NOURISH? Delivers Healthy Dose of Artwork

Art unquestionably provides food for thought, but can it truly be sustaining? The Museum of the White Mountain’s (MWM) current exhibit, NOURISH? Arts Address Mind, Spirit, and Body, makes the case that art benefits many aspects of our health by drawing out our emotions. 

Jan Hodges Coville, Transform, 2019, mixed media collage. Courtesy of the artist.

The arts can have regenerative powers, and those who have suffered testify to its ability to nurture beyond the potentials of standard treatments. In his artist’s statement, Gunnar Baldwin, Jr. discusses the cancers that sidelined his art for many years, and his joyous Mountain Jam illustrates his re-embrace of painting “to express the healing properties of music.” Mimi White’s verse, That Which Approaches Infinity, tells the story of her husband’s cancer and eventual demise, sharing her belief that “poems can nourish the soul, that of the maker and the reader.” 

“Inspiring responses is at the core of art and art making,” says MWM Director Cynthia Cutting, who designed the exhibit. This is the first “Open Call” for the museum, and it brought together creative work from all over New Hampshire and New England that illustrates art’s power to provide personal sanctuaries, life-giving inspiration, and physical therapy while simultaneously providing experiences that can connect us to each other. 

Annette W. Mitchell, Hungry for Color, 2011, art quilt. Courtesy of the artist.

Less momentous challenges find expression in works that contrast the drive for stability versus impulsivity, or urban versus rural sensibilities. The exhibit’s spectrum of emotions includes humor (the tutu-wearing bird of Paulette Brace’s Flamingo Lake reminds visitors to enjoy life), and Annette Mitchell’s Hungry for Color quilt enlivens New Hampshire’s monochromatic winter with bold colors and textures. 

The exhibit design breaks up the museum’s main gallery with lots of seating and defined zones to give visitors time to muse and not feel rushed, and also continues an MWM trend of encouraging active involvement. NOURISH? visitors can paint a peace tile in the museum’s Open Lab, vote on each display item’s impact with emoji stickers, and respond to prompts that ask: “What artwork nourished you today and how did it affect you?” 

Betty Flournoy Brown, Red Sky in Morning Davis Rec. Conway, N.H., 2019, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

“The interactive aspect is considered best practices more and more in museums everywhere,” says Cutting. “The era of people just looking at art as observers is perhaps past. People want things to do and ways to connect and it is important to build those opportunities into the exhibit.” 

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, and so it is with meaning derived and depth experienced by NOURISH’s visitors. The exhibit, a required field trip for several classes, represents their first museum exposure for some first-year students. Students at the other end of their collegiate journey also found much to relate to. A statement by artist Julia Mosso that addressed her uncertainty resonated with a soon-to-be graduate, who now follows Mosso on Instagram. 

Marcia Santore, Dance of Gratitude, 2018, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Inspirational quotes from the likes of Florence Nightingale, physicians and psychologists, and health journals and associations are sprinkled throughout the gallery. The exhibit also features a display of mental health brochures and contact numbers. 

NOURISH? has a question mark because the arts can’t fix everything,” says Cutting. “It always has to be a quest, and we wanted to make sure that we provide some resources for those seeking information.” 

On January 29, the museum hosted a panel discussion on how the arts can help address and treat illness and support well-being. Attendees reflected on communicating difficult topics via storytelling, music’s strength as a healing modality, and combatting social isolation through the arts in a time of addiction, disease, and epidemics. 

NOURISH? is on exhibit through February 15. A related exhibit, Expressive Harmonies: Art and Society, is on view through February 29 at the Silver Center for the Arts and includes work from northern New Hampshire’s high school, college, and community education students.