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Alison Vernon '90 shares the painting of "Gnu With a View."
High on a hill was a colorful gnu herd 27 gnus, to be exact, and eight of them turn out to be members of the extended Colby-Sawyer family.
In nature, gnus, or wildebeests, are categorized as one of two species - blue or black - but on May 30, 2009, a herd of them charged into town, sporting every color imaginable as part of the community-based art project Gnus of Gnu London. Conceived over a year ago as a fund-raiser for the Kearsarge Community Center (KCC) by New London Inn owner Bridget LeRoy, the gnus were sponsored by businesses and individuals, and painted by local artists including Colby-Sawyer students and alumnae Alison Vernon '90 and Annie Ballin '82. They will be on display through October 1 and auctioned on October 11 to raise additional funds for the KCC.
Colby-Sawyer President Tom Galligan and his wife, Susan, sponsored a gnu that is home on the range of the college's front lawn. Painted by students in Assistant Professor of Fine and Performing Arts Rebekah Tolley's printmaking class, the gnu is an expression of independence versus prescription, freedom versus tradition and ritual.
"Susan and I got excited about the project when we heard about it because we thought it would be a lot of fun for the town, and we really wanted to support the community center," says President Galligan. "We also thought it would be exciting for our students to do the design and art work since they have gnu and fresh ideas. We could not be more pleased with the result; I love looking out my office window and seeing our gnu."
Professor Loretta Barnett, chair of the Fine and Performing Arts department, describes the creation process for the Colby-Sawyer gnu: The gnu was first incised with rotary and engraving tools to create a carved design on the surface much like a traditional copperplate engraving, and then coats of acrylic paint were applied in an expressionist style. The gnu was then masked and spray-painted to expose under painting in place, which creates a sense of ambiguous space, and the gnu begins to float.
The Galligans love what the students did with the gnu. "Everything about it is great - it would take pages to egnumerate all its positive qualities," enthuses President Galligan. "The colors and the golden horns give it a mythological look - ours is no gnu-age gnu but a timeless gnu, a sun and fire gnu, rather than a gnuclear age gnu. People ask me what it's name is Gnucomb? Gnuberry? Gnute? and I tell them we haven't decided yet. Susan and I also like gnudling around town to look at all the other gnus."
The variety and creativity of all the gnus makes walking the town a special treat these days. It's clear that some gnus are painted with a theme directly related to its sponsor, but the Colby-Sawyer gnu was a blank canvas that the students were free to make completely their own.
Tom and Susan gave us no parameters on their gnu and trusted us completely, says Professor Barnett. We appreciate their confidence, and especially their confidence in our students' abilities to think critically and creatively. The students did an amazing job and worked on the project with any chunks of time they could find between their Student Exhibition, Scholar's Day Presentations and their Senior Exhibition. The project came at a very busy time for our students, but they were committed and followed through.
From her office in Colgate Hall, Tracey Perkins, director of Admission Counseling, has a clear view of the gnu and says, We love having the gnu outside our window to gaze at on the front lawn he is like our personal pet now and we feel he is a great addition to campus. With the entire town of New London supporting the project, it is great that we get to be a part of it.
A gnu painted by graphic design major John DeGray '09, called Cowmunication and sponsored by Echo Communications, is staked out on Pleasant Street. DeGray's black gnu with under colors of red orange and blue features dots and rings. Professor Barnett says that DeGray's favorite quote, from the movie "Forrest Gump, is Simple is as simple does, and says of the artist's style, John's graphic design philosophy comes from a grounding in the history of graphic design and his study of such artists as Ian Tschichold and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. John does not feel that unnecessary decoration on a page is helpful and that a good design can be busy and simple at the same time.
Alison Vernon '90 painted My Gnu Secret Garden for Tracy Memorial Library and A Gnu with a View for The Inn at Pleasant Lake. Looking out over the lake toward Mt. Kearsarge, the inn's gnu enjoys an idyllic location and features a day scene of the view on one side, and a night scene on the other that evokes the song Kate Smith made famous in the 1930s, When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain, reportedly written at the inn.
Vernon moved to New London in 1982 and started painting after the birth of her three children. Her use of palette knives in combination with vibrant colors and fresh subject matter has made Vernon a favorite of private as well as corporate collectors.
Annie Ballin '82 is the executive director of the KCC and painted three gnus. Sponsored by Mark Loehr, Gnucleus stands outside the Chamber of Commerce Information Booth; the New London Agency's Peace Gnu features John Lennon-style glasses and the lyrics to his song Imagine, and the Love Gnu, sponsored by the Friends of the New London Shopping Plaza and located near the entrance to MacKenna's Family Restaurant.
Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Education Hilary Cleveland co-sponsored Sir Isaac Gnuton, a wigged beast painted by the English artist Jane Prophet that is suspended from a Main Street maple tree and weighted by, of course, a giant apple. Prophet's work includes large-scale installations, digital prints and objects. Her art has been shown all over the world and reflects her interest in science, technology and landscape.
Visitors and residents alike have a couple more months to enjoy the Gnus of Gnu London. Stop by the Chamber of Commerce Information Booth to pick up a walking map of the gnus' locations. Collect 18 of 22 possible stamps along the stampede trail, and return to the chamber office for a free gift. You'll be entered to win the grand prize of dinner for four at the Inn at Pleasant Lake, and you certainly don't have to be a gnu to enjoy that view.
Read more about the Gnus of Gnu London here.
Send feedback to Kate Dunlop Seamans.
Photos by Michael Seamans
541 Main Street
New London, NH 03257