Saxtons River Shines Spotlight On Arts In The Village

Nov 13, 2015

Saxtons River  is celebrating art and the artists who live in the village.

There are fewer than 550 residents in Saxtons River.

But that doesn't mean the village can't raise $1.6 million for an arts center and invite members of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to perform a five-part suite inspired by the village itself. Carol Wood wrote the Saxtons River Suite as an appreciation for her adopted home.

Wood moved from coastal Louisiana, where she says there are two seasons: hot and not-as-hot. When the former college professor retired to southern Vermont she was inspired by Vermont's constantly evolving seasons, and she wrote a movement for each one, including mud season.

The Saxtons River Suite premiered at Main Street Arts, a nonprofit that was founded in 1988, and which presented the suite to mark the end of its capital campaign to upgrade the art center.

The plan to renovate the building started as a $500,000 proposal to add an elevator.

Main Street Arts co-Chairwoman Kathleen Bryar says the project stretched out over five years, and the budget more than tripled as the board decided to take over a property next door and expand and fully renovate the gallery, classrooms and offices.

Main Street Arts is celebrating its $1.6 million renovation.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / vpr

"We were really bold and audacious because we're a small organization," Bryar says. "Our budget is just a little over $100,000 a year, so for us to think we can raise $1.6 million, it was just, it was outrageous."

That outrageousness was on display in Wood's musical suite, which brought the works of four Vermont poets to life.

"We were really bold and audacious because we're a small organization. Our budget is just a little over $100,000 a year, so for us to think we can raise $1.6 million, it was just, it was outrageous." - Kathleen Bryar, Main Street Arts co-chairwoman

It was on display in the talents of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Ensemble, and the Montpelier-based Counterpoint Chorus who performed the suite.

And it was on display in the stunning new theater curtains which were painted by local artists.

Main Street Arts owns the largest collection in the world of historic painted theater curtains by Charles Henry, a Guilford resident who painted dozens of curtains in Vermont in the early 20th century .

Saxtons River resident, Julie Moir Messervy says having modern artists produce five new curtains was a way of recognizing the group's history while moving into the future.

And she says the world premiere of The Saxtons River Suite was an emphatic statement of Saxtons River's place in the Vermont art scene.

The theater in Main Street Arts.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / vpr

"The whole idea was a ripple effect of one art means all arts; how can we ripple forth," says Moir Messervy.  "So we're not done yet. Now we know the VSO. Now we know Counterpoint. They love this music. We're going to do more things. We just don't know what they are yet."

Five local artists were commissioned to paint a new curtain, one for each season, and they formed the backdrop as each seasonal movement of the suite was performed.