The Art Place – New Hampshire pen-and-ink artist, Gene Matras

Four Horses by Gene Matras

“Four Horses” by Gene Matras

 

by Barbara Gibbs
The Art Place

I have admired Gene Matras's pen and ink artwork ever since I saw him demonstrating at Artist in the Park in Wolfeboro in the mid 80s. The piece he was working on at that time was of a farm perched on top of a hill. In black and white, he captured all the beauty of nature as if he were producing a painting instead of a pen and ink drawing, as if there were a brush in his hand instead of a pen. His skill showed through in each flowing stroke and the scene became alive. I thought, what an unbelievable patient person he must be to produce such intricate, detailed work. Fascinated, I then understood why a crowd of people always seems to surround him at his shows.

Gene Matras is an artist who has been blessed with a talent which he has enjoyed for years. The Matras family came to America from Europe in 1960. Born in a log cabin on a farm in Poland during the darkest days of the "Iron Curtain," Gene was nine years old when he arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire, with his family. With initial encouragement from his mother, Gene has been drawing since early childhood in the Old Country, and has pursued his craft ever since.

Living in a rural environment in Poland he drew scenes which were familiar to him. Horses, cows, trees, and barns were always his favorite subjects. When he became a New Hampshire-man he continued with similar themes but with a New England flavor. He has tried other media, but chose pen and ink, which he has developed into an interesting technique. Drawing and not painting was always his passion even in the Old Country. He loves the stark contrast of black and white and its clarity. Inspired by natural scenes, wildlife, farms, and a variety of other rural subjects, he concludes that he does not have enough time to put it all on paper.

Living in Pittsfield with his wife, where they raised five children, he is surrounded by endless subjects. Gene has not always created art as his career. As a young man, he worked at various jobs until he could get on his feet with his art. Gene went to a vocational college in Manchester for a year to learn the welding trade, but when the instructor saw his artwork, he told him to get out of the school and do art seriously. Gene did just that, and as time went on, Gene became more well-known. His art is now collected by many people.

Matras' prints are produced from his original drawings by an offset lithography process. Gene sells his art at shows throughout New England and has acquired much recognition in the area. His prints are also collected abroad. Gene has a very busy schedule, showing his artwork at various shows, festivals, fairs and events, as well as art galleries.

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Saving our barns – NH Preservation Alliance to highlight 52 barns in 52 weeks

 

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The Preservation Alliance offers a variety of educational opportunities such as this one in New Hampton lead by the barn contractor working on an early 19th Century barn renovation. (Courtesy photo)

 

 

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Agriculture, still practiced here and there throughout the state, was a way of life in New Hampshire for more than a century. The early European settlers grew a broad range of products to provide for nearly every need, from flax for clothing to crops that could be stored for winter sustenance. In the early 19th century, New Hampshire experienced the so-called sheep boom, which was followed later in that same century by large-scale dairy production. Agriculture has declined in the state since the Industrial Revolution, and since the development of more favorable farmland in the Midwest, but there are still relics of the farming past, seen in stone walls, and in barns.

Unlike the stone walls, though, the barns require maintenance and upkeep if they are going to survive for another generation. The state's stock of older barns, generally smaller in size and therefore easier to maintain and utilize by a private land owner, is relatively secure. It's the large dairy barns of the middle to late 19th Century that have the N.H. Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization, concerned; they figure that the state has somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 barns on its landscape but that about one historic farming structure is lost each day.

The Preservation Alliance recently announced a campaign, "52 Barns in 52 Weeks," which aims to draw attention to the state's imperiled barns by highlighting 52 barns in 2017. The organization will tell the story of each barn on its website, nhpreservation.org, and through other media channels.

Beverly Thompson, program director at the Preservation Alliance, said that the organization is especially concerned about 19th century dairy barns.

"Those, in particular, are the barns that are in danger because of their size and the changes in agricultural practices," said Thompson. Through the "52 Barns" campaign, the Preservation Alliance is seeking to promote the ways that it can assist property owners with their barns, such as through grants for preservation assessments, by offering preservation workshops and by assisting property owners with securing property tax relief through a preservation effort. Thompson said the alliance is also hoping to raise funds through the campaign, and hopes to raise $150,000 to support the above efforts.

The barn at Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center, on White Oaks Road in Laconia, is one barn that has benefited from the Preservation Alliance's programs. Three years ago, Prescott Farm received a grant to fund a preservation assessment for its circa 1883 barn. As a result of that assessment, Prescott Farm was able to secure partial funding from the Samuel P. Pardoe foundation to embark upon an historic repair and renovation project that will address everything from the barn's foundation to its cupola.

Prescott Farm's barn was built to replace one that burned. When the barn, which housed dairy cows and pigs, was built, the Prescott family moved it milking barn so that it abutted the larger barn, and built a ramp so that the cows could walk from the basement of the large barn into the milking barn without being subjected to the elements. Another example of clever problem solving is a hay grapple that hangs by a rope from a pulley, which allows farmers to easily move hay between the three levels of the barn. The pulley is mounted on a track that runs the length of the barn, so that the grapple can also move along each floor.

Today, there aren't any animals or hay in the barn. Instead, it's used as an indoor space for Prescott Farm's educational programming. Jude Hamel, executive director, said the center's programs often take place in the surrounding property, and the barn is just as much a part of the landscape as the fields, forest or ponds.

"A lot of what we teach the kids is sustainable agriculture, and how to do things with their hands," said Jude. "I think the barn is a symbol of the old farm and the old farm ways."

A few generations ago, most Americans either lived on a farm or had a farmer in their family. Today, many adults can recall visiting a grandparent's farm. But, how many people will have such a memory two generations from now, Thompson asks. This is part of the reason why the Preservation Alliance is launching the "52 Barns" campaign, she said.

"So we don't lose these incredible links to our agricultural past and heritage," said Thompson.

If you know of a barn worth preserving, reach them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Prescott Farm’s main barn was built with a ramp that allowed cows to walk from their pens into the milking barn without having to go outside. Here, Executive Director Jude Hamel looks at a sill that needs replacing. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Winni Playhouse continues 'Panto' tradition with 'Jack and the Beanstalk'

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"Jack and The Beanstalk" runs through New Year's Eve at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

 

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — The form of theater known as Pantomime, or "Panto" for short, has been a celebrated part of Christmas season in the United Kingdom for centuries. However, like cricket and warm beer, it's a part of English culture that has yet to find a widespread audience in the United States. And, that's a shame, because, unlike tepid ales, there's a lot to like about Panto, and there's every reason for it to become as much a part of the American holiday celebration as eggnog and gingerbread. No one knows that better than Neil Pankhurst, of the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, who grew up with Pantos in his native country and sees much for local audiences to enjoy.

"Even though this is an old-fashioned, English tradition, if you know anything about Vaudeville and burlesque, if you enjoy Abott and Costello, the Three Stooges, there's that type of humor in there," said Pankhurst. "America is actually quite used to all of the component parts of Panto." The Winnipesaukee Playhouse is doing its best to prove that point by importing the tradition to Meredith. Running through New Year's Eve, the playhouse will be producing its third Panto, "Jack and the Beanstalk."

JackBeanstalk 13Dec16308416 DSA Panto is a musical theater production, appealing to all ages of audience members, that carries certain hallmarks. There are roles played by members of the opposite gender, including a comedic female character played by a male actor, reminiscent of Robin Williams's performance in "Mrs. Doubtfire." There are several song-and-dance numbers, featuring a mix of well-known favorites and contemporary pop songs. There's plenty of slap-stick, physical humor, as well as double-entendre jokes that will be missed by the innocent but appreciated by the more worldly audience members. Actors often speak directly to the audience, and members of the audience are expected to respond, or to boo the villain. Lastly, the production is based on a well-known fairy tale, though the writer – in this case, Pankhurst – takes considerable liberties to keep the audience wondering what will happen next.

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse's first Panto was "Aladdin," and last year it produced "Sleeping Beauty." Now, in its third year, the Panto has become a tradition for the playhouse, and, Pankhurst hopes, a tradition for local families, too.

"It's a who that's the end of the year, fun piece to do," he said. Unlike the rest of the playhouse's schedule, it's also the only show where there's no intellectual, artistic objective. The Panto exists for family enjoyment only.

"You should come out of it smiling and humming tunes," said Pankhurst. "This is about being entertaining simply for the sake of entertaining. Even as the writer, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what the message is."

"Jack and the Beanstalk" is the largest Panto cast the playhouse has had. The production will include professional actors and members of the theater's community program. The show will also feature children from the playhouse's educational program, who will perform during the dance numbers.

Choreographing those dances is Rakeem Lawrence, who previously choreographed at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse for its 2015 production of "Jesus Christ Superstar." This is Lawrence's first exposure to Panto. He said that Pankhurst gave him a "crash course" on the tradition.

"Then they let me bring my own artistry to it as it came to choreography." Lawrence said. The dancing will feature a variety of styles, from 1920s musical theater, to ballet, to Fred Astaire and contemporary styles such as those of Justin Timberlake or Chris Brown.

"That's what's great about a Panto, it's a little bit of everything and I think dance is included in that," said Lawrence.

One of the actors that Lawrence is directing is Barbara Webb, of Plymouth, a member of the community theater. She was first introduced to Panto with the production of "Aladdin" three years ago, and she now looks forward to each year's Panto.

"It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on," she said. "You can totally be crazy." With as much fun as the actors and audiences have at the Panto performances, she thinks there's a chance that it could become New England's newest English import.

"I think, if we keep doing it here, at least in this area, it could be," she said.

Visit winnipesaukeeplayhouse.org for more information.

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Snatchit and Grabbit, played by Ursula Minich Boutwell, Rebecca Tucker as Jack Trot and Mark Stephen Woods as Dame Dottie Trot are featured in the play. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Belmont High School to host region's first robotics competition on Saturday

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BELMONT — Local high schools have had competitive robotics teams for many years. But, on Saturday, Dec. 10, the Lakes Region will have something it's never had before: a robotics competition. Up to this week, whenever local robotics teams wanted to compete, they had to travel to schools in other parts of the state. On Saturday, Belmont High School will be hosting the inaugural Frostbite Qualifier, a Vex Robotics competition, which will be a day full of non-stop competition including more than 40 teams and about 200 high school students, who have conceived, engineered and programmed their own robots, each one a unique approach to the same challenge.

The competition will begin following the opening ceremony at 9 a.m., and by 5 p.m., the best robots, and the teams behind them, will be determined. The public is invited to attend – there's no cost of admission, though the BHS club would appreciate it if attendees brought a few dollars for a snack at the concessions stand.

Adrien Deshaies, advisor to the Belmont robotics club, said the Frostbite Qualifier is arriving in a year when the school's club is larger than ever. There are about 15 members of the BHS robotics club – the number fluctuates throughout the year – about double the size of the team over the past two years. There are enough members for the club to field four teams, and with more teams comes more registration fees at any competition they travel to. 

That's why, when a club reaches a certain size, they tend to host competitions. There's a few reasons why. The local club saves money by not having to travel or pay a fee to the hosting school, having a local competition builds interest among incoming students, and, last but not least, revenue generated from the event can fund most, if not all, of a local club's yearly expenses.

The Belmont High School robotics club will reap the registration fees from each visiting team, and will also gain proceeds from concessions sales during the day-long event. So, Deshaies hopes spectators will pick up something to eat while they watch the action.

Set up in the school's gymnasium, in front of the bleachers, will be three arenas, each of which will be divided in half by a fence. Teams will be randomly selected to form a temporary two-robot team, and each arena will have one pair of robots placed in each half. The arena will also be littered with yellow foam stars and two soft orange cubes, and the goal of the game is for each two-robot team to try and flip, drop or toss all the stars and cubes onto the opposing half of the arena. Bonus points will be awarded for robots than can climb and hang onto a post in the corner of the arena.

Each round will last two minutes, beginning with a 15-second period when the robots operate autonomously, and are controlled remotely for the remainder of the round. At the conclusion of a round on one arena, a new round will begin on another one, while a third arena is prepped to begin. While spectators are enjoying non-stop competition, teams are busy in the backstage "pit" area, repairing any damage and fine-tuning the programming of the robot's computer.

Each team has to use only the materials and components supplied by Vex for this competition. Their robot has to be able to fit within an 18-inch cube – though it can expand after the initial inspection – and is limited to two batteries and a dozen motors. Beyond that, teams display a wide range of robots to compete in the game. The BHS club will field a robot with a claw that can pick up items and drop them over the fence, a couple robots with catapult-like appendages that can launch items into enemy territory, and one robot that moves along the fence to block stars and cubes before they are sent over the fence.

Each robot has been designed, engineered, programmed, then tested, probably broken and then repaired, redesigned and re-programmed by students.

"It's all problem solving," said Deshaies. "There are all kinds of different designs."

Deshaies intends for the Frostbite Qualifier to become an annual event at Belmont High School. It's part of a building interest in robotics among the student body. The club is likely to grow in the near future, as only two of the 15 members are seniors, and Deshaies knows of at least four eighth graders that want to join as soon as they come to the high school. That interest is likely to continue growing thanks to a grant from Meredith Village Savings Bank that is funding a robotics summer camp for elementary and middle school students.

As the robotics clubs grows, so will its need for revenue. So, Deshaies is hoping that the competition on Saturday draws a crowd.

"Come check it out, buy some food," he said.

 

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Belmont High School freshman Alex McCarthy works on his robot in preparation for the inaugural Frostbite Qualifier competition, which will be held at BHS on Dec. 10. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

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