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Artists draw on collection at Historic Northampton in shaping new work

  • Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Needle work samplers from 1782 which inspired artist  Kim Carlino as part of a  project  where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton's collection.  <br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Needle work samplers from 1782 which inspired artist Kim Carlino as part of a project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton's collection.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • left Carolyn Clayton, Stan Sherer and Penny Burke with art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    left Carolyn Clayton, Stan Sherer and Penny Burke with art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • left Carolyn Clayton, Stan Sherer and Penny Burke with art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    left Carolyn Clayton, Stan Sherer and Penny Burke with art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  •  Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782.


    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Needle work samplers from 1782 which inspired artist  Kim Carlino as part of a  project  where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton's collection.  <br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • left Carolyn Clayton, Stan Sherer and Penny Burke with art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • left Carolyn Clayton, Stan Sherer and Penny Burke with art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  •  Art work by Kim Carlino shown at Historic Northampton as part of project where artist create work inspired by pieces from Historic Northampton. Carlino's work is inspired by needle work samplers from 1782. <br/><br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

Inspiration for art can come from many places — including history.

That’s the theme animating a collaboration between Historic Northampton and local artists in a program that invites contemporary artists to display their work at the museum. The artists incorporate materials from the museum’s extensive collection — photos, textiles, paintings and other items — either as part of their art or as a catalyst to create it.

It’s a two-pronged effort, designed both to give artists another place in town to exhibit work and to make the museum more of an all-around cultural destination. Historic Northampton Director Kerry Buckley hopes the collaboration is one that ideally will make the museum a greater part of what calls a “vibrant artistic community.”

“We’ve been thinking for some time of how Historic Northampton can add to its value,” said Buckley. “The arts have an immediacy that appeals to a lot of people, and by making our collection available to artists, hopefully we can attract a wider audience.”

In conjunction with the Northampton Center for the Arts and the A.P.E. Gallery, Historic Northampton put out a call to artists earlier this year. Since late spring it has hosted four exhibits, with close to a dozen more planned into next year. Lisa Thompson, director of the A.P.E. Gallery, says she and others involved in the project have been pleased with the proposals artists have made for their exhibits.

“We have a pretty broad-based policy,” said Thompson. “We want to encourage creativity, and we want the artists to feel they have a lot of options in using the collection ... it’s also a way to bring more attention to the museum and their collection, because there’s a lot of interesting history there, and we can look at in a different way.”

‘A natural pairing’

Easthampton painter and interdisciplinary artist Kim Carlino’s current exhibit “Exemplum” at the museum consists of textured paintings of watercolor, ink and gouache built around grid patterns with widely varied colors and lines. Her inspiration? Needlework samplers in the museum’s collection from the late 18th century, in which young girls learned to sew by stitching numbers and letters in varying patterns and colors on different fabrics.

In an email, Carlino said she looked at numerous items in the museum collection but “kept coming back to some quality with the samplers that I had a connection to. I liked the reference to hand craft in my grid paintings, and I have a long history with needlework since I was a child ... It seemed like a natural pairing.”

Another exhibit, by Northampton photographer Stan Sherer, juxtaposed old photos from Northampton with his contemporary ones, and a more recent show included paintings by Northampton artist Genevieve Burnett, who once was a patient at the former Northampton State Hospital, as well as artifacts from the hospital.

“I think the collection is getting a real workout for the first time in awhile,” said Sherer, who’s also a member of Historic Northampton’s board of directors. “This project is a good way of giving it some more exposure.”

Historic Northampton has long had a good relationship with the Center for the Arts, Buckley said, and has hosted artists’ exhibits in the past. But this project goes further: He and Penny Burke, the longtime director of the center, note that the museum has also become a regular stop on Arts Night Out, the monthly open house for new exhibits around town.

Buckley said he initially approached the center last year, in part because he knew the organization was slated to lose its home in the Sullivan Square building, and with it the gallery space that regularly hosted exhibits. “I wanted to see what we could do to help out, but as we talked, we started thinking, ‘How we can coordinate in a new way?’ ”

The A.P.E. Gallery joined in those talks, and eventually the idea for the current project took shape. A five-member committee was formed to put the word out to artists and to evaluate their proposals: Burke, Thompson, Easthampton-based artist Carolyn Clayton, Sherer and another member of Historic Northampton’s board, Martha Hoppin.

The program works like this: Artists are invited to examine the gallery spaces at the museum to get a sense of their dimensions. Then they arrange with museum staff to get access to view the online catalog for the collection, which includes some 50,000 items. If they find things they’re interested in, they arrange a time with museum staff to look at the material firsthand.

“It’s the same protocol we have for anyone, like scholars, someone researching a book,” said Buckley.

Wading through all those items to find artistic ideas can be daunting. But Carlino notes that artists are encouraged first to look at a general online database that gives a broad sense of what objects are available. Then they submit a proposal for a show to the curating committee; if the proposal is accepted, artists are given access to the museum’s complete online database to explore their ideas more fully.

In Carlino’s case, she spent several weeks, on and off, looking at the online catalog, in which she found herself drawn to items like photographs, old maps, stereographs, and the needlepoint samplers. She discussed ideas with Burke and Thompson and worked with museum staff as well in formulating her final plans, which included making scans of some of the samplers to use as part of her paintings.

“It’s quite an interesting glimpse into making culturally relevant work of a current time, and juxtaposition of the preservation of cultural objects from long ago,” she said. “It think it’s ripe with possibility.”

Carolyn Clayton, who had previously helped Thompson curate some shows at the A.P.E. Gallery, was brought on to the curating team to help give the Historic Project more visibility among younger artists. A 2009 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s arts program, Clayton says younger artists in the region are generally drawn more to contemporary art; ideally, she adds, they’ll find innovative ways to use the museum’s collection in their work.

She believes Historic Northampton “has hit on a fabulous way of putting art at the center of their overall presentation.”

Work in progress

Buckley and the members of the art program’s curating committee say the project is still a work in progress, as the committee members continue to evaluate what makes for a strong use of the museum’s collection in an exhibit proposal. Beyond that, the museum is looking at other ways of broadening its connection to the arts, such as staging occasional concerts on its grounds, which comprise about 2.5 acres.

This fall, Historic Northampton is opening a film series in conjunction with Hampshire College’s film and media program. Monthly screenings of short and medium-length films, including documentaries and experimental work, will take place in the main exhibition gallery. The first several films, scheduled from September through December, have all been made by graduates of the Hampshire College programs.

Buckley adds that he’s encouraged that a new community arts center is expected to open in the future on Hawley Street, right around the corner from the museum. The proposed center, which would include performance and office space, is slated for the building currently housing Universal Fitness, which is moving. Sale of the building, to the nonprofit group Northampton Community Arts Trust, is expected to be completed by the end of September.

“I can see us being part of a sort of cultural gateway to the city,” said Buckley. “That’s exciting.”

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