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Shuttered Chester College revived in artists’ exhibit

  •  Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker.  Top:  Art installation by Matthew Grubb.  Above (left and right):  Two works by Michelle Case.

    Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker. Top: Art installation by Matthew Grubb. Above (left and right): Two works by Michelle Case.

  •  Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker.  Top:  Art installation by Matthew Grubb.  Above (left and right):  Two works by Michelle Case.

    Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker. Top: Art installation by Matthew Grubb. Above (left and right): Two works by Michelle Case.

  •  Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker.  Top:  Art installation by Matthew Grubb.  Above (left and right):  Two works by Michelle Case.

    Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker. Top: Art installation by Matthew Grubb. Above (left and right): Two works by Michelle Case.

  •  Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker.  Top:  Art installation by Matthew Grubb.  Above (left and right):  Two works by Michelle Case.
  •  Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker.  Top:  Art installation by Matthew Grubb.  Above (left and right):  Two works by Michelle Case.
  •  Former Chester College faculty and staff reunite after the college’s closure last year for a joint exhibit at New England College in Henniker.  Top:  Art installation by Matthew Grubb.  Above (left and right):  Two works by Michelle Case.

When Chester College unexpectedly closed last year, faculty and staff lost not only their jobs, but what felt like members of their family.

“Chester had been my community for 10 years before (it closed),” said Christina Pitsch, a former teacher at Chester and sculptor. “We were a very close, collegial faculty. It was one of the reasons why people worked there and why they stayed. And those that worked there a long time, why they stayed as long as they did. Because it was one of these really wonderful, collaborative groups of faculty to work with.”

Though the gang’s not likely to all work together in the same place again, a reunion of sorts is happening with an exhibit at The Gallery at New England College in Henniker: “A Community of Artists: Works by Former Faculty Staff of Chester College,” which runs through May 1.

Edward Stapel, who taught at Chester College from 2003 until it closed, is the visiting associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at New England College and curator of the show.

“To be really honest, the closing of the college was kind of a traumatic ordeal for many involved,” Stapel said.

Last April, Chester College trustees said the school would have to close because of a $750,000 deficit and lagging enrollment. Though faculty and students did what they could to raise money and bring in students, it wasn’t enough, and the school closed down about a month later. Some students and faculty – such as Stapel and former Chester professor Jay Bordage – were taken in by New England College, others by the New Hampshire Institute of Art. But many, particularly the teachers, scattered.

Former Chester teacher Melissa Boyajian went to Yerevan, Armenia. Gallery Director Megan McNaught and Luke Buffenmyer both now teach at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass.

“Some of the people moved away because of Chester College (closing),” Stapel said. “It’s not like we left because we didn’t want to be here (in New Hampshire).”

Chester College was one of the only institutions in the country to offer a bachelor of arts in the creative arts. So when Stapel set about curating the exhibit, he wanted to put together something that gave onlookers a sense of what students and staff were able to accomplish in their time at Chester. He said he tried not to focus on the school’s closing, but rather on showcasing the talent pool at Chester.

To do that, he pulled pieces that would represent each discipline at the college with the exception of creative writing, since that would be unwieldy in a gallery, he said. He said he also tried to get the artists to produce new pieces and, where that wasn’t possible, pieces that were produced within the last two to three years.

And for at least one former faculty member, that sense of fresh start he was going for has paid off.

“I think one of the things that’s so nice is to return to come together as a community to reflect on our time together as a community when there has been a slight passage of time,” Pitsch said. “People have moved into that next phase or are still navigating that next phase, you know there’s still that memory, there’s still that bond that holds people together, but some of the freshness of the (closing) has had a little bit of time to pass. And I think that’s really wonderful.”

In addition to Pitsch and Stapel, artists featured in this exhibit are: Jay Bordage, Melissa Boyajian, Luke Buffenmyer, Meg Cameron, Michelle Case, Samantha Croteau, Matthew Grubb, Megan McNaught, Kyle Petty and Phillip William Sadewicz.

Gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and other times by appointment. To schedule an appointment or for more information, call Darryl Furtkamp, director of the New England College Gallery, at 428-2329. The gallery is located on Main Street in Henniker adjacent to the College’s Administration Building. Admission to the gallery and gallery events is free.

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