Art by the river: Hatfield arts association offers exhibit and lecture series

  • The Old Mill Inn in Hatfield is serving as an exhibition and public talk space for Brook Hollow Arts, a new arts association in town. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Paintings by Hatfield artist Russell Powell are currently on display at the The Old Mill Inn in Hatfield. The show is part of the work of new arts association in town. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • "Surface Tension, January," left, and "Surface Tension, September," are among paintings by Hatfield artist Russell Powell now on display at The Old Mill Inn in Hatfield. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Hatfield painter Russell Powell has joined with four other artists — and neighbors — in town to create a series of exhibitions and artist talks at The Old Mill Inn in Hatfield. Some of Powell’s work can be seen behind him in the inn. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The Old Mill Inn is shown Dec. 14, 2017 in Hatfield. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Artist Russell Powell is shown with his paintings "Downstream," left, "Confluence" and "Flow" Dec. 14, 2017 at The Old Mill Inn in Hatfield. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The Old Mill Inn in Hatfield is serving as an exhibition and public talk space for Brook Hollow Arts, a new arts association in town. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Hatfield painter Russell Powell is currently exhibiting work at The Old Mill Inn in town. He’s seen here with his paintings “Downstream,” left, “Confluence” and “Flow,” at right, all inspired in part by the Connecticut River. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Sculptor Holland Hoagland is one of the members of Brook Hollow Arts in Hatfield. “It’s a great opportunity to be part of this,” says Hoagland, who moved to town from Pelham a year ago to be near the Connecticut and Mill rivers. Image courtesy of Holland Hoagland

  • Paper sculpture of a Green Heron by Holland Hoagland.

  • A ceramic piece by Phoebe Sheldon, one of the members of a new arts association in Hatfield. Image courtesy of Phoebe Sheldon

  • Hatfield ceramist Phoebe Sheldon has been concen- trating most of her energy in recent years on writing a historical novel set during the U.S. Civil War. She calls her neighbor, painter Russell Powell, a “kindred spirit.” Image courtesy of Phoebe Sheldon

  • “Path to the River,” oil on canvas by Russell Powell. Image courtesy of Russell Powell

Staff writer 
Thursday, December 28, 2017

Call it serendipity. Or maybe just a meeting of minds in a certain locale.

In a corner of Hatfield, a small group of artists, moving independently to the area in the last few years, came to realize they were neighbors. And after getting to know each other, they discovered they all worked in different mediums — from painting and sculpture to photography, fiber art and writing.

What seemed the next logical step was to find a way to share that work with others in the town: a way to give back to the community, they say, and celebrate Hatfield, the nearby Connecticut River and the general ambience of life in the Valley.

Now the group that calls itself Brook Hollow Arts is doing just that: launching a monthly series of talks and exhibits that each of the artists will lead, and that might be expanded to other artists.

“This just seemed like a natural step for us,” said Russell Powell, a painter and writer who lives on Elm Street, right by the Mill River and the junction with Prospect Street. “We think this will be something the public can enjoy, and it can help get us through the winter.”

The series is being hosted at The Old Mill Inn, a bed and breakfast at 87 School Street, where art will be displayed in a common space on the inn’s ground floor. And starting next week, the first Wednesday evening of each month will be devoted to an artist’s talk in the same location.

Powell’s “abstract realist” paintings, many inspired by the Connecticut River, are currently on exhibit and will be up through next Wednesday, Jan. 3, when he’ll give the first of the artist talks, on the theme of “What does it mean to live by a river?”

Powell, who formerly published a nature magazine, “New England Watershed Magazine,” explains that following his talk, he’ll clear the exhibit space for the next member of the Hatfield arts group, fiber artist and designer Heather Hall, to let her set up her work; an opening reception for Hall’s art takes place Jan. 17, followed by a talk she’ll give Feb. 7.

Powell and the other artists say they’re grateful to GeorgBurwick, co-owner of the Old Mill Inn with his wife, Angela, for hosting their series. They also feel there’s a real bit of serendipity to the arrangement: Not only is the inn located close to where they all live, but Burwick has an MFA in art installation and was once a curator for a photography museum in Riverside, California.

“Georg has been really enthusiastic about what we’re doing,” said Powell. “With his background in the arts, he’s the perfect partner for this.”

Burwick, for his part, says hosting the arts series makes a lot of sense for the town, which doesn’t have another spot that regularly offers art exhibitions, and for local artists and visitors.

“It’s a great opportunity for the artists and for Hatfield,” he said. “And I think people will enjoy seeing that work here ... I think it’s another way of showcasing the variety of art in the Valley.”

Coming together

In addition to Hall and Powell, the members of Brook Hollow Arts — the group’s name comes from a small road off Elm Street that runs past farm fields toward the Connecticut River — include Powell’s wife, photographer and writer Bar Lois Weeks; sculptor Heather Hoagland; and craftswoman Phoebe Sheldon, a ceramist who’s concentrated in recent years on writing a historical novel.

Powell said Hall and Sheldon, who are longtime friends, had moved into a house across the street from him, on Elm Street, about two years ago. He went over and introduced himself, and a mutual friendship soon developed.

“Right from the start, Russell felt like a kindred spirit,” said Sheldon.

Then about a year ago, Holland Hoagland, who designs wood and stone sculptures, as well as detailed wildlife sculptures made from paper, moved from Pelham to a home near The Old Mill Inn. Earlier this year, she looked up to see Powell, whom she had met a few times before moving to town, walking over to her yard with a basket of apples as a welcoming gift.

“It was such a nice touch,” said Hoagland. “We started chatting, and he told me about these other artists right there in the neighborhood, and then I got to meet them.”

Hoagland said that part of Hatfield, near both the Connecticut River and the smaller Mill River, is a place that really inspires her art, as she gets many of her ideas from nature — sometimes while photographing wildlife while she floats along the water in her kayak.

This spring, the five friends started talking about finding a regular venue in town where they could host exhibits and talks for the public. Powell says the idea was not strictly centered on art.

“We wanted to create a space where people could come together and maybe get past the divisiveness and negativity we’ve seen since the last presidential election,” he said. “A real kind of community forum that could be focused on something that brings us together.”

Powell approached Burwick, at the Old Mill Inn, who was happy to work with the group; Burwick says he hosted a separate art exhibit there a few years ago, including some of Powell’s paintings, and that hosting this new art series “seems like a natural next step.”

Burwick adds that the exhibits at the inn will be open to the public during opening receptions and talks for each artist, on weekends, and during the week by appointment.

The artists plan to use the series in a fairly open-ended way. During her talk in May, for instance, Sheldon will focus not on her ceramics but her novel, which is based on letters her great-great-grandfather, Rufus Hamden, from western New York state, sent home to his parents during the Civil War.

Just 17 when he joined the Union Army in 1862, Hamden fought at the battles of Antietam and Chancellorsville, was wounded twice, and saw President Abraham Lincoln up close, Sheldon says, recording all of this in letters “that are just beautifully written and evocative. It makes for a great story.”

The Hatfield artists have enlisted Betsy Rider, who also lives in the Hatfield home of Phoebe Sheldon and Heather Hall — “We’re three single ladies of a certain age” Sheldon said with a laugh — as the group’s administrator, as Rider has business and management experience. One step she’s taken is to apply for a grant from the state’s Cultural Council to help fund things like food and beverage at the opening receptions and talk at the inn.

Powell says the group is still discussing what they’ll do after each artist has exhibited work and given a talk. One idea is to open the forum to other artists in town or nearby; group members are also talking about hosting open studios in their homes, possibly in spring.

“This is really a pilot program, so we’re not sure where this will go,” he said. “But we’re really looking forward to seeing what happens.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Russell Powell will talk about his painting and other work Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. at Old Mill Inn, 87 School Street in Hatfield. Exhibits at the inn can be seen on weekends and during opening receptions and talks by the artists. For viewing art during the week, call Georg Burwick at 247-3301.

For additional information on Brook Hollow Arts, visit brookhollowarts.org.