Artful appreciation: Northampton Survival Center thanks dutiful donors with postcards created by local artists

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 03-17-2023 3:53 PM

There are a lot of ways to say “thank you.”

The Northampton Survival Center decided a good means for doing that would be with art.

In a program they’re hoping to make an annual event, the Survival Center staff enlisted 15 regional artists to create original art for postcards, which have since been given to longtime donors — a group known as the Bread & Butter Club, people who make automatic recurring gifts to the center.

Danielle Brown, the center’s director of development, said most of these donors make monthly gifts, which enables the center to send each one a postcard with original art for each month of the year — either to keep at home or to send to others they’re grateful for.

“We started this it as a way to say ‘thank you’ to these really generous donors and to kind of ‘spread the wealth’ — to share the work of local artists with a larger audience and to share something about our work with more people,” Brown said.

The assignment for artists was fairly open-ended, though there was a basic theme for the work: “produce (fruits and vegetables).” After three artists produced postcards last fall for a trial run, 12 additional artists were brought in to craft 12 postcards early this year.

“Most of our [Bread & Butter] donors contribute monthly, so it made sense to give them a postcard for each month,” Brown said.

There are about 375 of these contributors, so the center so far has printed and distributed more than 5,000 postcards.

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The artists the Survival Center has brought aboard for the program run the gamut from professionals to dedicated hobbyists to a couple of elementary school kids.

One artist, Sabrina Dorsainvil, lives in Boston, Brown notes, but has painted murals in Northampton and also created a poster last year for Grow Food Northampton’s farmers market, held downtown from spring into fall.

Another contributor is Aaron Wood, an illustrator and graphic designer who is married to Brown.

“We really wanted to have a range of artists, with different styles and different mediums, different backgrounds, and to make it as local an effort as possible,” Brown said.

For instance, Dave Rothstein, a multi-disciplinary artist — sculptor, photographer, printmaker — in Florence has contributed a whimsical photo illustration of a toy truck almost lost in a sea of grapes. (Rothstein is known in particular for his detailed snow sculptures.)

Another contributor is Mo Willems, the well-known children’s book author and illustrator who lives in Northampton.

Jeanette Wintjen, from Holyoke, constructed a wonderful diorama of a garden of giant carrots in which tiny plastic people, including two on horseback, are dwarfed by the produce.

To bring in some younger talent, Brown says she got in touch with Lindsay Fogg-Willits, a painter who runs Art Always, a Florence business that offers a range of art classes, primarily for children and teens.

“I asked Lindsay if she could give me the names of some kids who are artists, and she said ‘Do you want kids who are really good at art or enthusiastic about it?’ ”Brown explained, “And I said, ‘Well, how about both?’ ”

That brought Emmett Dube, a sixth grader from Easthampton who attends the Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, and Tessa Hoverman, a fourth grader at Northampton’s Bridge Street School, into the fold.

Emmett crafted detailed black and white illustrations of various vegetables and fruits for his postcard, while Tessa contributed some colored dancing vegetables for hers, including a stalk of broccoli that she actually painted in part with a piece of broccoli.

Last year, Brown said, she and Heidi Nortonsmith, the Survival Center’s executive director, had been mulling ways to show their gratitude to longtime donors. When they decided to do it with postcards, they reached out to local artists they knew and to others whose work they enjoyed on forums such as Instagram.

“Some of it was cold calling, but that worked out pretty well,” Brown reported.

Some of the artistic contributions have come from in-house, so to speak. Denise Connolly, a client of the Survival Center, is a self-taught artist and has been drawing birds for years, using pencil sketches, black ink and Prismacolor pencils. For her postcard, she drew a bright blue jay perched atop a pumpkin.

On its website, the center says Connolly was “happy to offer this drawing for our postcard collection because she knows how important the pantry is to so many people in the community.”

Søren Mason Temple, meanwhile, a Florence mixed media artist, is a former volunteer at the center. She created a vibrant image of a carrot set against an abstract background that includes music staff lines, colored dots and what looks like torn paper.

All the artists received a $250 honorarium for their work, Brown says, and the amount was the same for everyone. Willems and his wife, Cher, actually contributed the funds for that “and in fact Cher was really insistent that all the artists receive the same fee,” Brown said.

The couple are also longtime contributors themselves to the Survival Center, she noted: “We’re really grateful for their support.”

The Survival Center, which began as a food pantry on Elm Street in 1979, has grown over the years to include a pantry in Goshen. In fiscal year 2022, the center distributed more than 620,000 pounds of food to people in over 15 area towns.

Brown says the center hopes to bring in 12 new artists next year to create new postcards, though she won’t be averse to having some of the same people onboard.

“We’re lucky to live in an area with so many talented artists,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll find others who will want to be a part of this program. We’ll be happy to help get their work out.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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