Skip to main content

Immerse Yourself in Art: Adult Classes at AVA Art Gallery

Feb 07, 2020 03:36PM ● By Gabrielle Varela

Brian Erskine Taken By: Gabrielle Varela

The bold red and yellow swaths of color emblazoned on the AVA Gallery and Art Center
building adds a pop of color to an otherwise gray and snow-covered Lebanon. The gallery was originally started in a barn in Norwich by Dr. and Mrs. Robert Nye, according to a notice released in the Valley News in August of 1973. Today, AVA occupies the Carter-Kelsey Building at 11 Bank Street in Lebanon, NH a move made in 1990. What started as a bunch of Upper Valley artists looking for a space to show their work has turned into a magnificent, bustling hive of creativity.

“AVA is really a space for everyone. I can’t promote that idea enough,” says Nick Gaffney, AVA Gallery’s Education Manager.

The former factory houses 29 artist studios and small businesses, 40 hands-on classes, and workshops to teens and adults, many programs for kids, scholarships, numerous ever-changing exhibitions and community classes. With artwork covered walls, visitors will see expressive children’s paintings from young “Art Detectives” hung next to those done by the more controlled hands of the senior and adult art programs.

The art classes range from specialized courses for the professional artist to basic beginners courses. Drawing, painting, welding, woodworking, multimedia, fibers are among the many classes offered. The children’s program offers year-round opportunities through after-school programs, special vacation programs, and summer art camps, as well as classes for preschoolers and home-schoolers.

Classes are between 2-12 people with smaller sculpture classes for safety reasons.

“One of the things about AVA and something I take very seriously is we are an organization that promotes and supports the arts in the Upper Valley. One of the ways we support art is by supporting the teachers giving them space and opportunity to teach. All of our teachers are working artists in some way and fashion and we want to make sure they have the ability to teach what they know but also have the opportunity to make a living off their teaching practices too.” Says Gaffney, a photographer by trade and teacher at AVA as well.

Gaffney shares that AVA’s recent goals and accomplishments are that they expanded the sculpture building and are working toward expanding the digital media lab. AVA is working on raising money for better computers and with hope that they can equip the room for more classes and adding an adult 3-D printing class which is only offered to middle schoolers right now.

As Gaffney gives me a tour of the Gallery, we step into some Senior Art studio time that runs from 9-2pm where artists are working quietly on various pieces of work. Some painting, some drawing, an air of focus and curiosity.

“Have you met Fred?” Asks Brenna Colt, a participant, as she gently lifts a gift box onto the table, opens it and delicately unwraps the most perfectly intact skeleton of a crow. “Isn’t he beautiful? She says, “I found him on the road. Look here, hit by a car for sure. But look at the bone structure.” Suddenly, I am catapulted back to my own art school days where perfectly linear wing bones ignite a familiar jolt of inspiration to replicate nature’s flawless linework and how I would render the shading of the skull.

“You have to be fearless. I call it kindergarten for adults,” says Colt. “A lot of the seniors are retired, live alone so it provides a space to get out of the house and do something, learn something new. ”

Walking over to a watercolor painting almost entirely various shades of blue blending together into a watery background only interrupted by bright pink, plant-like wisps, Jill Aube shares that she’s never painted before her time at AVA.

“I started here. This is my new multi-media, blowing paints.” She laughs. Jill, who joined AVA in the fall of 2018 after getting Lyme Disease. Unable to work, she needed an outlet and it drew her to painting. “I like florals a lot and I’ve gotten over being intimidated,” she says.

Showing me pictures of her work on her phone she takes me through the progression from her “flops” and the “I only like this one from here up so I cut it” to her most memorable act of artistic agency. Zooming in on a blue ocean with pink undertones at the horizon, she tells me; “Maggie (Kundtz) told me to slash paint across the canvas. She said any color. Just do it. I was like ‘no, no. I can’t yet. I don’t know.’ And she kept encouraging me. So, I finally did. I slashed a big pink streak across the whole thing and then I painted the whole thing that day. I got home and was like, ‘what just happened?’ I finally stopped being afraid of it.”

Sam, working at an easel a table over from her says that it is his 2nd time at Senior Art. Retired, he found out about it through an ad at the library. His project, a meticulous layering of red and black he describes as playing with colors to see how they feel. “It’s just like a new language. All the paint color names and how to use them.” He says.

I walk over to Brian Erskine, a former classical history professor who has now retired also and working at a table covered in detailed drawings of forest and country scapes that could be a Vermont postcard. “I always liked to sketch in my notebooks.” He says. Once he retired, his wife told him he needed to get out of the house so he did. “Now we have a room covered in drawings. I have a stack seriously waist-high. She told me to do it.” He shrugs and laughs while walking out to change his paint water.

We passed the wall of butterflies, one of the projects of the special needs class in conjunction with the Special Needs Support Center in Lebanon.

“I think for a lot of people it’s just an outlet, a place to develop a new skill and hopefully do something with it,” says Gaffney

As reported in their mission statement online, AVA presented 22 exhibitions and offered 120 classes and workshops last year. Approximately 200 artists participated in the exhibitions and 1075 students enrolled in classes, 480 of whom were children and teens. 42 scholarships were awarded. For more information and class schedules, visit

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Image's free newsletter to catch every headline