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Artisans gallery spotlights local works of 'heart'


July 30, 2020
CENTER HARBOR — Now that our world is opening up a bit more since our 'stay-at-home' mode, we have all been in since early March, it's time to get out and enjoy everything this beautiful region has to offer. Besides the glory of the outdoors and many recreational choices, there are other ways to tap into that beauty from a different perspective: that of the many talented artisans that live and work in our Lakes Region.

Melissa Antul of Sanbornton says she has been creative all her life, but nearly 20 years ago, she discovered the art of 'fused glass' and since then she has never stopped creating in that medium. Her intricate and richly colored items range from little glass earrings with a moon and heart on them or tiny flowers like lupines to larger creations like her 'Fantasy Spring Day', a fused glass scenic panel.

It was constructed in such an intricate way, with many varying materials involved, that the end product is difficult to describe without viewing it. But even then it must be held to the light and at different angles to truly capture the essence of the rich colors and patterns that suddenly appear.

"I discovered glass," explains Antul, "when sharing a class alongside my (then) adolescent daughter at the Currier Art School in Manchester. The first of many classes I took was taught by Judith Copeland, a League of New Hampshire [Craftsmen] juried glass artist and, as they say, the rest is history."

Antul said she was tiring of taking her works to shows with the packing and unpacking and everything being time-consuming, so when another artist suggested she take a look at the Squam Artisans Gallery in Center Harbor, she knew that was the direction she wanted to follow. Everything came together when she relocated from the Manchester area to Sanbornton, where she now has a spacious studio and the added benefit of having an amazing view of Lake Winnisquam.

For inspiration, Antul says she often "Just look out the window. I am surrounded by the Lakes Region trees, flowers, birds, sky and mountains. The view changes constantly and is never the same. I find no end to the inspiration found in the state's seasonal beauty and year-round variety from the white birches and purple lupines of spring mountains to the intense blaze of Fall color or the clear glowing night sky."

Each piece she creates is either hand cut or ground by hand and is shaped and/or layered, etc. and then goes into one of her kilns where items are fired at temperatures between 1,200-1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes, pieces are fired more than once until she achieves the effect she desires.

"I love the depth and textures found in nature and I often use such items in silver tissue, metal shapes, colored frit, fusible paper, paints or wire swirls fused and dichroic (as prisms showing different colors when viewed from different angles) decals within or on the glass," she said.

These elements Antul brings to all her creations: from the jewel- tones in the sun-catchers to the necklaces, pendants and earrings, fused glass flowers, small and large 'trinket' dishes to the amazing colorful wind chimes, the half round hanging panels and even the small glass scene 'paintings' held upright by either little easels or settled into small birch log sections. She has also constructed three-dimensional items like the fused glass ginkgo leaves, mad e with gold and green mica causing them to sparkle and can be used as either wall hanging tiles or flat on a surface. She also will 'make-to-order' as she did for one client creating an exotic blue pendant that boasts a silver wired teardrop at the top. Even the small earrings have inlaid silver coils intertwined with the other glass parts.

"Art and the joy of creating beauty have always been a part of my life, even though it wasn't my 'main' occupation as a school psychologist, but I was able to share my joy of creating with children and teach them how to find their own passion," she explained. "I eventually found my passion with my favorite medium: glass. I find I am merely a guide to aid in the transformation of glass into the beauty that I imagine, but the glass has the final say in what it becomes. Glass is my partner, helping to portray my interpretation of this majestic beauty. I often play with the depth and texture within layers of glass to reflect the variety in nature. Since I am also a child of the 60s I may incorporate a little 'psychedelic' fun by adding glow-in-the-dark frit/powdered glass to my designs."

Besides finding her art at Squam Lakes Artisans Gallery on Route 25 (Main St.) in Center Harbor, Melissa Antul Glass Transformations (one of a kind and signed works of art) can be found at her Etsy shop-Glasstransformations, Facebook: Glass Transformations by Melissa and on Instagram: Melissaantul.

Fellow artisan at the Squam Lakes Artisans Gallery is artist (mainly oil painting) Christy Bensley. Bensley says art has her life long hobby.

"At a very early age, I took a keen interest in observing my surroundings," Bensley said. "I guess you could say I am a very visual person and it is a part of who I am and has followed me throughout my life. I found the drawing and crating came naturally, probably because I loved it so much. Being involved in art has been part of me as far as I can remember doing coloring books, loving art classes, looking at illustrations in books."

In college, Bensley majored in art history and took many studio art classes.

"I wanted my career to involve a creative field: advertising, museum work or architecture," she added.

Landing a job at an educational publishing company she learned book design and graphic design skills commissioning art for 15 years, living in Andover, Msass. She continued to take classes and teaching drawings and painting classes in after school programs then she became a teacher at Metamorphosis and Design in Andover.

"In my daily life, even as a young child, I marvel at the effects and juxtaposition of natural light and color—in landscapes, shapes, and objects that evoke a mood, a hint of mystery or discovery, As a painter, I photograph these moments and images and store them in a portfolio 'to paint,'" Bensley said.

Currently a Special Ed Instructional Assistant at a middle school in Andover, she notes her teaching "provides that wonderful exchange of discovering and nurturing one's creative expression.

Bensley was lucky enough to enjoy every summer growing up at her family farmhouse in Sandwich where she now spends summers with her own family in that same homestead.

"I've been fortunate to travel to many destinations, some exotic, choosing images to explore my growth as a painter. I always come back to Squam Lake as a location for my constant attention. Having summered on Squam my entire life, now my own family enjoys the beauty of the region from our Sandwich farmhouse," she said. "My love of the lake has never waned as I am a personal observer of my surroundings, inspired by light, color, color on objects and the art of the moment. I love mountains, water, stone walls, fences and animals in their natural habitat."

Anyone familiar with the region will recognize scenes from Squam, such as the Squam Livery boathouses and views of the channel connecting the Big and Little Squams, and the many Center Harbor and Sandwich landscapes.

Participating in the Sandwich 'Artisans on the Green' show for many years she met a fellow artist there who told her about the Squam Lakes Artisans Gallery. She joined in February of 2019. She paints in her studios, one in Sandwich and the other in Andover year-round and besides the Gallery here she also exhibits at the Mak & Company in Andover. Mass.

Bensley offers advice for those considering painting as a hobby or as a full-time career: "For anyone wanting to pick up a drawing tool or paint brush, my advice is to study and look first, draw and/or paint what you see, not what you think you see. Explore and let go of inhibition, your inner critic. Choose a vantage point, general composition, work with the shapes you see first, what excites you, and begin a broad, loose copy, continue to see and refine, step back and refine."

Bensley, the fine artist, designer and teacher has a website where one may find further info. on her work: paletteanddesign.com or visit the Squam Lakes Artisans Gallery, where many other excellent, premiere artists share space (Route 25, Main Street) in Center Harbor.

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