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Day Tripping to the LRAA Art Gallery

The Laker - April 12, 2017

By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper

“Birds of a feather flock together.” — Old English Proverb


We’ve all heard the old saying about birds flocking together and we all recognize it is a bit overused. However, now and then the phrase can perfectly describe a group of people or a situation that sees like-minded people joining together.

I never experienced the phrase quite so keenly as when I took a little late-winter day trip to the Lakes Region Art Association’s Gallery at the Tilton Outlet Mall on Rt. 3 in Tilton.

If you live in the Lakes Region, you probably have heard of the Lakes Region Art Association. The group has been around for a long time – 76 years to be exact – and its members are the epitome of active people. I was aware that the Association has a gallery at the Outlet Mall and I had a general idea where it was located within the complex of shops. It had been on my day tripping to-do list for quite some time, but prior commitments seemed to keep getting in the way of a visit.

On a blustery and chilly March Friday I finally managed to put my work aside and take a drive to the Outlet Mall to find the gallery and see what was being exhibited.

The art world may intimidate and maybe even confuse some people, who back away and say, “I don’t know much about art and I certainly can’t draw!” Luckily for me, my mother was an artist who encouraged me to draw and be creative. I went to art school vs. pursuing a typical college degree and had four marvelous years of training among art teachers (who were all working artists) and fellow students who loved to paint and sculpt and draw. I felt at home from the moment I stepped into my first art school drawing class and my shyness fell away among “birds of a feather.”

These days, although I am busy with work, I am starting to find a little time left over to draw and paint. My children are now grown and on their own, so I am tentatively spending a few hours now and then landscape drawing and painting. Thus, I wanted to visit the gallery in Tilton for two reasons: to see the space and write about it for this story and to simply be among artists to gain inspiration and see what others were creating.

I was not disappointed and the art gallery met my expectations on both counts: the exhibit space was filled with a diverse display of art, and the atmosphere was welcoming. Located in Suite 132 at the Outlet Mall, there is plenty of parking nearby and the gallery is all on one level.

Stepping into the bright and airy gallery, I noticed immediately that the walls were sectioned to feature the work of individual artists, rather than mixing the work of many artists together. It seems a wise way to display the paintings, drawings and photographs, and each artist is allotted a space with good lighting. Association members take turns working in the gallery, and it is offers a chance for them to get out of the studio and to meet the public, answer questions and connect with other artists.

I was in luck the day I visited, because Association member and artist Pat Anderson was in the gallery and took some time to chat and answer my questions. (Pat was gallery manager until the end of February, but remains an active participant.)

“The Lakes Region Art Association has been around for 76 years,” she explained. “It started with a small group of local artists.”

The idea of an organization for artists both professional and otherwise caught on and the membership continued to grow over the years. According to the website, “The Lakes Region Art Association (LRAA), founded in 1940 by five local artists, was originally the Laconia Art Association. The purpose of the Lakes Region Art Association is to provide a supportive and educational forum for local artists, both amateur and professional. Members explore the use of various techniques, mediums and styles. The Association seeks to nurture the creation and appreciation of the visual arts in the Lakes Region and promote exposure of artists’ works to the public.”

Over the years, the artists had the satisfaction of selling some of their work and the group developed into something bigger. According to Pat, the group has always offered a place to get the support of other artists and to work on art.

As we chatted, my eye kept going to one wall where some absolutely beautiful paintings and a pencil drawing of a woman were on display. Finally, I asked Pat who the artist might be that created the work.

Jean and fellow Association member Christine Fogg, who happened to be at the gallery, both agreed the work was incredible. “That is by the painter Teresa D’Esopo Spinner,” explained Jean. “She is a skilled and well-known artist. She may be giving a life and portrait class later in the spring.”

The gallery space is certainly large – the walls are filled with paintings and other work and members set up a display in the middle of the room for a special monthly exhibit. There are about 29 wall panels, allowing individual member artists to rent a panel for a month at a time. Members also take turns gallery sitting, which offers a fabulous opportunity to meet the public and confer with fellow artists who may stop by at any given time.

“We have a lot of repeat customers,” says Pat. “They know the gallery is a great place and they stop by to see what new pieces may have come in.”

When asked what sort of artists are members, both Pat and Christine laugh and Pat says, “It is a varied group, with different backgrounds. We have both accomplished and emerging artists.”

Clearly, the main goal of the Association seems to be to welcome anyone and everyone and to offer a supportive place for all artists, whether professional or beginners.

“Last year we had over 100 members and we will probably match that number this year,” Christine says when asked what how many people are members of the Association.

Offering support for artist members happens in a number of ways, from renting a panel to display and sell work to monthly meetings and workshops and artists of the month displays. And of course, simply stopping by the gallery is a great way to meet whatever artist(s) might happen to be in the building at any given time.

Pat invited me to browse the gallery to really get a feel for what the Lakes Region Art Association members are doing. I noticed, as I began to browse, that some wall sections offer notecards and matted prints for sale, as well as paintings and other art. This is a nice way for a customer to purchase a small sample of the work of a favorite artist; I know when I purchase a notecard or postcard featuring the work of a favorite artist, I likely will keep the card vs. using it to drop a note to a friend.

I was amazed at the talent of the area artists; one of Pat’s pieces of birch trees with a black background caught my eye as particularly beautiful and Christine’s delicate Asian themed art was a delight. Pat, when asked, said she considers herself to be a traditional artist painting landscapes in oils.

Local artist James Belcher’s painting titled “Path Along Echo Lake” was so skillfully done that I could almost feel the coolness of a wooded area after a hike on a hot summer’s day.

As a longtime Lakes Region resident, I know the hustle and bustle the winter fishing derby brings to the area, and Marian Federspeil’s Fishing Derby piece is painted as if the artist was flying above the lake. It is a delight to look at and interprets the color and action and festivity of the Derby so well.

A dazzling array of artwork, as individual as the artists who created the pieces, left me amazed. “I guess I just never knew so many talented people live around here,” I thought to myself as a gazed again at the drawings and paintings of Teresa D’Esopo Spinner. Pat saw me studying the work and we chatted about Teresa’s skill as a portrait painter.

“You know, you might want to meet one of our members who happens to be in the gallery right now,” Pat suggested. “He has a panel of photographs on display and I am sure he would be happy to talk to you.”

Soon we were joined by Mahdy Harb, who it was clear, has a vision for gorgeous landscape photography. Like many artists, he is humble and was rather surprised that I liked his photos so much. Mahdy certainly finds support and a place to talk “art” among the members of the Lakes Region Art Association.

Another painting caught my eye as I did an initial walk-through of the gallery and I took time to revisit the display of work by Beverly Shanley. The painting was not particularly large—it was a shoulder-length portrait of a young woman and I loved its directness and design. Staring boldly out at the viewer, the young woman in the portrait had startlingly blue eyes, a jaunty black cap and an expression that was hard to define – somewhat bold, yet at the same time uncertain and maybe even a little sad. I haven’t a clue who the woman in the painting might be, but I fell in love with the style and design and unusual feel of the piece.

I realized that the unexpected and beautiful is what the Lakes Region Art Association gallery is all about. I entered with the assumption that I would see a lot of work depicting the lakes and blue skies and clouds, given that is the local landscape. While there are indeed many landscapes in the gallery, all the work was individual and top notch. But there were many subjects and styles as unique as the artists who display at the gallery.

As I chatted with Pat and Mahdy, I realized I was having that same feeling I had years ago when I took my first class at art school. We were speaking the same language and it felt a bit like coming home, as corny as that phrase may seem.

I would definitely like to join the Lakes Region Art Association (the yearly membership dues are very reasonable). The benefits of membership are many: the chance to exhibit artwork, to attend workshops and classes and to socialize a bit. The biggest reason of course, is to be at a place where support and encouragement are paramount, because when it comes to being creative, birds of a feather indeed flock together at the Lakes Region Art Association.

(The Lakes Region Art Association has an informative website — — with a listing of artists, workshops and events. The gallery is located at the Tanger Outlet Mall at 120 Laconia Road, Suite 132 and is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 6 pm. The Association holds meetings the third Monday of each month from March through November at 7 pm in the conference room of the Woodside Building, Taylor Community in Laconia and at the gallery in Tilton.) 

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