The kids and I drove south on Route 8 to the sound of the thump, thump, thump of a generic dance club song that wound up on the station my daughter had randomly selected. It was Saturday night in January and for a moment my mind traveled to the 90’s, to Chicago. In my 20’s if I was heading out at all on a Saturday night I might be inclined to visit an Irish pub, not an authentic Irish pub, mind you, the American version that simply had an Irish name, Guinness in a bottle and some wood paneling that passed for ambience. But on very rare occasions I’d take the El into the city and wind up in a dark dance club where the deafening thump, thump, thump drummed out any pretense of conversation as I carefully threaded a path through the sea of humanity without spilling anything on anyone. I enjoyed a dance club experience more in retrospect, knowing I had been in the thick of things on a weekend night the way movies portray twenty-something adventures, than I did in the actual moment.
Two decades or so later I’m headed for a destination much more my speed at any age. A hidden jewel of Southington, Plantsville, Connecticut is the home to the fine art gallery known as Paris in Plantsville. On facebook I discovered that it was opening night for the Family Tree exhibit and Jon Bristol, Connecticut’s celebrated puppeteer, was part of the show. Jon is the founder of Elmwood Productions which recently won a Jury’s Choice award at an independent film festival for a puppet horror film called “Head”. Last year I traveled to Paris in Plantsville to interview Jon for a Nutmeg Chatter article called “Bristol’s Connecticut” so I had a vague recollection of how to get there again without looking for directions on my phone.
East on I84 at exit 30, we followed West Main Street until we came to the center of the Plantsville nightlife and found parking. Walking west along the road we passed a gazebo facing Grove Street where the spire of a quaint church overlooked the town, reminding us we were still in New England. The entrance to the gallery was decorated festively and a devious looking Elmwood puppet faced us through the glass by the door.
The Family Tree exhibit is a unique concept in that all of the artists exhibiting their work were related in some way to each other. Each artist had their own style and means of expression yet all were connected with a familial bond and good cheer which was readily apparent especially near the appetizer table.
After having a cookie from the food table, my daughter came upon a young artist who was her age and she sat next to him. My son carried a new, extremely inexpensive tablet that had a camera function so my son and explored the gallery while he considered taking photos.
One artist in the gallery was Brie McDonald. Brie McDonald’s work was featured under lights at a corner section with a raised platform. Her finely crafted still life work, like a banana on a zebra print, showcased the exploration of textures. Across from Brie’s location was a wall showcasing some extraordinary landscapes created by Norma McDonald. I enjoyed these immensely as it represented the art I’d like to create if I could paint landscapes half as well as Norma.
Photos by Desi Hugh aligned a windowsill while her bright and cheerful paintings celebrating the form of flowers were displayed on the northern wall.
An intricate painting of boats by Kara Cranford caught my attention as it could fit in many established art galleries that I’ve had the pleasure to visit. Karen Cranford’s work included a portrait of a necklaced woman that was quite beautiful as was an oil painting of a young woman in yellow.
Samantha Hugh’s painting of a peacock amid a fire-like glow was complimented even further by her portrait work, in particular a large scale show-stopping painting of a young woman wearing a hat against a blue background.
Jon Bristol’s puppets were accented on pedestals in a few locations in the gallery, and they are always a delight to see. One puppet, a panda, I had acted with when Jon and I worked with Keith Paul’s version of the Mamet play Revenge of the Space Pandas at the Desultory Theatre Club (I played a bit role as a reporter).
(in the video-the author J. Timothy Quirk with Jon Bristol’s panda puppet voiced and acted by Lana Peck)
Jon had greeted us when we entered and he graciously thanked us for attending. When he had a free moment, we visited with him again and we discussed this very special exhibit. I remarked that it was unusual that such a large group of talented artists are all related by birth or marriage and it was great pleasure to see everyone’s creations all in one space.
Jon provided my daughter with paper and a pencil and she was invited to draw something while we talked. She did, relishing in the opportunity to create art inspired by her surroundings. Making the event even more special, Jon framed her newly created masterpiece and hung it up in the gallery.
We said our goodbye’s and thanked our hosts for a wonderful evening and set out into the night. Stopping by a coffee shop for a treat, we took the opportunity to enjoy an extra-long drive on the way home, listening to the radio again and letting the events unfold in our minds, sifting through them and reflecting in our own way in peace. And in my mind I did not drift back to Chicago again, I remained present, right there in the car under the passing streetlights as we traveled through Southington into Plainville before circling back to I 84.
Later that night I received a message from Jon; he sent a photo of my daughter’s work which had been framed and hung up in the gallery for the show. I showed it to her. “Cool,” she said before she drifted off to sleep, perhaps dreaming of peacocks or pandas or sailboats or nothing at all but happy feelings.
Categories: Torrington Stories