function is to share and inspire joy. I love being part of a community that does that!

New Hampshire Renaissance Faire

When: Saturdays and Sundays, May 14 and 15, and May 21 and 22, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

Where: 80 Martin Road, Fremont

Cost: Adults $18; kids over 4 $12 and kids 4 and under get in free. Tickets available at nhrenfaire.com or at the faire, and proceeds support the New Hampshire Food Bank and Rockingham Meals on Wheels.

Event is held rain or shine; check nhrenfaire.com in case of extreme weather.

Activities

Information according to the schedule at nhrenfaire.com.

Children’s Glen: Games, crafts and fun activities for the kiddies! Let them test their coordination on Jacob’s Ladder.

Archery Range: Archery at the Three Maples run by JOAD (Junior Olympic Archery Development). Free to play, but donations to JOAD are encouraged!

Craft Demonstrations: Many merchants will be demonstrating their craft at their booths, such as weaving, leather work and jewelry making.

Encampment Demonstrations: Visit the knights from the Brotherhood of the Arrow & Sword in the backfield and check out their camp, armor and weapons. Or visit our pirates and gypsies and see what trouble they’re up to!

Charity Wench & Lad Auction: Bid on goods donated from vendors and modeled by strapping lads and lovely wenches.

Bellydance Lesson: Learn to bellydance with the Shimmynanigans.

Entertainment

See performance schedule and map at nhrenfaire.com.

B.O.N.E.S. – New England Pirate Guild sings songs of the sea

Brother Sylvan – Poetry and readings from the traveled wandering bard

Duchess of Yorkshire Pudding – Whimsical tales, stories and songs of the heartwarming Duchess of Yorkshire Pudding

Gibbon The Troubadour – The minstrel plays a wide array of Irish-Celtic, nautical and folk songs

Guy Todd, Wandering Harpist – Enchanting music that will take you to another place and time

IJA – A group of jousters from all over brings the thrill of the “Game of Kings”

Medieval Music Jam – All of the faire’s talented musicians and musical performers come together for one big musical performance

Michael OJ Magician – Magic and illusions

Phoenix Swords – Medieval performance troupe demonstrates sword and weapon combat, fire breathing and flame handling

Primrose Pirates – Sword fighting and live black powder

Shimmynanigans – Bellydancing gypsies

Sir Timothy the Enchanter – The first-ever bullwhip act at the faire

The Brotherhood of the Arrow & Sword –Historical reenactment group demonstrates fully armored live steel combat

The Corr Thieves – Action and humor-filled show

The Dirge Queen – A musical queen

The Foxy BardPG13 – Roving bard playing folk-rock, Celtic rock and medieval songs

The Harlot QueensPG13 – Acapella singing queens

The Harper and The MinstrelMay 14 & 15 only – Historically inspired performances of Medieval, Renaissance and Celtic Music

The King’s Busketeers – Band of musical bards with Irish pub songs, shanties and more

The Longshanks: Stilt Walkers & Storytellers – A storytelling duo wandering about the shire on stilts

The Misfits of AvalonMay 21 & 22 only – Duo of minstrels playing contemporary and traditional Celtic songs on the harp, guitar and hand dulcimer

The Penniless Jacks – Old-style pub music trio singing shanties and rousing rebel songs

The Pillage Idiots – Silly stories, songs and tales from a crew of comedic pirates

The Shank PaintersMay 21 & 22 only – Sea-shanty singing trio

Two and a Halfwits – Improv comedy group

Queen’s Tea – Bring the wee ones for lemonade and cookies with the Queen herself

Featured photo: J.D. Lauriat, left, and Andy Prete, right, of the Penniless Jacks. Courtesy photo.

Comic books for all

Free Comic Book Day returns

After two years of schedule changes, Free Comic Book Day returns to its first Saturday in May spot on the calendar this year with several local shops participating in the May 7 event.

The event, which began in 2002, has handed out millions of copies of special issues of comics created for Free Comic Book Day to people looking to find new stories or rediscover old favorites. Each shop has individual policies regarding how many releases one may take, and which books are available. (This year, there are more than 45 different issues scheduled to be available for Free Comic Book Day, according to freecomicbookday.com, where you can see covers and previews for 2022 comics.)

The day is intended to commemorate each shop and celebrate small businesses and their love for the art of comic books.

Double Midnight Comics, with stores in both Concord and Manchester, is hosting a couple of well-recognized guests to help celebrate this day and intrigue enthusiasts statewide. Its Manchester store will celebrate 20 years in business this July; the Concord store opened eight years ago, relocating from Main Street to Loudon Road this past October.

“[For] our Manchester store, we bill it as a big … extravaganza,” store owner Chris Proulx said. “We had people, pre-Covid, who would line up on Wednesday. There’s people [who] will camp out for a few days ahead of time. … It almost turns into a block party in our parking lot.”

Proulx has high hopes that this FCBD will enter back into the realm of normalcy, as the pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020 and rescheduling to the summer last year. Unfortunately, this led to a much smaller turnout compared to previous years. Proulx said that the Concord location will be for customers looking to simply stop by and look around at their own pace. It is more of an ideal location for younger kids in need of more of a relaxed browsing scene. Proulx looks forward to the release of The Electric Black, which was produced by New Englanders Joseph Schmalke and Rich Woodall, both of whom will appear at the Manchester store that day.

Comics for…
Five comics for kids
• Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra
• The Best Archie Comic Ever! (limited-edition issue)
• Disney Masters: Donald Duck & Co. (special-edition issue)
• Pokemon Journeys and Pokemon Adventures XY
• Sonic the Hedgehog
Three comics for Marvel lovers
• The Amazing Spider-Man/Venom (issue No. 1)
• Avengers/X-Men (issue No. 1)
• Marvel’s Voices (issue No. 1)
Three comics with action
• Tex in The Land of the Seminoles
• The Year of the Valiant
• Bloodborne (issue No. 1)

Jetpack Comics & Games in Rochester is another local shop anticipating a substantial turnout for FCBD this year. Store manager Rich Brunelle described the event as a citywide attraction, saying that they look to help promote other small businesses by hiding comics at various locations.

inside of comic book store
Double Midnight Comics in Manchester and Concord. Photos by Jack Walsh.

“We have a ton of businesses around town that are involved in it as well,” Brunelle said. “We basically treat it like a scavenger hunt, where you can go to each one of the businesses, and at each one they give you more free comics.”

Brunelle said those who take part in the scavenger hunt and pick up a comic from each business are eligible for special prizes once the search is complete. In addition to this day-long scavenger hunt, there is a cosplay contest, a mini convention hall at Governor’s Inn, food trucks and more. A couple of guests include legends Steve Lavigne and Jim Lawson, best-known for their work in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. Brunelle added that this particular location once held the largest FCBD in the country.

After battling some hardships FCBD is back, and fans statewide should plan on attending fun events with no limitations on any of the festivities planned throughout the day.

Free Comic Book Day

When: Saturday, May 7
Where: Various participating stores statewide
More info: Visit freecomicbookday.com

Participating local stores
See freecomicbookday.com for a look at the 2022 line up of comics.

Chris’s Comics (919 Lafayette Road, Seabrook, 474-2283, chriscardscomics.com) Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Free Comic Book Day.

Double Midnight Comics (245 Maple St., Manchester, 669-9636; 341 Loudon Road, Concord, 715-2683; dmcomics.com) Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Manchester and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Concord on Free Comic Book Day. The Manchester store will host its annual “Free Comic Book Day Extravaganza,” featuring a tent sale, a costume contest, comic creator signings, door prizes and more.

Escape Hatch Books (27 Main St., Jaffrey, find them on Facebook @escapehatchbooks)

Jetpack Comics & Games (37 N. Main St., Rochester, 330-9636, jetpackcomics.com) Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Free Comic Book Day. The shop is the nexus of a citywide festival featuring a comic scavenger hunt, a cosplay contest, a mini convention hall at Governor’s Inn, door prizes, food trucks and more.

Merrymac Games and Comics (550 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack, 420-8161, merrymacgc.com) Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Free Comic Book Day, featuring appearances from a variety of local, independent comic creators.

Stairway to Heaven Comics (105 Gosling Road, Newington, 319-6134, stairwaytoheavencomics.com) Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Free Comic Book Day, featuring sales on bagged and boarded comics, creator signings and more.

Featured photo: Double Midnight Comics in Manchester and Concord. Photos by Jack Walsh.

Reimagining art

How the Currier used the pandemic pause to revamp its galleries and make art more accessible

With a new focus on global art and a stronger emphasis on immersive experiences and community outreach, the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester has spent the past couple years revamping its galleries, enhancing its programming and planning for the future.

“Our new goal is to make sure that people know we have more than just art on the wall,” Currier Director Alan Chong said. “We have two Frank Lloyd Wright houses which are worth visiting, we have art classes … [along with] the permanent collections and exhibitions.”

The museum was able to continue running in some capacity even in the beginning of the pandemic, Chong said, and has continued to add back old programs and start new ones since then.

“We’ve had very strong support from the community,” Chong said. “The government has kept us going [with funding]. … We really depend on a whole network of support.”

PPE funds meant the Currier staff could keep working, and other grants helped support online programming and expanded museum offerings.

“Our audience has responded well,” Chong said. “Our numbers are pretty much recovered. We’ve been close to full capacity for a couple of months.”

Here’s a look at the Currier’s new mission, latest exhibitions and current efforts to make art more accessible to the entire community.

Going global

Though the Currier Museum of Art had to shut down during the pandemic, museum staff solved the immediate problem of accessing the community with online programming. The museum’s curators, in the meantime, saw their scope of work change a bit — instead of traveling the globe to acquire work, they looked inward at what they already had.

“In some ways when we were closed it gave us a lot of time to focus on the collection and reimagine [what it could look like],” Senior Curator of Collections Kurt Sundstrom said. “We all sat around on a Zoom call and talked about how we could use this opportunity.”

The Currier’s mission, he said, is to become more global, to visually show the connections between America and Asia, Europe and other parts of the world. For the Currier, that meant shifting around some of its collections. The second floor of the museum was reinstalled and looks completely different, Sundstrom said, with works from around the world paired together.

“We broke down those walls,” he said. “You can come to the museum now and see American art in the European gallery. … You look at things differently depending on where they’re hanging.”

For example, a Dutch painting that features a rug now hangs with Persian rugs from the museum’s collection, allowing for a new perspective.

“It was interesting to reinterpret how the collection could [work together],” Sundstrom said.

The Currier is also acquiring new pieces and planning exhibitions that will help it tell more of a story of global art, Sundstrom said, like an Islamic rug show, and the current exhibition that features the work of Iranian artist Arghavan Khosravi.

“When I first came here 25 years ago, there wasn’t any work here from African American artists, and there was very little from women,” Sundstrom said. “I think audiences, when they come in now, they’ll see themselves represented. You’ll have Asian art and Mexican art and works by women and everything that you would expect in a multicultural community.”

mixed media artwork by Argahavan Khosravi.
The Uncertainty, by Arghavan Khosravi (2020, acrylic on found textile and cotton canvas over wood panel, leather cord) Courtesy of the artist, © Arghavan Khosravi, 2022, photo by Julia Featheringill.

You can visit a museum many times and still never see the extent of its collection. Sundstrom said that museums typically have 2 to 7 percent of their collections on view at any given time. Paintings and sculptures can stay out longer, but photographs and watercolors will deteriorate over time when exposed to light. Because of this, a visit to the museum one year could be an entirely different experience than a visit the next. And with the pandemic giving the Currier time to make more significant changes, the overall vibe is different too.

“I think it’s much more fun,” Sundstrom said. “It’s not so static anymore. It’s not what you would expect — it’s not stuffy.”

Community connections

Programming at the Currier made strides during the pandemic too, with strong efforts to make art more accessible to the community — something it had been doing in recent years anyway.

“We do a lot more online,” Chong said. “We were already moving in that direction. … We had designed a new website in late 2019, so we were ready to launch a more user-friendly experience.”

Chong said that government grants were key in helping the Currier stay connected to the community and provide an online museum experience when it had shut down, and even after, when its hours and programs were limited.

The Currier already had its entire collection online — most museums had been looking at the digital world very intently, Chong said — but a National Endowment for the Humanities grant allowed the museum to put its two Frank Lloyd Wright homes online, including photo galleries, drawings and plans, 3D tours and historic documents.

Donyale Luna in a film still from an Andy Warhol screen test.
Screen Test: Donyale Luna [ST 195], by Andy Warhol (1965, 16mm film, black-and-white, silent, 4.5 minutes at 16 frames per second) © The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved.

Grants also allowed the museum to pass out kits to do art projects and enhance some of its supportive arts programs.

“Our curators and educators really worked hard on how we can respond to [the pandemic] and the racial tension,” Chong said. “[For example], a lot of people were feeling that hybrid learning wasn’t a very good way of going to school, so we formed a teen anxiety group.”

Sundstrom runs that group, using art to initiate conversations, like looking at a painting made after World War II, another difficult time in history.

“We talked about how to get through those anxious moments,” Sundstrom said.

Those groups started back in person last semester, which Sundstrom said has been an even better experience.

Chong said the museum was also able to hire an art therapist.

“I think we’ve been able to develop core strengths to support the community,” he said, noting that the Currier was the first museum in the country to offer an art therapy group for families of people suffering from opioid use disorder.

The Currier also launched a new veterans program during the pandemic, expanding what had been a small program with war photography to supportive art groups in new classrooms.

Diverse exhibitions

The Currier’s newest exhibition, Arghavan Khosravi, opened April 15 and will be on view through Sept. 5. The show features more than 20 works from Iranian artist Arghavan Khosravi, whose techniques range from using printed textiles from Iran as a canvas to creating three-dimensional components on painted surfaces, with a focus on depth and texture.

“We’re really committed to showing global contemporary artists, artwork that is innovative and interesting and sparks conversations,” said Samantha Cataldo, senior curator of contemporary art. “Her work is surrealism. … There’s almost always a woman at the center of the work and then the images themselves kind of capture memories or dreams. … She paints in a way that when you’re looking at it you can’t really tell if something is real.”

The images explore themes like exile, suppression and empowerment, which Cataldo said is drawn from the duality that Khosravi has experienced in her life, having lived in both Iran and the United States.

“The culture where she grew up, you were allowed to be a little more free with your family, but in public [you were] more restricted,” Cataldo said. “A lot of the themes [in the exhibition] are a form of restriction, [like] people being boxed in or existing on two different planes of reality. … The works don’t have a specific narrative, but there’s a symbolism and there’s clues and ideas. … [They] are really approachable and acceptable.”

A duality also exists between the works’ first impressions and their more closely scrutinized images.

“At first glance, things are colorful [and] and really inviting because they feel warm and happy,” Cataldo said. “But [what’s happening] in the scene is not so bright and cheery.”

She said the exhibition so far has been well-received, both in its themes and in its visual appeal.

“[The paintings] are exquisitely made,” she said. “They’re also quite poetic in terms of how they look and how they’re composed.”

Also on view now (through July 3) is Warhol Screen Tests, which features 20 of Andy Warhol’s black-and-white short films that he made in the mid-’60s of his friends — some famous, like Bob Dylan and Salvador Dali, and others who came to his studio in New York City.

“He filmed essentially a moving portrait,” Cataldo said. “A single subject would sit in a chair and he would run the camera on them until the film ran out, [about] 4 minutes. … You have people who are extremely aware of the camera, some who try to be totally still, some [who act] playful.”

The films are unscripted and played in a loop in slow motion, and they’re projected large-scale, which Cataldo said can be a bit unsettling.

“It feels too close to a Zoom meeting,” she said,” watching people feel like they have to present themselves in a certain way.”

Warhol’s prediction that “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” seems to have come to fruition to some degree, with regular people becoming TikTok or YouTube famous. And his repetitive screen prints that feature the same face over and over are reminiscent of today’s selfies.

“Everything he was doing was so far ahead of his time, so the idea of a selfie wasn’t a thing,” Cataldo said. “But the exhaustion of looking at a screen and looking at yourself — people can [now understand] that scrutiny.”

Looking ahead

While the Currier is mostly back to its pre-pandemic level of offerings, Chong said they’re proceeding with caution.

The first floor of the Chandler house. Photo courtesy of Currier Director Alan Chong.

“We feel a responsibility to the public, so we’re cautious,” he said. “History has taught us that it’s not over. We need to be flexible; we’re not going to pretend it doesn’t exist. There’s been a recent surge, so we follow all that.”

One of the upcoming projects that Chong is looking forward to is the renovation of a “new” old building.

“We took over the Chandler House during the pandemic,” he said. “It was a historic house … and it has the most beautiful interior in Manchester.”

Chong said the Currier had been looking to buy the building from the Catholic Diocese for years but hadn’t been able to make a deal because it was too expensive.

“I suspect that the pandemic pushed along that whole process,” he said.

Now the Currier will be working on finding funding to turn the building into a community center that will include offices for museum staff as well as classrooms for public programming, with the hopes of having it open by the fall of 2023.

In the more immediate future, the museum is planning to bring back its annual block party on a to-be-determined Saturday in July after a two-year absence. Chong called the day of free fun the museum’s signature event.

ARTSY OPPORTUNITIES

The Currier offers all kinds of classes and programs, both in person and online. Here are some of the offerings, according to currier.org. Visit the website for more details and the latest classes and events.

Ongoing programs

Making Art Accessible

This program is for teens and adults with developmental disabilities. The multimedia studio art class allows students to make works of art inspired by the Currier’s collections, and to visit the Currier’s galleries. The Currier regularly holds Making Art Accessible classes, and it is open to the public. Email CLyford@currier.org for more information.

Creative Connections for Teens

This program supports students suffering with anxieties related to the pandemic and related stressors. Each session provides students opportunities to connect through art-viewing, art-making and social time, and they’re led by Currier educators and curators with the support of a school counselor.

The Art of Awareness

Strangers from different backgrounds gather for a 30-minute awareness exercise and discussion to build connections with each other and art. Each week features one piece of art, chosen based on a theme. General admission is free on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m., and this program starts at 6:30 p.m. Upcoming classes are May 5, with the discussion centered on Arghavan Khosravi’s “The Black Pool,” and May 19, featuring John Marin’s “Movement in Red.” Register online.

Art of Hope

An in-person support group for loved ones whose family members suffer from substance use disorder. It takes place on Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m., with the next groups meeting May 9, May 16, May 23, June 20 and July 18.

Art for Vets

This art-focused program offers free opportunities for veterans, active service members and their families to enjoy the Currier. Veteran Creative Cohorts allows veterans to connect through art-viewing, activities and guided conversations, with an emphasis on personal development, respite and mindfulness. Studio Art Tutorials has professional teaching artists launching online or in person art tutorials for veterans and active service members, including drawing, watercolor painting and bookmaking. The classes are for all skill levels and focus on the therapeutic nature of art. Art for Vets Family Days are offered on the third Saturday of the month, with free access to the galleries, art activities and a complimentary lunch. Veterans, active service members and their families get free admission every day, and the Currier also offers all of its art classes and vacation camps free of charge.

Immigrant and refugee programs

The Currier provides after-school art instruction for children of immigrant and refugee families during the school year and extends their learning into vacation weeks by offering free enrollment in art camps. During camps, children are given 30 hours of instruction each week and are provided free breakfast and lunch each day.

Looking Together

Explore one work of art in detail for 15 minutes with a Currier docent. Sessions are informal, interactive and focused on a different object each day. It’s offered every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and noon.

Art After Work Tours

Every Thursday, enjoy free admission, live music and drink specials in the Winter Garden Café (open until 8 p.m.). The 30-minute adult tour is free of charge. Participants meet in the lobby.

Art Conversations from Home

Join the Currier Museum of Art’s education team for a live facilitated conversation over Zoom about the Currier’s collection and exhibitions. Sessions are informal, interactive and focused on a different work each week. Open to all, these free 30-minute adult programs run every Wednesday at 1 p.m. Register online.

Frank Lloyd Wright house tours

The Currier is the only art museum in the world with two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, and the only Wright buildings open to the public in New England. The Usonian Automatic and the Zimmerman House were both built in the 1950s. The two-bedroom Zimmerman House showcases Wright’s Usonian architectural concepts, with a compact design that contrasts narrow passages with dramatic, open spaces. It includes its original furniture and garden, both designed by Wright. The Kalil House, which was acquired by the Currier in 2019, is one of only seven Usonian Automatics constructed, dubbed “automatics” by Wright because they were easily and quickly built. Public tours of the Wright houses last two hours and are offered Thursdays through Sundays at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., as well as an evening tour on Thursdays at 6 p.m. (spring and summer only). To schedule a private tour, email tours@currier.org or call 603-518-4956.

Classes

The Currier regularly offers art classes for all ages and abilities. Here are some of the museum’s upcoming offerings.

Drawing from Presence with Norma Hendrix (Adult)

Online five-week class, Tuesdays, May 10 through June 7, 1 to 3 p.m.

Painting with Pastels: Finding Beauty in the Urban World with Janet Schwartz (Adult)

Online five-week class, Fridays, May 13, through June 10, 2 to 4 p.m.

Learn to Draw: Structure and Volume with Shading with Martin Geiger (Adult)

Online five-week class, Thursdays, May 26 through June 23, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Earn and Learn Teen Program

Teen volunteers will be involved in classroom assistance, art-making activities, mentoring younger students, facilitating museum visits and other organizational tasks, and they will receive tuition remission for classes at the Currier. Admission to the program is based on a review process. Each applicant must be willing to commit to two weeks minimum of summer camp. Camps run Monday through Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. Apply by May 14; for more information, email Lauren Steele at lsteele@currier.org.

Vacation camps

The Currier offers camps throughout the summer: Art Camp for ages 6 to 10 and Art Ventures for ages 11 to 14. The camps include classes in drawing, painting, collage, printmaking and sculpture. Every Wednesday, an inspirational tour of the museum is conducted to discover the works of art in the galleries. Weekly full-day programs run Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. All art-making materials are provided. Camps have a maximum capacity of eight to 10 students, and students, instructors and camp assistants are required to wear masks. The schedule is as follows; see currier.org for prices, updates and other information.

June 27 to July 1

Art Camp: Down the Rabbit Hole (ages 6 to 10)

Art Ventures: Fun with Fibers (ages 11 to 14)

July 11 to July 15

Art Camp: Music Makers (ages 6 to 10)

Art Ventures: Drawing Outside the Box (ages 11 to 14)

July 25 to July 29

Art Camp: The Moody Currier School of Magic (ages 6 to 10)

Art Ventures: Drawing and Painting exploration (ages 11 to 14)

Aug. 8 to Aug. 12

Art Camp: Space is the Place (ages 6 to 10)

Art Ventures: Mixed Media Painting & Printmaking (ages 11 to 14)

Aug. 15 to Aug. 19

Creatures Large and Small (ages 6 to 10)

Art Ventures: The Moving Picture (ages 11 to 14)

Events

Gregory Pierce, curator of the Warhol Museum, will be at the Currier for an ARTalk to complement the “Warhol Screen Tests” exhibition. He will discuss the impetus for Screen Tests and how they’re relevant almost 60 years later and take a deeper dive into Warhol’s creative process. The talk will be held Sunday, May 8, from 2 to 2:45 p.m. in the auditorium. The cost is $20 and includes museum admission.

Featured photo: Arghavan Khosravi. Photo by Andrew T. White

Book it

Celebrate Indie Bookstore Day

If you love your local bookstore, this Saturday, April 30, is your chance to support it — and get some good deals, exclusive merchandise and prizes — during national Independent Bookstore Day.

“Independent bookstores are the hearts of the communities they serve,” Michael Herrmann of Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord said. “We’re glad for this opportunity to thank everyone who makes it possible for us to be here.”

At Gibson’s, thank-yous will come in the form of raffle prizes and the chance to earn discounts and a tote bag of Advanced Reader Copies.

The Bookery in Manchester is celebrating the day with games, contests and giveaways.

“I think there’s been more of an awareness even in the past few years about the importance of local businesses,” Bookery events coordinator Lily Foss said. “People think we’re a dying breed but we’re still very much vibrant. … We have the pleasure of bringing in authors and [hosting] other special events.”

Saturday will bring a performance from magician DaSean Greene at 11:30 a.m., and Foss said they’re thrilled that he’s coming back.

“The kids absolutely loved him,” she said. “They were all crowded around him.”

The Bookery will also have a special Indie Bookstore Day tote bag and special merchandise for sale, and they’ll be giving away small prizes with the “very popular prize wheel,” which people can spin if they purchase a certain amount, Foss said.

“People get so excited,” she laughed. “No one has ever refused to spin.”

Toward the end of the day, Foss — a former Jeopardy! contestant — will be hosting a literary trivia event that she said is a combination of Jeopardy! and pub trivia, with people playing on teams. She said she went through the online “J-Archive” and compiled an entire game’s worth of literary trivia from various shows throughout the years.

“It has been tested by customers and booksellers to make sure the questions aren’t too hard or too easy,” she said.

Foss is also including one question from her own stint on Jeopardy!. She said she was the youngest contestant that night by at least 10 years, and she was at a disadvantage with categories like “90s Pop Culture.” But it was worth the experience: “It was my 15 minutes. … And I got $1,000.”

“I’ve been wanting to bring trivia here for a while,” she said, “so I’m really looking forward to that. And we do serve libations … coffee, tea, beer, wine and canned cocktails, so it will have that pub trivia [atmosphere].”

Independent Bookstore Day is one of the biggest days of the year for local booksellers, as they thank their customers and their customers thank them for offering a bookstore experience that you can’t get at chain stores.

“As we struggle to return to something that looks like normalcy, it’s more important than ever to celebrate community,” Herrmann said.

“It’s such a fun day,” Foss said. “It’s just a big party, celebrating our customers [and] thanking them for choosing us.”

Celebrate Independent Bookstore Day

The Bookery, 844 Elm St. in Manchester, will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. with prizes, games and exclusive Independent Bookstore Day merchandise. Magician DeSean Greene will perform at 11:30 a.m., and Literary Trivia will be held at the end of the day.

Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord, will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It will be doing double stamps all day (two stamps for every $10 on your Frequent Buyer Stamp Card), a tote bag of Advanced Reader Copies for every $100 spent, and a raffle ticket for every book purchased, with raffle items that include a Gibson’s Bookstore merchandise bundle, a Personalized Shopping Experience and an Indie Bookstore Day merchandise bundle. Bonus: If you wear any Gibson’s Bookstore merch (shirts, hats, pins, etc.) now through April 30, you will get a full stamp card, good for 20 percent off an entire transaction.

Toadstool Bookshop, 375 Amherst St., Nashua, will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will be celebrating with cake and refreshments, according to the store’s Facebook page. There will also be an Advanced Reader Book Table set up for people to browse and select books for $1 each, which will be donated to the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter.

Featured photo: This aluminum shovel is lightweight and good for cleanup. Courtesy photo.

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