Hippo Manchester
September 1, 2005

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It’s art, and it’s even practical!

Friends of Valley Cemetery show off results of the Beautiful Benches campaign

By Will Stewart

Functional art may be an oxymoron to some, but that’s not to say it doesn’t exist. Case in point is “Summer Sunshine,” a striking tile mosaic fashioned out of a wooden bench.

The colorful piece is one of 19 such benches transformed into works of art now on display on city sidewalks in the vicinity of City Hall. The benches debuted Aug. 23 at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, where visitors saw that something as simple and useful as a wooden bench could indeed be made beautiful, or in some cases, just different.

The benches are at the center of the Beautiful Benches campaign, a blending of the city’s burgeoning art and downtown revitalization scenes, the intent of which is to raise funds for the ongoing refurbishment of Valley Cemetery.

The campaign had businesses, organizations, educational institutions and individuals purchase plain wooden benches for $2,000 each. Local artists were then asked to submit plans to redesign the benches in any fashion they wished.

“To give artists that kind of carte blanche is outstanding,” artist Joey Pearson said. “Usually we get commissions with a lot of strings attached. This is amazing.”

Pearson found inspiration for her bench in the city’s buildings and architecture. Her creation, “A Walk in the City,” features familiar city landmarks, including the Palace Theatre, City Hall and the old Stan’s Paints building, but showcases several of their unfamiliar aspects.

“Unless you really look up at a lot of the old buildings you don’t notice what’s there. I hope people will look at this and see things they don’t normally see,” she said.

Pearson wasn’t alone in finding inspiration in the city’s old buildings. “Millyard Folk” by Amy Brearley and Susan Shaw features the city’s mill buildings set amongst an almost rural setting. The renovation of the mills from industrial to commercial and residential space is shown in Kathy Tangney’s “The Changing Faces of the Mills.”

While all other benches were painted, photographer James E.D. Cook was able to place a panoramic photo he took of the Merrimack River and Manchester skyline directly on his bench. The result is “Summer in the City.”

Bench sponsor Jane Beaulieu said she was pleased with her bench, “Birds in Paradise.”

“I think it looks good, it’s very whimsical” she said. “I think art and culture are really on the move in the city.”

The public will have the chance to view the benches around City Hall through Sept. 16, when they will be auctioned off at the New Hampshire Institute of Art between 5 and 7 p.m. 

John Wood, chairman of the board of directors of the Friends of Valley Cemetery, said previously that he is optimistic about the first-ever Beautiful Benches campaign, which he hopes will raise $150,000. A portion of the money raised will also go to the Manchester Art Fund.