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Hanging Together



Published September 8, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

Everything is a jumble at Art Hop headquarters, and in the warren of studios behind it, just off Flynn Avenue in Burlington. Unpacked boxes compete for floor space with piles of artwork and bright yellow programs so new they still reek of ink. Foldable Art Hop street signs lean against a wall near the door as if eager to spring into action. In one corner a young woman hunkers over a computer at a cluttered table. And in the middle of the room, Art Hop Executive Director Lorna K. Peal is tutoring a fresh batch of volunteers, who sit cross-legged on the floor like a semi-circle of pre-schoolers at storytime. "Now, you need to know that Art Hop is put on by the South End Arts and Business Administra-tion, or SEABA," she begins patiently.

This apparent chaos is a temporary veneer, obscuring the meticulous planning that began a year ago -- right after the last Art Hop ended. And the 12th annual community arts event, which takes place this weekend, is bigger than ever: More than 400 artists will display their work at 110 studios and businesses. That's not to mention some 20 outdoor sculptures already dotting the Pine Street corridor, which is home to many of the entrepreneurs and creative types in SEABA.

The curatorial feat culminates this weekend with flurry of activities: The hopping begins Friday at five, accompanied by a juried show, a silent auction, several musical performances and a big party that goes 'til midnight. And since the event can no longer be squeezed into seven hours, demonstrations and workshops -- and of course more art viewing -- spill over into Saturday.

Peal is trying to prepare her young volunteers -- six of about 30 -- for these festivities when Richard and Jessica Peabody arrive to talk with a reporter about their artwork. There is nowhere to sit. Three of Richard's paintings already hang in the office, but Jessica's lithographs and monoprints are still zipped up in a black portfolio. By Friday their works, and those of four other artists, will grace these walls. It's the first time the Art Hop office itself has been a site on the Hop.

It's also a first for the Peabodys: The father-and-daughter pair have not participated in Art Hop before, yet in addition to their pieces at the office, both also entered this year's juried show. Jessica, 24, has exhibited her prints several times locally, including at her alma mater, University of Vermont. Enthralled with printmaking, she's entering a master's program next year at Pratt.

Richard, 58, has painted diligently for years and taken classes here and there, but has never shown his work at all -- at least, not outside his Burlington home. For Richard, whom Peal calls a "real Renaissance man," the 2004 Art Hop is a coming-out party.

The presence of emerging artists such as the Peabodys in Art Hop is part of what keeps the event fresh and edgy -- but the thrill works both ways: "It's pretty overwhelming and exciting to be involved," says Jessica. "It makes me feel like I'm part of the bigger picture here. As a new artist, just starting to show, it's exciting to know there's a large volume of people coming through."

"Showing for the first time feels good, it feels right," concurs Richard. "When we hung the work I almost had a feeling of detachment: 'OK, it can stand on its own and take whatever comes.' Some people will like it and some people won't," he adds. "I'm confident that those who are meant to respond to it, will."

His three paintings at the Art Hop office look very different from one another, suggesting an artist who has been actively experimenting, and evolving. The one he calls "Com-media delle Rocce" is done all in browns, red-browns and sepia; the large, vertical canvas is filled with abstracted, mask-like faces, based on a rock formation Richard saw in a national park. Except for their color and somewhat disturbing miens, the faces are akin to images one might see, or imagine, in a passing cloud.

A second painting, cryptically titled "The Observers," at first glance appears totally abstract, an explosion of dark colors complemented by active gashes, scratches and blobby pigment. A closer look, though, reveals the silhouettes of three slender figures, black against a cobalt "sky" and a barely visible city skyline. The third and most naturalistic painting, untitled, is a branchlike tangle of roots against a textured, non-narrative background.

Content-wise, these works look like they might have been executed by three different people, yet "They're not so different in terms of how they feel on the inside to me," Richard says. "I feel like I'm capturing a piece in a continuum of things gone by." Those faces, he suggests, express all the human emotions; the roots are about returning to the soil. "It's reflective of how people operate," he suggests.

In his artist's statement Richard writes eloquently about the "language" of his paintings -- about "the creation's expression of itself through time"; about "a complex past and an unknowable future." In person, though, he finds it easier to discuss less abstract subjects, such as his relationship with his daughter. Finally settling on a wooden porch outside the Art Hop office, the two talk about their personal art history so far.

You might say it all started with hammers and nails. After Richard, an Indiana native, moved to Vermont in 1969, he and his wife began building a historical-reproduction home in Richmond -- he was a carpenter before becoming a special-education teacher. Living in a house that was perpetually under construction, Richard suggests, provided a stimulating environment for his two daughters. "Jess was always around me doing work on the house -- it was a create-as-I-went kind of thing," he says. "She was always aware of that creative process." She also pitched in.

The fine arts began to entice Jessica when she was in high school. Not coincidentally, it was about the same time that Richard started applying paint to canvas. At UVM Jessica threw herself into the difficult discipline of printmaking under the tutelage of prof and master printmaker Bill Davison. "I was the young adult going through school and experiencing my vision as an artist," she says, while her father was exploring his own medium in the basement at home. "We really understood the struggles and challenges that come with opening up the creative self," Jessica says.

The prints she's exhibiting at the Art Hop office are related to her senior project in college, a set of stone-lithography portraits depicting evocative faces, black ink on white paper. "Post-9/11, those things we all share as humans show on our faces," she explains. These will be hung in tandem with her layered monoprints; each has a smaller piece of paper printed with Arabic text from a newspaper and collaged onto a larger sheet with a sort of watery, abstract appearance. A subtle hint of color appears in the latter works, but this is new. "The simplicity of black and white evokes more of a response," Jessica says.

Her two pieces in the juried exhibit represent a recent focus: They're more personally emotional and use more color. "They're pretty raw," Jessica says of "The Feminine Mystique" and "Valentine." "I've had some experiences that have pushed my expression on paper. Art has always kept me at a level-headed place."

So, apparently, has her family. She says she feels blessed to be able to share an artistic evolution with her father. "We're kind of at the same point in our lives as creative beings," Jessica says. "We are very supportive of each other's work. For me, there's no more respected opinion -- I'd like to hear from him first."

Richard is modest about his qualifications as a critic, but unabashed as a cheerleader. "We've always been incredibly close, and we both know how lucky we are to have this relationship," he says.

Sitting side by side on the steps outside the Art Hop office, Richard and Jessica Peabody seem to glow in the angled afternoon sun. Or maybe it's their mutual admiration. Soon, their work will hang together, too, for the appraising eyes of hopping strangers.