Local artists rally for Sharon Arts Center

  • Erin Smart of Amherst and Paul Looney of Walpole in the Sharon Arts Center’s Thursday night pottery class.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Erin Smart of Amherst and Anissa Plante of Nashua in the Sharon Arts Center’s last pottery class before its closing. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • A pottery class at the Sharon Arts Center Thursday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/14/2019 8:41:41 PM

Area artists are rallying together to save what to them is a critical resource, the Sharon Arts Center educational facility in Sharon.

“We’re all at a loss. We’re losing our place,” potter Paul Looney of Walpole said last week.

The Sharon Arts Center was absorbed by the New Hampshire Art Institute in Manchester in 2012. In June, the New Hampshire Art Institute announced it would be merging with New England College, and as part of the merger would be selling under-utilized properties, including the Sharon Arts Center in Sharon, and its associated gallery and fine craft store in Peterborough.

The store in Peterborough will close on or before Aug. 31; the gallery closed on Sunday.

Potter said there is a group of local potters and ceramic workers who have rented studio space at the Sharon Arts Center for years. Many are hobbyists, but several are professional artists, Looney said.

“Most of us have our own wheels, and some of us have our own kilns, but they have equipment some of us don’t have,” Looney said.

The Sharon Arts Center has gas kilns that reach hotter temperatures than electric kilns, which creates different outcomes when firing pots.

The Sharon Arts Center also is home to an outdoor wood-fired anagama-style kiln, designed and built-in 2014 by Wilton artist John Baymore and New Hampshire Art Institute graduate students. The ancient type of pottery kiln that was brought to Japan from China via Korea in the 5th century.

“That large wood-fired kiln is pretty unique not only in the USA but in the world for what it can do,” Baymore said Friday. “It’s almost one-of-a-kind in the world because of its performance characteristics.”

Baymore has started a Facebook group, called “Saving Fushigigama” – the name of the kiln – for those who want to preserve the availability of the kiln to the community, whether in Sharon or some other venue.

Summer classes at the center continue, but will be ending soon and not resuming.

Members of the Thursday night pottery class, Erin Smart of Amherst and Anissa Plante of Nashua, said they were shocked and saddened to hear the news of its closing.

“I’ve been taking classes here for 15 years at least, from time to time, and I just feel it’s a completely different studio space and community than other places that I have been too,” Smart said. “It has a really nice small-town feel to it. … It’s a deep roots community, deep roots in the arts, and you can feel it. … I mean, I make the drive out here even though there’s ones much closer.”

Plante said it is her first time taking a class at the Sharon Arts Center.

“This is my first go-around here and I was really pleased to see the facility and I’m really surprised I’m in the last class,” Plante said. “This is the arts hub of western New Hampshire.”

The closing of the gallery is also a loss for the community. Joe Caracappa, board president for the Monadnock Art Tour, said the tour had to make a last-minute change of venue when the gallery show associated with the tour – already scheduled to be hung at the Sharon Arts Gallery – when New England College announced it would be canceling its scheduled fall showings.

“We promote the show as a good place to start the tour, so you can see all the artists at once and plan which artist’s studios you’d like to visit. It’s an important part of that weekend, particularly for people out-of-town who aren’t familiar with the artists in the area,” Caracappa said.

Art tour organizers have re-printed their advertising and secured the Monadnock Center for History and Culture to show paintings from artists on the tour.

Looney said a group of more than a dozen potters has started to meet to discuss ways to preserve access to the Sharon Arts Center – up to an including launching a nonprofit and raising the funds to purchase the property.

Looney said members of the group have been in contact with the New England College, who Looney said was open to the possibility. But purchasing the properties would be an uphill climb due to the amount of funds that would need to be raised – more than a million dollars for the Sharon property alone, he said.

“It’s going to require finding people in the community that want to support it,” Looney said.

Looney said the group will have to research what it took to run the arts center as a solo entity, and what required them to merge with the New Hampshire Art Institute in the first place.

Baymore, who is also a member of the group, said the group has also discussed the option of an arts center in the Peterborough area that is not on the Sharon campus.

“The college wants a lot of money for it, and it needs a lot of money to operate, so it may not be viable to run it in the black,” Baymore said.

Baymore said in that case, he would still want to preserve access to the anagama wood-fire kiln, which may mean negotiating with New England College to see if they would be willing to sell the kiln separately from the property. The large wood-fired kiln would have to be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere in that case.

According to Thomas R. Horgan, executive director of community relations and public affairs at New England College, what is to become of the kiln has not yet been decided.

“We are considering various options for the wood-fired kiln which may include moving it, selling it, or conveying it with the property, but no final decision has been made at this point,” Horgan said in an email.

The Sharon Arts Center at 457 Route 123 in Sharon is listed for $1,000,250. The gallery and store located on the first floor of 30 Grove Street is listed for $1,236,250.

“We have received inquiries and interest from several parties for both the Sharon and Peterborough properties. Those we have heard from generally have some interest in maintaining art activities on the Sharon site. We, of course, are open to inquiries from all who are interested in the properties,” Horgan wrote.


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