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New Hampshire's Plymouth State University Plans Museum of the White Mountains
Interim museum director Catherine Amidon looks at one of many early paintings of the White Mountains on exhibit at Plymouth State University, in Plymouth, N.H. The paintings are just a start of a plan to open a new museum on the White Mountains next year. AP Photo/Jim Cole.

By: Holly Ramer, Associated Press

PLYMOUTH, NH (AP).- A hydrologist and a historian may seem like odd choices to co-author an art exhibition catalog, but it makes perfect sense at Plymouth State University.

Professors Mark Green and Marcia Schmidt Blaine researched and wrote the explanatory text for "As Time Passes Over the Land," a collection of 29 paintings of New Hampshire's White Mountains on temporary display at the university's Karl Drerup Art Gallery. Their collaboration reflects the university's approach to not just the exhibit but to the Museum of the White Mountains it plans to open next year.

"It's going to be completely transdisciplinary," said Catherine Amidon, director of the gallery and interim director of the planned museum. "Ecology, history, tourism. It's not an art museum; it's not a natural history museum; it's not a science a museum. It's comprehensive, and it's all about the region."

When Amidon walks through the modest exhibit featuring the work of 20 different artists, she sees not only region's past, but glimpses of the future. The display is the first production of the museum, which will be housed in a former church on the edge of campus. The museum will complement and build upon the work of many departments, including the Institute for New Hampshire Studies and the Center for Rural Partnerships.

The goal is to create a central place for the study of the region's art, culture and heritage, with galleries, classrooms and state-of-the-art storage. Its core collection includes more than 8,000 items donated by photographer and collector Daniel Noel of Conway shortly before his death last year. The material includes rare photographs, maps, books, stereoscopic images, hotel ledgers and other items, all of which will be digitized and shared with researchers, students and the public.

The current exhibit, which closes April 9, consists of landscape paintings from the 1850s through the 1880s on loan from other private collectors. Many of the artists were part of the famed Hudson River School movement, drawn to White Mountains by the region's its beauty, wildness and tourists. Though they captured sweeping views, some artists deliberately chose small canvases to cater to wealthy tourists staying at grand hotels who wanted souvenirs to carry home.

The Northeast's highest peak — Mount Washington — is a common subject, along with rugged peak of Mount Chocorua. There are signs of man's increasing presence — the steam from locomotive, animals out to pasture and stumps dotted across a hill hinting at the large-scale logging operations just getting under way. As Green and Blaine explain, farming, logging and travelling all combined to expose new scenery. At the time, the White Mountains provided the most accessible mountain scenery in the country.

"These tend to be familiar spots. They're not going out into the boonies. They're going to places people visited," Amidon said.

A painting by Bradford Freeman titled "Mount Washington and the Village of North Conway," depicts clouds giving way to sun over a small cluster of buildings with the mountain looming behind. Today, the "village" is known for its cluster of outlet malls.

"It really captures why people loved it in the first place," Amidon said. "There is nothing like the view of Mount Washington."

A fair amount of artistic license was taken by some artists, she said, and "people who really love the mountains" have come to the gallery and engaged in spirited debates over the accuracy of the locations depicted.

Though several other New Hampshire museums have White Mountains paintings, they aren't the focus, Amidon said. She said Plymouth State, located just 20 minutes south of Franconia Notch on Interstate 93, is an ideal physical place for such a museum, but she also expects it to have a large online presence.

"People from all over the country and the world love the White Mountains," she said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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