Art and Autumn in the Foothills of Mount Monadnock
The Monadnock Region is the go-to place for fall beauty, right? Right. But not all the exquisite light, color and panoramas are on the trees. This little corner of New Hampshire has also been the inspiration for hundreds of visual artists who choose to live and work here, many of whom you can meet during the 14th Annual Monadnock Open Studio Art Tour October 10 and11.So, here’s a guide for arts peeping as well as foliage fawning. PeterboroughFor decades, this area of the state has been a haven for artists of all disciplines. With its natural beauty blending with a touch of urban charm, it’s easy to understand why the muse is alive and well in Our Town.The cultural center of the eastern section of the Monadnock Region, this picturesque village at the confluence of the Nubanusit and Contoocook rivers is home to fine shops, art galleries and restaurants. It is also the home of the MacDowell Colony, where Thornton Wilder wrote the play “Our Town” using local residents as inspiration.There are dozens of visual artists who make their homes and/or their studios in this hilly, hip community, including illustrator/painter Beth Krommes, who has lived and worked here for over 30 years.For the past 10 years the artist has focused on book illustration, including for “The House in the Night,” which took this year’s prestigious 2009 Caldecott Medal. Speaking recently on the “Today Show,” Krommes explained that, while she originally started illustrating with wood engravings, she now uses a process called scratch boarding.In downtown Peterborough in Depot Square, feast your eyes on more art at several galleries including The Peterborough Fine Art Gallery, which features American art and early Monadnock Region landscapes. The Sharon Downtown Galleries include a fine craft gallery and store, an artists’ resource center, a juried artist gallery, and an exhibition gallery.If you’d like to cultivate your own inner artist, Sharon Arts also offers art classes and programs in the school facility in the town of Sharon.And if world art and culture is appealing to you and the children in your life, don’t miss the Mariposa Museum of Culture on Main Street where you get play an African drum, try on a real kimono or manipulate a Madame Butterfly marionette.There is no shortage in terms of the fine art of eating in this area either. Acqua Bistro in Depot Square specializes in gourmet pizza and bistro entrées like grilled organic chicken breast with coconut rice. Pearl Restaurant and Oyster Bar on Jaffrey Road (Rte. 202) in Peterborough specializes in Asian fusion made with locally-raised food sources. After a chilly foliage viewing we suggest the tom yum soup. For sushi lovers, hit Lee and Mt. Fuji Restaurant at the Boiler House at 50 Jaffrey Road.HarrisvilleThis may be the town that time forgot. It’s a tiny, hilltop 19th-century mill village that has been lovingly preserved and looks as if the workers should be marching out of the buildings with lunch pails in hand.The whitewashed workers’ houses of “Peanut Row” and the brick mill owners’ mansions all overlook a reflective millpond. The textile mill with a cupola-topped granite tower overlooking Goose Creek Ravine has been the subject of many an October calendar photograph and is great for your own foliage snapshot.Some say the yarn has been spun in town every year since 1790. In truth, textile crafters still come to buy exotic yarns or wooden looms at Harris Designs.Award-winning photographer Eleanor Briggs, a Hancock resident, makes her work home at the Eleanor Briggs Phoenix Studio in the renovated 19th-century Cheshire Mills Complex on Main Street.Briggs has drawn inspiration from her world travels but is currently working on a series of photographs inspired by some intense close ups of the natural world not far from her studio.She believes the Monadnock Region is a draw for artists because so much of its natural beauty has been preserved, in part because of the establishment of the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, which she started in 1970.But even the most dedicated artists need to eat. Briggs and most everyone else in town like to head to the 1800s-built Harrisville General Store and enjoy one of their famous homemade apple cider donuts or homemade sandwiches.HancockNamed after the Revolutionary War patriot whose autograph became his trademark, this 18th-century village has so many architecturally significant homes that most of the buildings on Main Street are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.But not all the interesting architecture is historic here. Tucked away in a field of wildflowers — with Pack Monadnock, North Pack Monadnock and Temple Mountain as a backdrop — is what appears to be an outcropping of three subterranean Hobbit dwellings, which are in fact the home and studios of artists Thomas and Mary Meyers. The earth-sheltered buildings were designed by the Meyers’ friend Donald Jasinksi of Jasinski Architects in Waterville Valley.It’s there that Thomas Meyers creates his works on paper, which have a distinctly architectural and archeological feel, as well as his glass mosaic mirrors and three-dimensional assemblages. Mary Meyers is a ceramics artist, whose work is fired in a kiln which has its own earth-shelter building.For art of a more historic type not to mention outstanding food and comfortable lodging, you can visit the Hancock Inn on the town green, one of the oldest continuously operating inns in the country, having started life in 1789 as a tavern. Its Rufus Porter Room boasts a 19th-century tropical wall mural by the itinerant artist, musician and inventor. The inn’s restaurant is most noted for its signature Shaker Cranberry Pot Roast, which was prepared by the inn’s chef on Food Network’s “Food Nation” show.DublinArtists have gathered in Dublin, in the shadow of Mount Monadnock, since the 19th century. Abbott Thayer and Rockwell Kent worked here and Mark Twain, Amy Lowell and other writers visited as well. Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson climbed Mount Monadnock to get closer to a higher authority.The Friends of the Dublin Art Colony was founded in 1995 to celebrate this history and nurture contemporary artists. In 2007 the group changed its name to Monadnock Art/Friends of the Dublin Art Colony, which sponsors the annual Open Studio Art Tour now in its 14th year. It will be held October 10 and 11.First Called Monadnock No. 3 when the township was laid out by 18th-century land speculators, the town’s first permanent settlers were Ulster Protestants who arrived some time after 1760.The flagpole at the center of the town is 1,493 feet above sea level, making it the Granite State’s highest village center. Also in the center of town is the home of Yankee Magazine — you can visit their store there — and a Currier and Ives downtown that includes the 1881 Town Hall and the 1852 Dublin Community Church.Those interested in one of the arguably best foliage views in New England should drive just west of town to the public boat launch at Dublin Lake, where Mount Monadnock and Technicolor trees are reflected in the deep blue water.MarlboroughFounded the year of the American Revolution, Marlborough was once the center for a thriving granite industry. Its granite was used in the building of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and the Frost Free Library in Marlborough, built in 1867 and granite from the foundation to the roof. Many would consider the building a work of art in itself.It’s also home to artists such as Mary Iselin, known mostly for her oil paintings of horses, sheep and lambs, and Alicia Geilenberg-Drakiotes, who works in print making, pastel and oil to create a sense of place with her landscapes.You wouldn’t want to visit without a stop at the Homestead Book Shop, where second-generation book seller Robert Kenney has assembled an eclectic collection of vintage volumes. The shop has been a must stop for local bibliophiles and those passing by on Route 101 for about 40 years. The crowded shelves range from cheap, dog-eared paperbacks, a complete collection of the Hardy Boys to rare first editions and old magazines. We found a collectible Harry Potter volume that was published in England for $50, but chose one published in the U.S. for $7.Kenney claims he’s been visited by many celebrities of the decade, including J.D. Salinger and William Saroyan.Pick up a few aphrodisiac treats at Unbridled Chocolate at 135 Main St. Chocolatier Alan Crofut creates stars, Buddhas and, of course, horse shapes out of sublime ingredients. The retail shop is closed Sunday and Monday.Jaffrey CenterNot to be confused with the rest of Jaffrey, Jaffrey Center is a section west of downtown that is the historic heart of this Monadnock village. It’s here that the Meeting House, Old Burial Ground and the Little Red School House all stand as they have for centuries.The Jaffrey Meetinghouse is the oldest building in the center — its frame having been raised on June 17, 1775, the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill. It is said that those doing the work on that day could hear cannon fire in Boston. Today the building is used for concerts, lectures, fairs, weddings, meetings and the annual 4th of July reading of the Declaration of Independence.At the Old Burial Ground next door rests Amos Fortune. He was born in Africa in 1710 and brought to America as a slave. Fortune bought his freedom when he was 60, then moved to Jaffrey to become a tanner and one of the town’s prominent citizens. He died at the age of 91 in 1801.Nearby is buried famed Nebraska-born writer Willa Cather — author of “My Antonia” and “Oh Pioneer!” — who died in New York in 1947. Cather began visiting Jaffrey in 1917 and requested to be buried here next to her longtime companion, Edith Lewis. On her grave is inscribed a line from “My Antonia.”In keeping with the historic theme, you might want to eat and sleep at the century old Inn at Jaffrey Center.JaffreyJust because you leave the center of Jaffrey doesn’t mean you leave history and culture behind. In the remainder of the town live artists and craftspeople, among them print maker Amy McGregor-Radin, pastel artist Chris Reid and jewelry artist Eila Mackenzie.Public art in the form of the Buddies Statue Monument on Main Street commemorates Jaffrey involvement in World War I and was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1930. It was carved in place on a large boulder that had been transported to the site from the western part of town.The historic Park Theatre building on Main Street is a former movie house in the process of being renovated into a 400-seat theater. And the Jaffrey Civic Center on Main Street is home to the Jaffrey Historical Society, several art galleries and community space. Upcoming exhibits include “Nicole Caufield and Gary Ruska: A Two Person Colored Pencil Exhibit” showing October 9 through November 7.While on Main Street you might want to take time to eat and shop. Sunflowers Café — on the former site of Aylmer’s Grille, which is now at the Woodbound Inn in nearby Rindge — serves up spinach portobello ravioli at dinner, hot meatloaf sandwiches at lunch and a killer smoked salmon pizza, just to name some of the choices. They also serve up live music on Sunday nights. There are also some nice antique and specialty shops within walking distance.KeeneSurrounded by the foothills of Mount Monadnock and once a center of glassmaking, Keene was originally named Upper Ashuelot. It became a city in 1874 and was named for British diplomat Sir Benjamin Keene. After the arrival of the railroad in 1874 it became a center of industry for production of furniture, flannel and pottery, but for 100 years it has been the home of Keene State College, which has made it the cultural capital of western Monadnock Region.The school is home to the Thorne-Sagendorf Gallery where “The Migrations Project,” contemporary works by Native American artists, will be on display through November 24. “Downstream: Current Works on Water by Six Artists,” who use water as a inspiration or metaphor, will also be up through that date.Outside the campus there are several galleries in town. Monadnock Fine Arts Gallery at 99 Main St. displays contemporary works by artists from the Monadnock Region and this month features color pencil and portraits and still lifes by Nicole Caulfield.The New England Art Exchange at 29 Central Square specializes in fine prints from the 18th century through the 1950s and has regularly changing exhibits.For a leaf hunt, set out across the 133-foot dam at the Otter Brook Recreation Area on Route 9 on the Keene/ Roxbury line that offers an unimpeded view of the foliage on the surrounding hills. The dam is part of a network that controls water on tributaries to the Connecticut River. Pack MonadnockYou don’t have to be a mountaineer to enjoy the view from Pack Monadnock; a paved road leads to the summit of the 2,290-foot mountain.The steep, 1.3-mile drive past scrub pines and microwave towers leads to a park-like summit where picnickers have enjoyed the view since the Victorian era and probably earlier. On a clear day you can’t see forever but nearly so — rolling hills bursting with fall color stretch all the way to Mount Washington to the north, the Prudential Center in Boston to the south as well as the hill’s more famous cousin Mount Monadnock, 12 miles west. In October, during the fall hawk migration, kettles of hawks may be visible as dozens of the broad-winged raptors congregate as they ride thermals thousands of feet into the air and glide from warm spot to warm spot to save energy as they migrate south. Visitors to Pack Monadnock may climb a 27-foot steel lookout tower that was built in 1929. The summit was also once home to a hotel which burned down in 1896 as did its replacement in 1924. The foundation is still visible.