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Joyce Endee

Berlin artist Andre Belanger believes art resides within us all

Berlin artist Andre Belanger with some of his paintings on display at AVH. Photo by Debra Thornblad. (click for larger version)
November 20, 2012
BERLIN - Berlin painter/sculptor Andre Belanger, this month's featured artist of the Androscoggin Valley Hospital Auxiliary Rotating Arts Program, believes everyone has artistic talent within them.

"We're all good at this. We all have the potential to see and feel it," he said.

Whether or not one becomes an artist may have as much to do with the environment in which they grow up as natural talent itself. After all this is an artist who quit childhood art lessons after only about three weeks. It could have gone another way.

But Belanger, born and raised here in Berlin, had parents who encouraged and respected the arts and were, in fact, artists themselves, if only on the hobby level.

His mother painted and would get together with other women with like interests and they would paint together.

His father was an artist as well, and a singer in a barbershop quartet, although that's not what he did for a living. Belanger believes if his father had not been injured in World War II, he might have been a professional artist, but as it was he made a living for his family as overseer of public welfare for the community

Belanger believes there is a connection between those in human services and art.

"A person who feels for other people probably has a closer connection and feeling for the arts," he said.

So while neither of his parents were professional artists, Belanger said he grew up in a home surrounded by art, music and books. That environment strengthened the natural ability he had for art.

Other children, whose interest in art is squelched as they grow up, lose their natural abilities, he believes. "They catch on pretty quick if something is valued by those around them or not."

Belanger studied sculpture, painting and drawing at UNH, and then returned to Berlin.

For a while he worked as a puppeteer for a public television series. The turning point for Belanger came when he was connected with Bob Hughes, the art teacher at the high school. Hughes recognized his natural talent and asked him to apprentice with him as a wood carver.

"I was hooked," Belanger said. Up to that point he had done some painting, but wasn't yet really committed to the arts.

In addition to Hughes, Belanger also worked on wood carving with well-known stone carver Jean Bartoli.

At this point Belanger decided to go back to school for a more formal study of human anatomy, portraiture, drawing and sculpture.

Over the years he has continued to learn. "I'm always continuing to learn. I believe there is no end to learning," he said.

In 1983 he opened his first studio on Main Street. He had a few students, but primarily made his living making signs.

He wondered at one time whether he's stay up here or not, but has.

"The North Country kept me," he said.

Eventually he moved his studio to Pleasant Street. He is now the owner of Studio Works, a fine arts and graphics studio on Pleasant Street.

Today he works in many mediums.

His sculptures include wood and stone carvings. He also models clay and casts in multiple materials for various fine art applications. As a painter, he paints with oil and acrylics on canvas and boards. He also paints on paper with watercolor and pastels. His works resides in many private and public collections.

Belanger is the designer of the New Hampshire Medal of Honor, which is presented to families of New Hampshire military personnel who were killed in action in the service of the United States. He is also the designer and sculptor of the New Hampshire Profile Award. He is also responsible for many other projects in the state through the Percent for Arts program. His most recent large-scale commission from the State of New Hampshire was to plan, sculpt, and install two four by four foot relief sculptures for the facade of the new Seashell Complex stage in Hampton Beach.

In 1999, the State of New Hampshire and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC recognized Belanger, as an exhibitor and wood sign carver at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival where he and several other New Hampshire artists represented the skills and creativity of the Granite State.

"It is said that a picture paints a thousand words. When a visual artist considers a subject to record or interpret, words however, are almost the last tools used in the arsenal of instruments from which the picture is made. There are myriad influences that contribute to the mix, but more than anything, an open mind and a curious spirit permit a freedom to see in ways that are vital to the artist. Certainly, years of study and experimentation help, but the artist's connection to the inner self, to the soul, to creativity, is paramount in the process of picture making," Belanger said.

His energy and spirit are reflected in the works that are on display. "The paintings shown here," he said, "are designed to enlist and involve you as part of the finished art. I choose to infer a moment, and to invite your interpretation of that moment. You are encouraged to fill in the blanks in my paintings with your own imaginative thoughts. With this exchange of ideas, you continue to create the image before you with innate inspiration. You are, therefore, a vital part of the art. In essence, you create the rest of the story. You become an artist. Make these paintings yours by connecting with the creative self! Perhaps you might surprise yourself on this journey of the spirit."

The display, in the hospital cafeteria, will be on display from now until the first week of December.

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