Budding talent in Belmont - High school student wins Congressional Art Award


“Fly Free,” by Charles Witham, a Belmont High School senior, will be displayed in Washington, D.C. (Gail Ober/Lacona Daily Sun)



BELMONT — High School Senior Charlie Witham said he was "shocked" Tuesday night when he won the Congressional Art Award for the state's 1st Congressional District.

Witham entered his oil-on-canvas self portrait "Fly Free" as one of about 30 students who hoped for the chance to have their artwork on display for a year in the Cannon Tunnel that runs underground between the U.S. Congress and the Library of Congress in the nation's capital.

A black-and-white painting of himself with three purple finches flying free near his head, Witham said Congressman Frank Guinta (R-NH) told him that it was one of the most loved paintings of his New Hampshire staff.

Judging was done by the New Hampshire School of Art, and, along with a college scholarship, Witham will be flown along with a guest to Washington, D.C., and given a personal tour by Guinta. He said he doesn't know exactly who he will take with him but said his family is planning a camping trip near there during that week in late June and he expects to spend time with them in the capital city.

Winning the Congressional Art Contest was the second feather in this budding artist's cap this month because he also won an award for his five-painting collection on insecurities that he submitted to the Anna Lee Thorndike competition held at the Belknap Mill.

He said the five oil-on-canvas paintings for the Belknap Mill competition represented addiction, sexuality, abuse, mental illness and physical beauty.

"I like painting in black and white with a splash of color," said Witham, adding that he is most influenced by Maine artist Rob Sullivan who taught at one point in his life at the New Hampshire Art Institute. "I love purple. It's so rich and vibrant."

Of all of the artist mediums, he prefers oils. He stretches his own canvases – something he credits art teacher Joseph Cilley with teaching him. Witham also credits his classmates in his art classes with providing him support, constructive criticism and friendship.

Mostly, he credits his family. He said his mother and his grandmother are both artists and both taught art at one point in their lives. The photograph of him that he used as an image of himself for "Fly Free" was from one taken by his sister.
"My mom is a huge support," Witham said. "She's one of my biggest influences in my life, my rock and my biggest critic."

Witham said his "fourth great-grandfather" was Danial Chester French, who was an Exeter artist who was well-known in his own right and one of two designers of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

For his future, he hopes to become an artist who works are shown in museums and art shows. An honor student, Witham is torn between the New Hampshire Institute of Art and the Maine College of Art, but knows he wants to stay local.

Over the summer, he said he plans on working on his college portfolio and working two jobs to pay for the art supplies he needs.

"I'm excited," Witham said. "Winning this award his one of the proudest moments of my life. Hopefully, (it's) the first of many."

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Charles Witham poses with "Abuse" in the art room at Belmont High School. He is the recently winner of the Congressional Art Award for Congressional District 1 in New Hampshire and his painting "Flying Free" (Laconia Daily Sun Photo - Gail Ober)


Shang Hai wall pays tribute to Weeks Dairy Bar (378)


LACONIA — Yan Hong, owner of Shang Hai Restaurant, was in for a surprise when she returned from a trip to New York during school vacation week last month. Her friends, some of whom live nearby and who had keys to the building to do a little painting, put up a tribute to the Weeks Dairy Bar, which had previously been located in the building.

"When I came home, I said, 'What!?,='" said Hong, who was pleased to see the old photographs, menu and other artifacts prominently displayed by the front register and entrance.

The Weeks Dairy Bar, one of many locations restaurants around the state operated by the Weeks family of Gilford, was in operation at 331 S. Main St. in Laconia for more than 50 years, said Hong. Many people who grew up in Laconia remember the restaurant, including Hong, who spent nine years working at her parents' restaurant, Honey Bird, across the street.

As the millennium approached its end, Hong's parents were ready to retire, and the Weeks Dairy Bar was preparing to close. The Dairy Bar's last day of operation was March 30, 1999, and Hong took over the lease the next day. She took down the prior restaurant's decor so she could put up her own, but kept mementos stored in the attic, including historic photos, an old menu, and Weeks-branded milk bottles. Some of the photos show vehicles and buildings, but three portray employees – waitresses, a milk delivery man, and a man working at a bottling line. Some of those, if not all, are likely local people, though Hong doesn't know their identity.

Although it has been nearly 20 years since Hong took over, she said she still has patrons come in with nostalgia from a previous era in the city's history. Hong welcomes their reminiscences, and said many will examine a large aerial photo of downtown Laconia, the only part of the Weeks decor that she never took down.

"I love to have joy with them, have a happy time," she said.

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Yan Hong, owner of Shang Hai Restaurant in Laconia, returned from vacation last month to find that friends had installed a tribute to Weeks Dairy Bar near the eatery's entrance. The restaurant took over the location when Weeks closed in 1999. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)

Alton man wins $42,500 settlement in civil rights case over free speech


ALTON — Jeffrey Clay, who was arrested and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct while speaking at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen in February 2015, was awarded $42,500 by the town of Alton in settlement of the federal civil rights suit he brought against the town for violating his constitutional right to freedom of speech.
“I’m so happy my case is finally over,” Clay said in a prepared statement. He said that following his arrest he did not attend meetings of local boards for fear he would again be arrested and prosecuted. “I feel like I can now attend and exercise my free speech rights without harassment and prosecution.”
During the 2015 meeting, Clay called on members of the selectboard to resign, referred to their “poor actions,” “poor decisions” and “continued violations of the citizens’ rights here in Alton.” Less than a minute into his remarks, Clay was interrupted by a selectman who called his remarks “character assassination” and requested a point of order to curtail public input because of Clay’s the “libelous” and “defamatory” statements. Clay, who was allotted five minutes to speak, continued and, after four minutes passed, he was arrested by the cheif of police.
In March, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire advised the town that by suppressing Clay’s speech it had engaged in censorship in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Nevertheless, the town continued to prosecute Clay for one count of disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $1,200.
In June 2015, Judge James Carroll of the Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division dismissed the charge against Clay, calling the town’s conduct “pure censorship.” Carroll was honored with a Quill & Ink Award by the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications for his staunch defense of the right to freedom of speech.
Clay then filed suit against the town in United States District Court, where he was represented by Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, with assistance from Jared Bedrick of the Bedrick Law Offices. “In a free society,” said Bissonnette in a prepared statement, “governmental officials are required to tolerate harsh criticism and even a demeaning attitude toward them, including viewpoints that can feel like character assassination, and cannot discriminate based on these critical viewpoints.”