Works of love: Three
artists show off their "Valentines of Mass Devotion"
at the Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery
By LAURA POPE
ELLEN FRIEL'S watercolor and oil pastel, "The
Kiss," is on display at the Robert Lincoln Levy
The Robert Lincoln Levy
Gallery on lower State
Street in Portsmouth has always been a place of visual
abandon, where viewers immerse themselves in two large
rooms full of mixed-media exhibitions.
The threads linking the monthly shows and special
exhibitions at the Levy are
often wrapped around a theme and always
inclusive of pure and hybrid art forms.
This month, the theme is certainly lighthearted and
often hilarious, and as the Levy staffers are wont to
do, the display is inclusive. Titled "Valentines of
Mass Devotion," this mixed-media show by three
well-known New Hampshire artists heralds the coming of
"Valentines," which opened Wednesday and is on
display through Feb. 29, samples the works of clay
artist/storyteller/comedienne Jane Kaufmann of Durham;
the whimsical renderings of found object artist Nina
Fox Herlihy of Rye; and watercolor paintings by
Amherst artist Ellen Friel.
Dubbed the "Axis of Eves" for this show, the three
women are acclaimed artists with the New Hampshire Art
Association and the Levy as their common stomping
grounds. Together, they summon a collective visual
gravitation toward "Art Works of Love," a theme the
three came up with rather spontaneously.
"Ellen and I had gallery-sat at the Levy a couple
of times, and we always tried to think up ways to make
the gallery more fun," recalled Kaufmann, designated
New Hampshire's most famous underground artist in the
media. "She used to bring food to give to people who
walked in off the street to view the art in the
gallery and we would always put lively music on."
"One day, she said she was going to have a show in
February called "Friends and Lovers" and I asked her
if I could be in it. Then we thought some of Nina's
pieces hanging in the window would look good so we
asked Nina. Then Becky, (Kaufmann's daughter) wrote
the press release called "Valentines of Mass Devotion"
and we went with that, so it sort of changed from the
original idea. We just want to have a party. I have
never shown with Nina or Ellen before, but we have
become good friends doing this."
FOUND OBJECT ARTIST NINA FOX HERLIHY brings a
touch of whimsy to the "Valentines of Mass
Devotion" exhibit with pieces such as this one.
The exhibit runs through February.
In Kaufmann's case, art lovers will gain exposure
to a wide variety of shapes, sizes and messages in her
legendary raku-fired clay orbs; dozens of flat,
wall-worthy Valentines inscribed with landscapes,
flowers, people and cats; reclining animals and
people; and a few interactive, story tower sculptures
of the world's greatest lovers, including the story of
Napoleon and Josephine and Adam and Eve. She will also
include some "Bad Girl" sculptures from an earlier
exhibition in Holderness where she showcased famous
women who were outspoken or sexually active, plus a
wall of portraits, drawn into flat canvases of clay,
depicting her best girlfriends with text explaining
the virtues of each.
Those who have never experienced Kaufmann art
firsthand will quickly realize the artist's talents as
a sculptor, her tendency to label art with words often
incising a short story right into the piece, and the
fine quality of her drawing and coloring when she uses
clay as a canvas.
Herlihy will display her signature line of found
object art sculptures, which she names "soulful
synthesis eco art assemblages or Herli-hedrons,"
including birds, fish, dragons, flowers, people,
animals and mermaids. The vast array of organic and
manmade materials found, rescued, revived and
implemented in Herlihy's artworks range from wood,
metal and feathers from her free-ranging chickens
("eventually taken by fox and birds of prey, may they
rest in peace") to old ashtrays, buttons, mini
tumbleweeds of her dog's hair, shingles, old earrings
and other bits.
An avid beachcomber, the assembler of new and old
artifacts said she does enjoy collecting some of the
wood and stones for her work at the shoreline. Rather
than dwell on the pieces she finds, Herlihy explained
she is often more driven by the process of assembling
her artworks. "Most often, I stash the bits and pieces
I find in my studio or in the cellar."
Like a New Millennium archaeologist, she returns to
her cache of treasures from time to time,
rediscovering what will work in an artwork pieced from
"I do a lot of birds, and for this show I have
attached a valentine theme to them such as "Owl Always
Love You" and "You Send My Heart Soaring." One of the
fish pieces is titled "You're the Only Fish in the Sea
for Me." Then there will also be flowers "many wall
flowers both large and small" and a variety of human
figures exhibiting different postures, expressions and
body language for a group called "Expressions of
Love." Some of these mixed media objects are free
standing and others hang on the wall."
Like Kaufmann, Herlihy includes smaller, affordable
pieces starting in the $20 range for those on the
lookout for sweet valentine keepsakes.
"People generally laugh, find the artwork humorous
or respond warmly to my artwork," she added, ravings
about the great energy and friendship of showing with
kindred spirits. "There is so much fun, so much
laughter and enjoyment in launching this exhibition. I
have known Jane and Ellen since I joined the Art
Association three years ago."
Recent exhibitions of her work include displays at
the Button Factory Open Studios at Christmas, at
Tulips in Portsmouth and the Chameleon Gallery in
Friel is an award-winning watercolorist. "I am a
native of New Hampshire and my work celebrates what is
so delightful about this state," she writes in her
She began her career as a member of the New
Hampshire Art Association and now exhibits in Boston
at the Copley Society and at the Cambridge Art
Association. For "Valentines of Mass Devotion," Friel
put together a collection of still lifes, landscapes
and portrait watercolor paintings, some started five
"The portrait watercolors are especially whimsical
and the characters in them express a lot of emotion.
Some of the titles are "Old Love," "Hot Love," "In
Love," "Love is My Native Tongue" and "Oceans of
Love." I intended the floral paintings to be enduring
gifts for people to give to their sweethearts in lieu
of real flowers."
Visitors at the gallery will have 25 Friel works to
ponder, both framed and shrink-wrapped in the
"Jane and I go way back," she said. "I met her in
1981 and we’re both members of the new Hampshire Art
Association. She and I immediately clicked. We have
the same personality, like to have fun and don’t take
ourselves too seriously. We both work with a lot of
color, which reflects our sensibilities and we get
along well as friends. Viewers will recognize a
vitality which is common to all of us and our work. It
is happy, colorful, comical, and whimsical. There is a
wonderful blend of technical mastery and a dynamic
Additional proof of fun and friendship among the
three is easily discerned on their publicity poster
for the exhibition, featuring photos take by
Kaufmann's University of New Hampshire physics
professor husband, Dick.
"Because Dick takes all my photographs of my
artwork, we have the lights and the backdrops and the
cameras. We just set it up and got some props and went
"We wanted to give the impression that the show
would be fun to see. It didn't take very long to take
the pictures. It was only when we got the pictures
back that we realized Ellen was wearing her bedroom
slippers. She forgot to change into her shoes. But it
didn't matter. Dick is fun to work with because
anything goes. He doesn't have preconceived ideas of
how it should be. He just tries to take our pictures
when our eyes are open."
Friel added that in trying to convey to would-be
gallery visitors some idea of what artwork would be
shown in the exhibition, it became obvious that "we
like attention. We hammed it up."
As for the perennial embrace between love and art,
Kaufmann believes there are many reasons for the
"Art and love are good themes because, well, love
has been a theme of art since the Renaissance. ...
Because we encounter it every day in our lives it
seems like a natural theme. And love is so silly that
a reclining moose seems to represent that whole "look
at me, I am adorable" mood. But really look at us, we
are sort of silly. Art and love are good partners and
could be a sculpture — Art (pompous) and Love (silly),
sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G."