Valley creators contribute to newspaper installation art in Fitchburg

Last modified: Thursday, July 30, 2015

Five Valley creators are contributing to a public art exhibit that is helping to restore some hope to the future of print media.

“The Alphabet Project” by New Orleans artist Anna Schuleit Haber takes a new spin on public art, using Fitchburg’s daily newspaper, the Sentinel & Enterprise, as its medium. For 26 days — taking off Sundays — the seven-day paper’s front page is displaying a letter of the alphabet, with stories centered on words that start with that letter. On Thursday, they run the letter “P.”

“This project really got me excited because people thought we were all done with print, that we’ve exhausted every possibility for print,” said Sentinel & Enterprise Editor Charles St. Amand. “Thousands pick up the paper every day. We still need to be engaging them, and this is a whole different way to engage the audience.”

He said that if major news were to break, the project would be suspended, but otherwise, what would normally be on Page 1 has moved to Page 3, with Page 2 reserved for an explanation of the project.

Among those who contributed designs of letters are Northampton residents Dan Keleher (C) and Joe Riedel (J), South Deerfield resident Pam Glaven (Q), and Barry Moser (P) of Hatfield. Amherst resident and artist Kathryn Fanelli contributed an essay, running this week, on growing up in Fitchburg as part of a family that owned and operated a traveling carnival.

Haber’s project was made possible in part by a $75,000 grant through the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town program to the Fitchburg Art Museum, the city of Fitchburg and Fitchburg State University, according to Fitchburg Art Museum director Nick Capasso. He said this is the third of three projects provided for by the grant, the first being a sculpture called “The Immigrant” by Nora Valdez, and the second being an outdoor mural by Caleb Neelon.

“This was just so completely out of the box,” Capasso said. “It was a completely different way to think about creating art in a public space.”

Haber rounded up the artists, designers and other creators behind the letters, who hail from seven countries on four continents, St. Amand said. All of the contributors of letters are volunteering their work, he said.

Keleher, owner of Wild Carrot Letterpress in Hadley, said he chose the letter C partly because the name of his company has the word “carrot” in it, but mostly because of the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a “compositor” in relation to printing, which reads, “One whose business is to set up type to print from; a type-setter.”

“I really like that definition,” he said. “It goes right back to the earliest days of printing for movable type.”

He photocopied the word and the definition along with the names of Fitchburg-area companies from the 19th and 20th centuries that start with the letter C and pasted them together to create his design.

Riedel, owner of Pintail Press in Hadley, said he wanted to create something that would pay homage to the city of Fitchburg, so he created a collage using issues of the Sentinel & Enterprise from the summer of 1945 in the shape of the letter “J.”

He said no one was given any guidelines as to what their letter needed to look like.

“If you look at them all next to each other, they’re all so different,” he said. “It’s just so cool to see everybody’s idea of how they wanted to make that letter.”

He noted that by using the front page of a newspaper, the project is reaching people who normally might not see art on a daily basis.

“It’s such a cool project,” he said. “I’m honored to have been a part of it.”

Glaven, a visual artist and a partner at Impress, a graphic design studio in Northampton, noted that she cannot say much about her letter, because it does not run until Friday.

“I will say, I took a break from the computer,” and returned to her practice in the fine arts, she said.

Haber is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design who has worked as a full-time visual artist for 17 years. Among her past projects is a sound installation at the Northampton State Hospital in 2000.

She said she was surprised to learn that Fitchburg still has a daily newspaper, and that it fits with her ongoing interest in storytelling through her art.

“The sheer urgency of the news every morning is something that normally eludes the arts, which are slower and more reflective. Combining these two, the daily city news and the arts, is a joy,” she wrote in an email.

Capasso said he believes “The Alphabet Project” has broad appeal because it is innovative in both art and in journalism, beginning a new conversation about what a newspaper can be.

“It’s a win-win for the museum and the newspaper: We can be industry leaders in public art, and the Sentinel can be an industry leader in journalism,” he said. “It’s also a project that neither of us could do by ourselves.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at


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