Local artists take on the river and winter through 'Thaw'

PUTNEY — Diana Whitney didn't think much of a poem she wrote while trapped in what she calls, "the baby cave." She wrote it and sent it out to her friend Evie Lovett. Lovett was inspired. She took the poem and posted it to the wall of her studio. Out of that one poem an entire body of artwork emerged from Lovett. She approached Whitney about trying a new project together and they formed "Thaw," an exhibit that combines art and poetry. Whitney supplied poems and Lovett supplied art.

"I am a huge, huge fan of Evie Lovett as a human being and as an artist," Maria Basescu, the executive director of Next Stage Arts Project said. "Thaw" is the fourth exhibit Next Stage's gallery has hosted, according to Basescu. The gallery opened January 2016, as part of the Next Stage Theater renovation, and she's excited to see it being used. Basescu said the "Thaw" exhibit exemplifies the collaboration that Next Stage strives towards.

The exhibit centers entirely around the Connecticut River. Lovett has worked with the river before. She photographed the Connecticut River for "From the River, To the River" a 2016 public art project in Brattleboro. In the "Thaw" exhibit, Lovett uses a mix of mediums, primarily encaustic painting, a type of painting that uses hot wax. She also uses photographs and personal diary entries in some of her paintings.

Whitney frequently comes back to the Connecticut River in her poetry. She first became interested in the river as a muse in college, when she lived next to it.

The river encapsulates for both Whitney and Lovett emotions that change with seasons. "For me, I feel like Diana's poems and my work both hold themes of darkness and faith," Lovett said. By that she means, "faith that the thaw will come." The concept of freezing and thawing was something the two bonded over and discussed frequently, Whitney said. "[We talked about] depression, struggling with that and what it means to be frozen and stuck," she said. "It works on an emotional level, not just an artistic level."

At the gallery opening on Feb. 17, Whitney read from her poems while Lovett's images were projected onto a screen behind her. Beneath Lovett's images, waves moved and ice cracked. Figures emerged as Whitney read. She mentioned a drowning victim, and a dark figure emerged from the waves.

Both Lovett and Whitney said they didn't plan for the images to coordinate so well. They hadn't even practiced the reading before it happened. It was just the way their art seemed to align. The alignment was helped, they think, by their admiration for the other person's work. Whitney said she has a new relationship with the poem she sent Lovett's way. She hadn't originally thought it was very good or worth doing anything with, but Lovett used it to drive her work forward.

"I find the encaustics really exciting and just mysterious and, just looking at them, I had a hard time believing my poem could have helped with Evie's process," Whitney said. The poem was the only thing she had written for a time after her child's birth. Whitney said she had wanted to distance herself from the speaker. The poem was too sentimental, too raw.

"It was that rawness, frankly, that made me feel like it was real and authentic ... that degree of authenticity in Diana's work; its honesty. It isn't always pretty," Lovett said. "This relationship has been enabled by each of us seeing our work through another person's vision."

"Thaw" will stay at Next Stage until May 15. The gallery is open Saturdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and by appointment. There will be a closing reading May 13 at Next Stage, with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. and the reading at 6 pm.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.


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