Beyond the Brush: Seacoast Artist Association

This Exeter gallery is a non-profit group dedicated to inspiring and educating people in the arts

Star Island Chapel by Bill Childs.

Winter is here, which means that snow and long days cooped up inside with nothing to do are, too. To help stave off the grumpiness of this season, chilly temperatures, and cabin fever, we’re starting “Beyond the Brush,” a series of profiles introducing you to the many unique art galleries around New Hampshire.

For our latest profile, check out Seacoast Art Association in Exeter. We spoke to Body of Work Coordinator Debra Woodward to learn more about the community-active group of artists. Read on to learn all about how they work to promote art appreciation and services, and encourage artists of all ages and media.

Tell us about the history of your gallery.
Debra: “The Seacoast Artist Association began in the Hampton area in the early 80s. You can still see work from some of the original members, Barbara Cowan, Annalee Mack and Doris Rice at the gallery today. The SAA had several locations in what is now the Shaw’s Plaza in North Hampton before moving to Exeter.”

What makes your gallery special or different?
Debra: “Our gallery is a window and a mirror. It is a window into the minds and hearts of the artists in our association who create art during all seasons of the year. We also want to be a mirror for our community on the Seacoast. We want them to be able to identify with the hopes and dreams about the world around us all through art. We pride ourselves on being a community and part of a larger one. The SAA not only showcases the artwork of our 29 gallery artists who are always represented in the gallery (and who also share the management responsibilities of the gallery), but we also put aside space for a monthly theme show which everyone in the community can enter, including non-members. The themes are released before the beginning of each year, so artists have plenty of time to create for each show. Members get a discounted rate for these, and we find that artists enjoy these shows so much that they often become members. We offer two Body of Work shows each month to give artists the opportunity for a solo show. Art education is offered by members such as watercolorist Doris Rice who teaches regular classes at the gallery. One of the initiatives which we are most proud of is our Scholarship Fund. Our committee works with local public high school art teachers and guidance counsellors to help seniors who go on to further their art studies in college or university.”

What’s the story behind the name of your gallery?
Debra: “I believe the founders just wanted it to be self-explanatory and inclusive. Our artists are from the Seacoast areas of New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, and we are a group of people organized for a joint purpose, which is art.”

What are you best known for?
Debra: “It is a beautiful gallery full of natural light. Many comment on how reasonably-priced our wonderful artwork is as well. There are real gems in this gallery for art lovers! We also have regular greeting card shoppers since we sell cards year-round.

The SAA is also known for how inclusive we are with our theme shows, especially one of our most popular, The Mystery Kits. Each June we sell identical and complete kits, including a canvas, with which people can make their own piece of artwork. The entire purchase price goes to our scholarship fund. Those who are lucky enough to purchase a kit before they sell out get the whole summer to make a piece of artwork, which can be shown and offered for sale at our October show. It never ceases to amaze how different each piece is from the other. Families look forward to working on these together every summer and the reception for the show is a lot of fun.”

Tell us about your artists. What styles of art do you feature? Any particular disciplines?
Debra: “The SAA is mostly an older community. Many are retired. Some began painting, photographing and sculpting later in life, while some have created all their lives and many were longtime art educators. There are digital and film photographers, as well as painters in oils, watercolors, acrylics and in many styles from representational to abstract. There are also printmakers, sculptors and fabric artists, as well as sculptors of ceramics and recycled metal.”

Fist Full Of Feathers

Fist Full of Feathers by Maryclare Hefferna

Do you have any exciting exhibits planned for 2022? Any other events?
Debra: “There is a lot of excitement about our jam-packed year of Body of Work shows. The exhibits for 2022 filled up months ago. We feature two artists each month, each who show about a dozen of their own works as well as matted pieces and notecards. Highlights this spring include longtime SAA member and former Oyster River art educator watercolorist Bill Childs in April. Bill is showing his paintings of Star Island that he has done over the many years he has painted there. It is not to be missed. 

This month, another SAA favorite and gallery member, Maryclare Heffernan has a Body of Work show entitled “This Love of Ours” where she says, “I want to show you the love I have for the life that lives on this gorgeous planet of ours.” This comes just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The yearlong Theme Shows include the return of a favorite, “Eye of the Beholder,” in April where two artists team up to interpret the same theme, often an artist and a photographer, but it can be any medium. In July, we repeat our “By the Sea” show, which last year had more entries than ever before. The sea certainly inspires our artists!

And of course, our 29 gallery artists are always adding exciting new work to the gallery, on the interior walls and in the windows.”

What keeps you passionate about the arts?
Debra: “Many of our members say that their fellow members keep them inspired and passionate about the arts.  We learn from each other, and we also get to know art and artists at other galleries. Several of our artists still take classes. There was a fantastic unplanned surprise holiday party at the gallery on Christmas Eve day when SAA members showed up to celebrate the retirement of our longtime gallery manager, Annick Bourvon-Gromek who was gallery sitting that day. There was such a feeling of community and hope for 2022! There is always something that inspires us to create whether it is our own interior world or the beauty around us. New England offers so much to inspire us, from the ocean, marshes, mountains and wildlife to the changing seasons. The SAA now has a plein air painting group which is open to everyone, and creating outside in the fresh air with fellow artists inspires us, too.”

How can people best support you right now?
Debra: “We would love people to donate to our scholarship fund by sending a check to the SAA, 130 Water St., Exeter, NH, 03833. We, of course, love to meet people in our gallery so we can share who we are and what we do.”

Categories: Arts & Shopping, Beyond the Brush, Family-friendly things to do, Local Artisans