Artists reflect on the Whetstone

Saturday, September 3, 2011

BRATTLEBORO - At some point last Sunday afternoon, while the Whetstone Brook was jumping its banks and chewing up land and homes along its path, some members of Brattleboro- West Arts started to wonder about their upcoming event.

Brattleboro-West Arts is made up of artists in West Brattleboro, Marlboro and Dummerston, and the group had commissioned a show asking members to use the Whetstone as their source of inspiration.

The group planned for an opening at Gallery Walk this week, but as the stories Sunday grew more dire, Brattleboro-West Arts Initiative member, and potter, Naomi Lindenfeld wondered if it made sense to proceed.

"I didn't know if it would be right to do this," Lindenfeld said Friday, as the streets in front of Key Bank began to fill. "We definitely decided that we needed to rethink it."

The Whetstone Brook, a normally placid and quiet brook, turned into a raging torrent Sunday, as rains from Tropical Storm Irene fell across Vermont.

The brook flooded downtown Brattleboro, causing extensive damage to a number of stores, and driving people from their homes.

Lindenfeld started calling and e-mailing the other members, and those that still had phone service and power, agreed that the art show would now take a new direction.

The art show and performance Friday was a preview of the open studio tour planned for Sept. 24 and 25 in the studios up and down the nowclosed Route 9. This week, leading up to Gallery Walk, some members decided to invite the artists to incorporate the week's flooding into their works or re-think the influence the brook has on their art.

"For an artist it is a way to express the experience," Lindenfeld said. "But we decided, in the end, to go ahead."

Walter Slowinski, a potter who is a member of the group, built a waterfall out of his tea pots and stones from the brook.

Slowinski said as part of his work he traveled often to the brook, taking pictures in all seasons and when the water was high and when it was quiet.

He walked into town Sunday, thinking like many area residents that the anticipated storm had largely spared the region.

When he tried to return, a bridge to his home was closed and the police were evacuating homes in the area.

"When I saw an emergency vehicle go by with rescue rafts I realized this was serious," he said. "Brattleboro was built here because people harnessed the energy of the brook because the energy was there, but not like this."

Slowinski took a series of photos that he displayed Friday, next to his waterfall that peacefully ran inside the Key Bank window.

At the event Friday, musician Ned Phoenix played a portion of a piece of music he was asked to write based on the Whetstone.

Phoenix is founder of the Estey Organ Museum and he knows the Whetstone flooded out the company's factories at one time.

He played a portion of the piece, and said the a piece of the longer score includes all the rage and destruction of the brook.

"I was asked to write something that reflects the whole brook, from the marshes in Marlboro down to the waterfalls that flow into the Connecticut River," he said. "This piece describes the last 300 years. It's all in there."

Phoenix said he is hoping to perform the entire 25-minute musical suite in the spring.

Ron Karpius, another artist who had his paintings on display, watched a foot bridge that led to his cabin and studio wash away on Sunday.

At the art opening Friday Karpius said the destructive capabilities of the brook was a little surprising, but the help that his neighbors, and countless others, extended over the past week was not.

"People help each other and stick together here," he said. "There is a real kinship among those who live here. That is the greatest lesson."

For more information on the open studio tour go to www.brattleboro- Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279.


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