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Richard Whitney, Sandy Sherman on display at Conservation Center through April 28 

  • "Pastoral" by Whitney Ascutney

    "Pastoral" by Whitney Ascutney

  • Poetry Out Loud logo

    Poetry Out Loud logo

  • Kristen Bell

    Kristen Bell

  • "Pastoral" by Whitney Ascutney
  • Poetry Out Loud logo
  • Kristen Bell

Don’t look too closely, at least not at first. Best to start by wandering around the grounds, feeling the damp promise of spring beneath your feet. Best to gaze out the bank of windows at the thick expanse of bare hardwoods rimmed in gray-blue mountains, the only warmth a glint of gold from the capitol dome.

Then the eye is primed to view Richard Whitney’s verdant landscapes with their bounty of hues and textures. And from there, it’s not so great a leap to Sandy Sherman’s glossy closeups of flora, fauna and still-lifes of fruit on the opposite wall. From the Conservation Center parking lot to the far edge of the exhibit, it’s almost as though you’re zooming in from the panoramic to the closeup, while brightening from late-winter drab tones to vivid oil-paint hues.

“It’s kind of nice to have an exhibit that has both big picture and detail,” said Brenda Charpentier, communications manager for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. “Obviously they both have a love for the outdoors.”

The exhibit, on display through April 28 in the Conservation Center conference room, combines the work of husband-and-wife artists Whitney and Sherman, who live and work in Stoddard. Whitney is perhaps best known for his portraits of political leaders such as former governor Hugh Gallen and former senator Judd Gregg. He was recently named one of

America’s best portraitists by Town and Country magazine, and his portrait of Mitt Romney hangs in the state house in Boston. But his landscapes paintings, which hang in collections all over the world, are an arguably more lavish feast for the eyes.

The pieces on display at the Conservation Center showcase New England settings in a variety of seasons, perspectives and moods. One depicts a slice of farmland rumpled with hills and splattered with shadows, its grass an almost children’s-book green. Another shows a row of puffed-out cattails against a backdrop of muted mauve. Whitney’s use of color is at once bold and soft, and the textures of his weeping willows, his dirt paths and snow-covered forests are nearly three dimensional.

“This is really what New Hampshire’s known for, why people come here to visit and play: all this natural beauty,” Charpentier said. “He’s really captured that.”

“I’ve been called a romantic realist,” said Whitney, who will give a talk about landscape painting tonight from 5:30 to 7 at the Conservation Center. “I want people to see the sense of joy and pleasure when they look at my work, to make them feel good. There’s enough ugliness in the world, why paint more?”

Whitney said he took up landscape painting 40-some years ago at the encouragement of his teacher. “I found it extremely challenging and mystifying, and after a great deal of struggle I fell in love with it,” he said.

Whitney also has some whimsical painting of children’s toys in the exhibit, which segue nicely into Sherman’s close ups and still-life portraits. One of her more unusual paintings juxtaposes a computer mouse beside a mousetrap loaded with a tiny chunk of cheese. A closer look reveals the shadow of a mouse lurking behind a soda can, his tail parallel with the cord on the computer mouse. As close-ups go, that’s probably close enough.

The exhibit is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to call before visiting, as the conference room is sometimes in use. For information, call 224-9945.

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