Valley News – Column: My proximity, and lasting, brush with appreciation of art


I nodded when I saw the simplistic looking picture hanging near our table in a chic restaurant in the Haute Vallée. “I could paint this,” I say to my boyfriend, munching on a fries. He looked up at the watercolor. “Summaries can be more difficult than they look,” he replied politely.

My boyfriend had studied art history while he was at Dartmouth College. I, on the other hand, was the type of person who preferred to spend time in the gift shop rather than the museum. I had little knowledge of art, and I showed no talent for anything “artistic” other than writing.

But I was determined to impress her. The next day I visited the local art store. With no idea (and too embarrassed to ask for help), I bought some cheap acrylic paints, randomly sized brushes, and two pieces of white cardboard. I had no idea what I was doing, but with each stroke of the brush, I felt more joy. Two days and a bottle of wine later, I had finished my barn painting.

I knew it wasn’t much to see. The red square on the green grass looked more like an icicle than a barn. The entire room looked like the work of a toddler. (When I shared it with my loved ones, they were less than impressed.) But I was proud of my efforts and made no apologies for enjoying the process. Art, it seemed, was more fun than I expected … and more difficult than it looked.

Still determined to give my drab paint to my boyfriend, I decided to drop it off at a framing store to “spruce it up.” I told my story to the owner of the picture store and asked him to make the painting as presentable as possible. But, three weeks later, when I returned to pick up the painting, the owner took me by surprise. His smile spread across his face as he spoke. “The interior designer of a new local hotel was here last week and admired your work. He wondered if you wanted to sell it.

I was stunned. An interior designer was interested in my toddler job. “It’s not for sale,” I replied as I felt both elated and confused. (By now, I wish I had at least asked how much the buyer was willing to offer.) I grabbed my framed masterpiece and walked home with newfound confidence. Even though my boyfriend hated my barn art, someone else was very impressed.

I will never be Picasso. I will never be able to live on my art and I have no intention of presenting myself as a painter at a cocktail party. But I invested time and energy in this hobby, buying brushes, reading books, and trying out various techniques. And these days, on Saturday fall mornings, when the air is fresh but inviting, I enjoy the calm of sitting on my garden easel, splashing color on the canvas, exercising. creative muscles tired for a long time.

By practicing art, I learned to appreciate the art of others. While I once rolled my eyes to the creative pursuits of other townspeople, I developed a new admiration for the overflowing talent in our community. The murals in the library, the ceramic workshops and the sculpture gardens have a new meaning for me. At the town’s farmer’s market, I’ll spend more time enjoying the watercolors than the spaghetti squash. And when I return books to the Dartmouth Library, I’ll take a detour to Orozco’s murals.

Looking around the Upper Valley, we have the privilege of living in a region where art is not only created, but exhibited. Every time I walk into Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, I am grateful for the color that lights up the walls. Every time I visit my local general store, I smile at the old piano on the porch, just waiting for my fingers. Every evening stroll around town, I am delighted with the children’s artwork hanging from the windows of the local elementary school. It’s hard to walk a block in the Upper Valley without finding some kind of expression, some creative effort, something appealing to the senses.

Of course, I’ll still scratch my head at local art every now and then. But the discovery of a love for painting added a new dimension to life here in the Haute Vallée. I’m a little more observant, a little more open-minded, a little more empathetic.

What about my barn painting? My boyfriend liked it. But even more, he loved my effort. We continued dating for a year until he finally asked the question. We celebrated with a big engagement party in Lebanon … in an art gallery.

Rebecca Munsterer Sabky lives in Norwich.

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