Thoughts About Art in the Park

Keene’s two-day annual celebration of visual art marking the end of summer

Thoughts collected about Art in the Park in anticipation of talking with Dan Mitchell of WKBK on Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Tell us about the organization behind this event

I can’t say enough about the members of Monadnock Area Artists Association (MAAA) who each have assignments that contribute to the running of this event. An artist takes care of getting the sign up at the post office, another hangs the banner on the archway to the park, another gets the maps and artist listing printed in time for the event. Another makes sure the main tent is reserved and erected by Elegant Settings. Another issues press releases to all the media in Southern NH and lists the event on every calendar she can find. It is inspiring to hear about all the myriad pieces getting done and coming together like an exquisite impressionist painting.

The event and the organization run this way. An artist does the e-newsletter each month. An artist manages the web site with tech support from her friends. All volunteers, all doing their piece of the puzzle. It’s really beautiful. And they have been doing it for many, many years.

How did you become involved with MAAA?

It’s a little-known fact is that I was an art major in college (my professors thought I was better at writing). Inside, I feel like an artist. I self-define as an artist. And although I have designed about a hundred logos over 47 years and worked as a designer and marketing person, I have a personal passion for fine art and pastels in particular. Five years ago, I joined MAAA as a member, hoping to become more active when I got to retirement. Last winter, the organization was looking for volunteers and I found myself wanting to help. Kristina Stewart, an artist new to the area, volunteered to organize Art in the Park 2023. She really saved the day. Kris was looking for someone to handle the online registrations and I thought I could do that part.

What is special to you about Ashuelot River Park?

My enthusiasm for the park goes back to 1990 when Jeanna Hamblet, Dave Putnam and my brother Chuck Simpson were dreaming about the park. The NH Landscape Association took on the park as a service project and held a big work weekend in the fall of 1990. I worked with NHLA for years designing their newsletter so I was at the build event helping with PR. A designer working with me created the logo for the park organization, reflecting the pretty carved wooden sign that was at the park then. The engraved stones in the park include many of my family members alive and deceased and my company, Sterling Design & Communications, has a stone. When MacMillin was celebrating its 50th anniversary and donating the park’s bridge, I helped with the event management and PR for that celebration, including creating a graphic of the bridge.

What is special about Art in the Park?

I have been a longtime fan of Art in the Park and try to get there every September. Over the years, in addition to enjoying each tent’s art, I have run into old friends. The last time I had a chance to speak with Ken Jue was at Art the Park (Ken, the leader of Mondanock Family Services, was my client for nearly two decades). I run into people like Louise Zerba whom I knew from many area causes, Jean Nelson and her husband Doug who contributed so much to the music scene in Keene. My kids played sports with two artists’ kids (David Bulger and Mary Iselin) so it’s fun to check in on the kids. Last year I wandered through and ran into Mary Delisle, a person I have always admired. When I heard Mary had been running the event but would not be going forward in 2023, I wanted to help—but strictly behind the scenes. My experience with organizing, spreadsheets and database editing have come in handy.

The focal point of Art in the Park is the artists and their art. There are 56 returning artists including many who come every year. Some have come since the event was held on Central Square including Sue Doyle who works in colored pencil. It’s very exciting that 10 new artists will be participating in their first Art in the Park including two I’d like to mention: Sue Hum from Hancock who does thought-provoking, creative watercolor, acrylic art (I saw her work at Artwalk and it stood out for its freshness and execution) and Ryan Curtis of Keene who does large mixed media works and needed two tents. His tents are on the right as you enter the event: head back toward the river and the bike path to see his booths. I always go to the right first, it’s a little quieter and I can really appreciate the art before things get social.

As for the art, you can expect to see lots of beautiful work in oil. About 1/3 of the artists work in oil. I always thought of that as the most serious medium for the real professionals. The media of the masters… but not my media! There are 2-3 pastel artists and it’s certainly worth the trip to see Gill Truslow’s command of pastels. She is a celebrated local artist who has won many awards for her pastels and is also a stalwart volunteer who has helped the organization for many, many years. 

Geographically, the artists represent NH and the Monadnock Region well but there are many from other parts of NH. There are two artists from MA, one from VT and one from NC—Kyle Stuckey—who I’m told grew up in our area. His work is show-stopping so you want to visit him in booth 57. There is one posthumous artist, Bob Askey, whose daughter will be hosting Bob’s tent, a wonderful thing in itself.

Sculpture, photography, mixed media, oil, watercolor, color-penciled, printmaking. The show is a great education in the visual arts. Categories are judged and awards are made in each category.

Besides art, what else can a visitor expect at Art in the Park?
There is also a unique raffle program. Each artist who participates designates a piece and posts a sign that says, “Win me.” Visitors buy raffle tickets for $5 each, 3 for $10, and fill in the number of the tent that has a piece they would like to win. You don’t need to be present to win. A secret extra feature of the raffle celebrating the 65th year: one of the food vendors, Jenna’s Deli and Market, has provided a big gift basket and the buyer of a ticket randomly marked with 65 will win that door prize. Frisky Cow has some gift certificates in the secret anniversary raffle too. Proceeds of this raffle go to Scholarships at the two local high schools. A donation from the overall event proceeds goes to the Friends of the Ashuelot River Park for the upkeep of this treasured local resource. 

The event runs from 10am-4pm Saturday and Sunday and makes a great outing combined with coffee from neighboring Starbuck’s, lunch or an early dinner. New this year, Jenna’s Market and Deli is offering items from their menu at a tent in the park but visitors can also walk over to their shop right next door. Frisky Cow gelato is returning to provide their refreshing treats as well.

Give me a good reason to stop doing weekend chores and go to this event.
To wind down the summer season and bridge into fall, you really can’t go wrong strolling through the beautiful oasis on West Street, Ashuelot River Park, which blossomed from an eyesore old carwash into a place where prom pictures are taken. It’s always a lovely way to see the seasons, bird watch, kayak up the river and back down, or ride a bike along the trail. The frosting on the cake over Labor Day weekend is that 66 artists each displaying their fine art in individual art shows make for an ideal artists’ date. (Julia Cameron promoted artists’ dates in her book The Artists’ Way for weekly creative recharging… and most stress-management programs promote balancing lifestyles by including a cultural component.) Once you’re in town, it’s always fun to walk through and hear some of the music at the Keene Music festival on Saturday and enjoy our beautiful city. Fun!