Carving out time

Mary Goldthwaite-Gagne preserves the past in cut paper and poetry at Artstream in Dover

She was searching for something else in the tangle of technology, when Mary Goldthwaite-Gagne came across an old email from her husband.

Before they were married and had a daughter, and all of the other things that both bring together and distract couples, Eric Gagne committed to writing her 1,000 poems.

“My Gmail inbox held all of these beautiful moments that are easy to forget,” she said.

Through her art, she was able to spend more time in those moments long gone. She made a series of cut paper drawings inspired by and including excerpts from the poems.

These works are collected in “To Those Times That We Can’t Get Back,” an exhibit on view at Artstream, through Sept. 20. A reception is planned for Friday, July 31, from 5:30 to 7:30, at the gallery in Dover.

“In my art making, I’m just trying to remind myself to slow down and be present and make things with my real hands.”
— Mary Goldthwaite-Gagne

Memory and personal history can become blurry and unreliable, especially when the words we write get lost among the endless chatter of the Internet, Goldthwaite-Gagne says.

“Everything’s so fast,” she said. “In my art making, I’m just trying to remind myself to slow down and be present and make things with my real hands.”

Making her art is not fast, but a lengthy, meditative process, during which she revisits and creates tangible evidence of meaningful memories and words. She sometimes finds time for this during the day when her high school art students are also drawing, but more often, late at night when her two-year-old is sleeping.

“Time is really elastic,” she said. “When you need more time, you just sleep less.”

In addition to the pieces incorporating poetry, there are cut paper drawings of dresses she wore as a child, which were saved for her own daughter to wear. She said, just like her mom, she found it hard to part with the dresses. So, she memorialized them in artwork.

A Seacoast native and University of New Hampshire graduate, Goldthwaite-Gagne now lives in Peterborough, home of the country’s oldest artist colony. There, she and her husband established the nonprofit, The Glass Museum. Since 2008, they have organized both a music festival, called The Thing in Spring, and an affordable arts fair, called Broke.

The festival has brought musicians, including J Mascis, Stephen Brodsky, Mirah, Nat Baldwin, Dan Blakeslee, and many more from around the world to intimate stages. The arts fair, every June and November, provides a venue for emerging or alternative artists and makes art more accessible for all. About 50 artists participate, including some of Goldthwaite-Gagne’s former students.

Cut paper drawings that incorporate poetry pulls together several artistic directions for Goldthwaite-Gagne. Her background is in drawing and printmaking, and she has practiced book style art and letterpress. This new work combines drawing, the reductive process of woodblock printing, and storytelling.

She starts with black paper, though white is also popular, because the results are bold and more in line with the mark making she’s used to. She draws the image before using a sharp knife to remove the negative space. She starts with the smallest cuts to make sure the positive shapes maintain enough structural integrity to hold together.

Some of her husband’s poems inspired pictorial representations, and others stand on their own. Short spaces pile up in “I stack memories in my sleep,” while strands twist around the line, “The ocean takes me apart and rebuilds me better.” In all cases, the artist has considered familiar cadence and universal associations, as well as her own memories.

Although personal and nostalgic, Goldthwaite-Gagne’s cut paper drawings are heartbreakingly relatable, and a welcome reminder that we can’t get the times back, but we can think back.

Artstream is located at 10 Second St., Dover, and online at “To Those Times That We Can’t Get Back” is on view through Sept. 20.

Top of page: Yet It Is Not Uncanny by Mary Goldthwaite-Gagne.