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McGowan exhibit finds inspiration amid the rubble of construction

  • “Cherry Picker” by John Bonner

    “Cherry Picker” by John Bonner

  • "Big Yellow Dump Truck 2" by Melissa Anne Miller

    "Big Yellow Dump Truck 2" by Melissa Anne Miller

  • "Orange Cones" by Thomas Glover

    "Orange Cones" by Thomas Glover

  • “Cherry Picker” by John Bonner
  • "Big Yellow Dump Truck 2" by Melissa Anne Miller
  • "Orange Cones" by Thomas Glover

Remember how fascinating we found construction equipment as children? It was so big, loud and colorful. We loved seeing dirt pushed around, gravel dumped and holes excavated, and we mimicked that activity, complete with sound effects, in our play.

As adults, though, we mostly see it as a nuisance, slowing down traffic, causing irritating detours and creating a big mess. Sarah Chaffee, owner of McGowan Fine Art in Concord, wants to change that, to help people find beauty in these monsters as Main Street is reconstructed.

The exhibit, “Be Prepared to Stop: A Celebration of Construction,” is on display at the gallery through Aug. 31 and features paintings that celebrate construction by artists John Bonner, Barbara Carr, Thomas Glover and Melissa Anne Miller. A reception will be held tomorrow from 5 to 7 p.m.

Chaffee said that she has been very involved with the Main Street redesign. She’s been on the board of Main Street, sat on the TIF Advisory Council, and attended hearings on the project. It’s always on her mind, she said.

An essay by Oscar Wilde reminded her that people don’t always see beauty until someone paints it.

“I think that’s a lot of what artists do in their work,” she said. “They can take something that you’ve oftentimes overlooked and show you the beauty in it.”

The idea for the exhibit clicked when she saw “Cherry Pickers,” a painting by John Bonner. She compares the image to “a many-headed hydra, a giant praying mantis.”

“I think you can find beauty just about anywhere. I decided with the whole downtown Main Street reconstruction that I wanted to help people make that leap and see that change can be both good and beautiful,” she said.

Chaffee spoke of the artists’ enthusiasm in creating work especially for this exhibit.

“Artists don’t usually do something they’re not interested in,” she said. “It was a confluence of timing and ideas for a number of us.”

Melissa Anne Miller, well known for her light-and-shadow paintings of Concord homes and buildings, had been thinking about a scene she had sketched as construction began on the Capital Commons Garage, and decided to paint it for the exhibit.

“It’s the view from here (Hills Avenue),” she said.

A huge red crane dominates the work; the corner of Hermano’s glows in the late-day light, and the view to the north is still visible beyond the steel girders, which lie in shadow.

Miller departed from her usual subject matter in two paintings of bright yellow dump trucks viewed from high above, but still employed her trademark strong light and shadows.

Thomas Glover had already painted “Orange Cones,” a long view of a highway dotted with orange construction cones, and capped with a stunning “New Hampshire blue” sky. For this exhibit, he painted “Crane on Barge” in strong reds and blues, punctuated by dazzling white snow. Another features a blazing yellow bulldozer in a sunlit field, contrasting sharply with the shadowed background.

Barbara Carr had many paintings of trucks, snow plows and other large vehicles, soft-edged images in vibrant colors, in her collection before creating new works for this exhibit.

Her newest, “Rest Stop,” depicts the reconstruction of the rest area south of Concord. The soaring, open underside of the building’s peaked roof glows orange, and blue sky peeks through the unfinished sections.

As the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth was being demolished, Carr went out with a painting buddy to take photographs of it. She painted a small scene of welding at the top of the bridge, brilliant orange and yellow sparks flying.

“I love these sparks,” she said.

The sight of two welders, surrounded by a halo of sparks as they welded bridge pieces to the deck of the barge that would haul them downriver, also captured her interest.

“I wanted to paint this one but hadn’t done it yet,” she said. “When this show came up I thought this was the perfect time.”

Carr said that she doesn’t usually include people in her paintings, but she made an exception with the above-mentioned work and three paintings of men at a road paving site in Penacook.

“Look at the ‘lollipop man’ here,” Chaffee said, referring to the man holding the Stop/Slow sign. “Who would think to paint that? The colors are wonderful. She’s got that gesture down in the figures. It’s great composition.”

Carr’s recent painting of the old state hospital on Pleasant Street, “No Back Door,” shows the back of the building, complete with huge green Dumpsters.

“I liked them,” she said, “and the building is so pink. It’s old, old brick, built in 1830-something. This building fascinated me. The green of the Dumpsters really contrasted with that.”

She included the work because of the construction cones near the Dumpsters, but construction crept into the experience in another, unexpected way.

Carr painted the scene at the site over a period of weeks, on Sundays.

“The last two weeks I went up there the road was closed for construction,” she said. “They had ripped out the road and were paving it, so I couldn’t go up there.”

The gallery is located at 10 Hills Ave. in Concord. For information, contact or call 225-2515.

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