BRATTLEBORO — Passersby on Lower Main Street can see hundreds of postcard-sized artworks strung across the River Gallery School's Main Street Studio space. The postcards, created by River Gallery School faculty and students as well as local artists, are for sale to raise money for the school.
"It's an all-school, community postcard-making event," explained Donna Hawes, River Gallery School's administrative director and development coordinator. "It's an opportunity for artists in the school as well as faculty and community members to make works of art on four-by-six-inch pieces of card stock, and we hang them on a clothesline and sell them for $5 apiece."
November Gallery Walk marked the exhibit's opening, and Hawes said the response from people visiting the exhibit has been "delightful and refreshing.
"We put an ad in the Gallery Guide," she continued, "and not only did people read it, but it encouraged people to come who have never come before. We had people who come to Brattleboro frequently and stay at the Latchis and visit the galleries and restaurants and shops that are unique to Brattleboro; they make a point to do this annually. There were couples from New Jersey and Connecticut; they were thrilled to know that we were here, and that we were exhibiting these small works of art and selling them at five dollars apiece just blew their mind — that they could take them away with them and not make a major investment. Their excitement was so obvious. They were having a great time and it was good for the community."
This is the second year of the postcard fundraiser, which Hawes said will now be an annual event. She recalled that Jason Alden, who had participated in a similar initiative in Boston, originally suggested the idea for the postcard fundraiser during a faculty brainstorming. Then people began to create art — in class, in the River Gallery studios, in their own studios, and on the road.
"People have gone on vacation and taken blank cards with them and had their family and friends make cards, and brought them back," Hawes said. "In this day and age, when mailing letters is a lost art, you're not only sending this wonderful piece of art and a message through the mail — it's a wonderful way to reconnect with your loved ones."
The postcards are on sale throughout the month of November. While the Main Street Studio and the adjacent gallery space called Gallery 34 will have an official opening next month, Hawes said that in the meantime, the River Gallery School welcomes anyone to visit the new space and look at the artworks.
"We'd like to invite everybody to visit the River Gallery School and enjoy these four-by-six works of art and take them home with you, or write on them and mail them right away," she said.
Lydia Thomson, artistic director at the school, noted that if the Main Street Studio is not open, visitors can visit the River Gallery School during business hours and someone will open the studio.
"People can always come upstairs any time from nine to five if there's not something going on down there," Thomson said. "Someone will open the space."
Thomson said that her daughter, Eliza Thomson, had taken responsibility for the way the postcards were exhibited. For example, she designed a stamp with a vintage look and the words "Handmade Post Card" to turn the back of the postcard-sized artwork into a real postcard.
"She was working here last year when we came up with this, and she just took it on," Lydia Thomson noted. "She did a little research — she wanted the postcards to have a certain look. And I think she and Jason came up with the clothesline-and-clothespin idea.
"We're going to make it an annual event because it was so much fun, and it turned out to be a good fundraiser for the school," Thomson went on. "Besides the students and the teachers, sometimes someone just drops in and makes some postcards, because they see them and they want to make one. It's an appealing size and an appealing format."
She said that for some artists, the small format is truly liberating.
"Last year I had someone who hadn't painted in quite awhile," she recalled. "Because they're so small, you feel like, 'I can do something.' You can relax. For that woman it broke something open for her to work in that format."
Angels, Beasts, Shepherds and Kings, another River Gallery School fundraiser, is coming up on Saturday, Nov. 28, from 1 to 4 p.m. Participants use a variety of materials to create sculptural figures for the holiday season. Thomson said that Ric and Barbara Campman, who founded the River Gallery School, had come up with the idea.
"They started fairly simply, making angels with tissue paper, making a ball for the head and adorning it," Thomson commented. "That was a tradition probably from the beginning of the school. Ric started to make beasts, and it's now grown into all sorts of creatures."
Now, in addition to tissue paper, the school provides wire, pieces of wood, cloth, and other materials.
"We collect a lot of found objects," Thomson said. "There's a lot of stuff out, and it's just like the postcards — you see them and you say, 'I want to do it.'"