Two amiable brown bears, red cups in hand — or paw — share a cheery riverside moment in Delia Robinson’s painting “To Your Health My Dear,” in the front window of 142 Eastern Ave. The bears are accompanied by other paintings by Robinson and a selection of her clay whistles, little sculptures in mythical and whimsical forms, that indeed whistle when blown.
Musical notes float through snow, a cellist plays beneath a winter sky as the season and music are evoked across four panels of “Musaic,” a community mural project, arranged in the storefront windows of Shatterbox at 166 Eastern Ave. These winter panels are from the 2013 series created by artist Tara Goreau and middle school students at four St. Johnsbury area schools considering the four seasons and four genres of music.
Around the corner on Railroad Street, storefront displays continue with six more windows full of art. Sochida Yoshida’s luminous watercolors, Benjamin Barne’s landscapes and streetscapes of St. Johnsbury, and Megan Hack’s sprouting vegetables are among them.
“StJ Art on the Street Winter Exhibition” features artwork by 11 Northeast Kingdom artists. Paintings and some sculpture are among the pieces displayed in downtown St. Johnsbury storefront windows. This exhibition continues to Feb. 28.
These mini solo shows can all be viewed from outdoors. Displays include information about the artists and feature QR codes, connecting viewers directly with artists’ websites.
“StJ Art on the Street” is a superb match for this COVID-19 era of outdoor activity and physical distancing. Walking along downtown sidewalks, viewers can savor a compelling range of art from acclaimed area artists.
The seeds for the exhibition predate the pandemic, but emerged in response to another widespread condition — vacant commercial space in a once retail-rich downtown.
“Everybody has an idea of what Main Street looks like in rural America right now. It’s hard to have retail with the changes that have happened. But we can celebrate so many things that we are doing right,” explained Heather Alger who teamed up with Patricia Anderson, also of St. Johnsbury, to add their efforts to downtown revitalization.
“Let’s wash these windows and get some things in them,” was their original impetus, Alger recalled, noting that some of the empty windows had not been cleaned in years.
Alger and Anderson became known as the Window Warriors. Working with St. Johnsbury’s chamber of commerce, property owners, and lots of volunteers they went to work. By the 2019 holidays they cleaned and refreshed 15 street-side windows. With borrowed art and décor, once bleak spaces had a fresh look.
In 2020, the clean windows provided opportunity. Here were public display spaces available at a time when artists did not have access to many places they might normally show their work. Additionally, they could be safely viewed without going indoors.
An autumn show launched “StJ Art on the Street.” Its success led to the winter show currently in place and an anticipated continuing program of four shows a year, one for each season.
“It has been very collaborative,” Alger said, explaining that the expectation is that Catamount Arts will lead “St.J Art on the Street” with the Window Warriors continuing to do their work, cleaning, and acting as liaison between property owners and volunteers.
The exhibition offers a sense of being in a gallery neighborhood. Each window has a broad enough selection of each individual’s art to give viewers variety and an introduction to their work.
The featured artists all live in the Northeast Kingdom, many of them celebrated nationally and internationally.
Janet McKenzie challenges prejudice in her painting, in her subjects and style. Her work is inclusive, honoring all people. A sense of strength and serenity pervades in many. Her work in St. J includes a full size reproduction of her painting “The Holy Family” commissioned for the Loyola School in New York City. Copies of this painting have been carried at the U.S.-Mexico border in support of asylum seekers.
A winter landscape group show at 462 Railroad St. features Benjamin Barnes, Laura Heijn, Jeff MacQueen and Anni Lorenzini. From Lorenzini’s abstracted landscapes to Barnes’s familiar local scenes, and Heijn’s atmospheric “Birches in a Snowy Meadow” to MacQueen’s “Half-Painted on School Street,” they take viewers to moods and places of NEK winter.