Saxtons River fest features 'five seasons' fund-raiser


SAXTONS RIVER -- On Friday, this village's July Fourth revelers could duck out of the rain and get a glimpse of the "five seasons."

That would be winter, spring, summer and fall as well as mud season, all represented in five new, 9-foot by 18-foot painted theater curtains commissioned to support the renovation and expansion of Main Street Arts.

It is a unique fund-raiser for an ambitious project designed to make the nonprofit arts center more accessible. It also builds on the organization's large collection of historic theater curtains.

"It's been a lot of fun," said Julie Moir Messervy, who has been involved in the project since its inception. "We tend to look back (to history), but we weren't honoring the current moment. And we have such talent here."

The Main Street Arts expansion includes the remediation of a "brownfield" site as well as the addition of handicapped-accessible facilities such as an elevator, which is a much-needed upgrade for the organization.

"We are such an active theater organization, and our theater is on the second floor," said Kathleen Bryar, who serves on the Main Street Arts board and chairs its Capital Campaign Committee.

The project is under way, but fund raising is not yet complete. The goal is $1.5 million.

"We're at about $1.3 million right now," Bryar said. "This community has been so generous. Much of the money has been raised in this area, and there have been a lot of grants."

Given the organization's mission, it's fitting that fund raising should include music and art. That's happening via The Saxtons River Suite, composed by Carol Wood, and five new theater curtains painted by Michele Ratté, Eric Aho, Charlie Hunter, Julia Zanes and Donald Saaf.

Wood moved from Louisiana to Saxtons River about eight years ago with her husband, John, who is a poet. She said she wrote a portion of the suite around that time but has expanded it to assist with the Main Street Arts project.

The suite now represents the Vermont seasons.

"The four vivid, beautiful seasons in our little village are so inspiring and so evocative," Wood said.

The curtain artists apparently thought so, too. After a private performance of the suite, they created new theater curtains representing the seasons.

"These curtains are the biggest pieces of art that any of these artists have created," Bryar said.

Ratté first created a maquette -- a small-scale model -- of her chosen curtain, titled Autumn.

"I worked on that for about three weeks just to get everything in there that I wanted," she recalled.

Ratté then projected the image onto the curtain and traced it in charcoal before painting.

"The challenge in the size was working on a ladder," she said. "You're mixing paint and then carrying it up and down."

She also found an element of surprise in enlarging the image, finding that shapes such as a paisley-like element near the bottom of the curtain became more abstract.

Ratté added that "it's physically fun to work this large and make such large shapes happen."

On Friday, during the village's well-attended July Fourth celebration, visitors filed into a former restaurant that is serving as Main Street Arts' temporary home to get a glimpse of the full-size Autumn curtain as well as smaller versions of the other four.

The organization already has sold sponsorships for the musical suite and for two curtains. Those came at a cost of $25,000 each, of which $5,000 went to the artist and $20,000 went to assist in Main Street Arts' capital campaign.

"We're looking for three more sponsors," Bryar said.

The curtains, which have been hung with assistance from Burlington-based Curtains Without Borders, will be shown at Brattleboro's River Garden later this year. And when the Main Street Arts project is done, the plan is to incorporate the curtains into a premier performance of The Saxtons River Suite.

John Wood said the Main Street Arts expansion is "a wonderful thing" and will enhance a community asset.

"We retired and moved up here and found Main Street Arts -- an incredibly congenial atmosphere," he said. "This is a great place to be, and this is an incredibly artistic community."

More information is available at

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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