Art Notes: Grief finds expression in Upper Valley arts events

Alexandria Francois, right, and Lucia Gagliardone perform an excerpt of

Alexandria Francois, right, and Lucia Gagliardone perform an excerpt of "While I Was Homegrowing" at the multimedia art festival Estia Day Fest in Queens, N.Y. The full work is to be performed in Sharon, Vt., on June 1-2, 2023. (Kenneth Osborn photograph) —

From left, Lucia Gagliardone, Rush Johnston and Uila Marx perform an excerpt of

From left, Lucia Gagliardone, Rush Johnston and Uila Marx perform an excerpt of "While I Was Homegrowing" at the multimedia art festival Estia Day Fest in Queens, N.Y. The full work is to be performed in Sharon, Vt., on June 1-2, 2023. (Kenneth Osborn photograph) —

A selection of the 264 paint-by-number cows to be displayed at The Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., opening on June 2, 2023. Included amongst those sent in from 26 states and six countries are, clockwise from upper left, Allison Sullivan, of Lexington, Ky., Roz Parker, of Randolph, Vt., Christine Traverson, of Sharon, Vt., 
Jennifer Rollinson, of Murphysboro, Ill., Kim Che, of Columbus, Ohio, and Lena Andrews, of Tunbridge, Vt. (Courtesy The Main Street Museum)

A selection of the 264 paint-by-number cows to be displayed at The Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., opening on June 2, 2023. Included amongst those sent in from 26 states and six countries are, clockwise from upper left, Allison Sullivan, of Lexington, Ky., Roz Parker, of Randolph, Vt., Christine Traverson, of Sharon, Vt., Jennifer Rollinson, of Murphysboro, Ill., Kim Che, of Columbus, Ohio, and Lena Andrews, of Tunbridge, Vt. (Courtesy The Main Street Museum) —

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-31-2023 4:32 PM

Dancer and choreographer Lucia Gagliardone grew up hearing stories about her paternal grandmother, Margaret, who died before Lucia was born. Like many 20th-century Margarets, she was known as Peggy, and to young Lucia she was “Angel Peg.”

“Everyone who knew her just lights up when they talk about her,” Gagliardone said in an interview.

Our relationships with our ancestors are always troubled by their absence and by the way we construct our memories of them. Gagliardone has a wonderful phrase that captures this quality: “memories that we do not tangibly possess.”

Last summer, she started talking to her father, longtime Hartford educator Steve Gagliardone, about his mother, and recorded several interviews. Those interviews became the springboard for “while I was homegrowing,” an hour-long dance composition receiving its world premier at Star Mountain Events in Sharon on Friday and Saturday.

Gagliardone’s work is one of a tide of arts events this weekend, the proper start to the summer season.

What’s striking to me is how many of them are at once global and local, and how they all have a connection to grief, loss, joy and hope, all the things that make art one of the pillars that hold up our lives.

A Sharon native, Gagliardone grew up a short walk through the woods to Star Mountain, and from an early age danced with Carol Langstaff’s Flock Dance Troupe. She went on to study dance and sociology at Bowdoin College, in Maine. She now lives part-time in Sharon and in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Her choreographic work tends to be at once personal, grounded in her own curiosity and interests, and community focused, centered in movement that’s more homespun than flashy. She also focuses on how we associate with our memories.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

“I find it really interesting that there are these facts that we hold and that over time they shift and change,” she said.

Wrapped up in memory are loss and grief. Her father lost his mother to cancer when he was around the same age she is now, Gagliardone, 25, said. She investigated what it feels like to lose a parent at such a young age, in addition to what it’s like to grieve the loss of someone she never had a chance to meet.

Gagliardone started to make “while I was homegrowing” during a long improvisation last year, then developed it with three other dancers who will join her in Vermont this week. While they’ve performed parts of it elsewhere, this weekend will mark the first performances of the full work.

“I’m really excited about this particular piece, because it’s just very joyful and very human,” Gagliardone said. While it’s rooted in “that idea of not having enough time with the people you love,” she said, it’s also “about the way that grief and that sadness can be used as fuel for celebration.”

Performances of “while I was homegrowing” are planned for 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, at Star Mountain in Sharon. Tickets ($20 in advance and $25 at the door) are available through the Seven Stars Arts Center at sevenstarsarts.org.

Herd on Main Street

Of all the oddball things the Main Street Museum has done over the years, “COW,” an exhibition opening Friday evening, might be the oddest, and also one of the best. (Devoted fans of the museum, David Fairbanks Ford’s long-running alternative curatorial project, now firmly entrenched in a former White River Junction firehouse at 58 Bridge St., will recall that it has put on display such varied exhibits as Elvis’ gallstones and the skeleton of a monster serpent once said to have inhabited the Connecticut River. And if you’re not a fan, what’s wrong with you?)

After sending out an invitation over social media a few months ago, the museum has been taking in dozens of portraits of cows. Or more precisely, the same Paint by Number cow, decorated by people in 26 states and 6 countries.

“I really thought maybe I would get 20, 30,” Joie Finley, the museum’s chief volunteer, said this week. Instead, there are more than 260 cows, a herd that might be too big for the museum’s small milking parlor.

“I was surprised to get them from Finland and Australia,” Finley said.

The children at a day care center in England sent in a cow. And she was surprised by the different materials people used. Someone sent a crocheted version of the painting. Another sent a beaded three-dimensional cow, with real glass eyes.

Many people wrote stories, to explain their cows, or themselves, sometimes on the back of the painting. One person worked on their cow while undergoing chemotherapy, while others worked on theirs with their children. One couple made a date night out of it, drawing a line down the middle and each painting half. One person wrote of their family’s ownership of one of those big fiberglass cows and how stealing it and moving it around town became a thing.

The idea for the exhibition came to Finley when she saw an Ohio woman’s display of a wall of the same Paint by Number cats. Finley reached out to her to see if she’d send the cats to the museum, but the woman said no. It had taken her forever to herd the cats onto the wall to her satisfaction and she wasn’t about to take them down.

That was in January, while Finley was home sick and resting. She proposed the cow exhibition and people spread it around on social media. While Vermont and New Hampshire were the biggest sources of the cow art, Ohio came in a solid third, after the cat wall owner sent it out to her social media contacts.

Here’s where the grief comes in. Finley sent out the idea for the cow show just as her father, Edmund Finley, a retired Delaware state trooper, fell gravely ill. He died of cancer on Feb. 28, and since then, Joie, a retired social worker, has been caring for her mother, who has dementia. The arrival of fresh batches of cows has provided opportunities for levity and wonder amid her family’s grief.

“My mom and I would have unboxing parties,” Finley said. “She even made one of her own.”

Art, Finley said, is a great way to process grief.

“COW” opens Friday evening at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction with a reception starting at 6, and will remain on view through August.

There’s a host of other art openings and events taking place Friday as part of White River Junction’s First Friday art walk. The shows opening include “Many artists, one model … a tribute to Penny Bennett,” an exhibition at Two Rivers Printmaking Studio that gathers work by 12 artists who made depictions of Bennett, an artist and artists’ model.

Weekend music

Liz Simmons, a member of the Americana band Low Lily, plays a solo show Saturday night at 7:30 in Lebanon’s First Congregational Church. Simmons will perform Friday with Rochester, Vt., native Casey Murray, a Berklee-educated cellist and member of the Americana band Corner House. Admission is by suggested donation of $10-20 at the door.

And on Sunday, a group of Upper Valley musicians will gather around guitar legend Ed Eastridge for a jam session and concert, starting at 4 p.m. in the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. Participants include William Rosen, Ted Mortimer, Grace Wallace, Jakob Breitbach and Glendon Ingalls, among others. Tickets ($20) are available online at events.eventgroove.com/event/Ed-Eastridge-And-Friends-77770. Proceeds benefit the Dave Clark Scholarship Fund.

Eastridge has long been a busy Upper Valley musician, but he’s been surprisingly busy since acknowledging earlier this spring that he’s stopped treatment for cancer. The music community has gathered around him, another example of art’s power amid grief.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.