When she travels, Marilyn Keith Daly is struck by the inauthenticity of America.
“You take a trip to a place you’ve never been and hope to have an adventure, see something you’ve never seen. You get off of the plane and into the rental car and right away come upon the signs for the same box stores and food franchises you left behind,” she said. Places that are still authentic, she said, are “the holy grail of travel.”
Daly, who helps manage the Sarah Orne Jewett House for Historic New England in South Berwick, has put together an exhibition of contemporary art that emphasizes the authenticity of the classic New England village, such as picturesque South Berwick on the Maine-New Hampshire border where Jewett, an author, was born and lived. “New England Village: Rethinking Regional Identity” is on view through Sept. 11 at the Jewett visitor center. Two dozen artists consider the value of regional identity during a time when digital media and corporate culture minimize regionalism.
The exhibition also gives visitors the opportunity to tour the birthplace and longtime home of Jewett, a Maine writer. She was born in South Berwick in 1849 and lived in one of two side-by-side family homes on Portland Street until her death in 1909. The home she was born in was built in 1774 and is a National Historic Landmark.
This is the third year Historic New England has hosted a juried exhibition at the Jewett home. Daly likes the idea of connecting a historic and culturally significant property with contemporary art. The old buildings on the property offer character as exhibition space, and the exhibition involves contemporary artists in a conversation about culture, history and identity.
It’s also nice to see the visitor center used as a community arts space, she said. Jewett was socially active and had a wide circle of writer friends and artists who visited her in South Berwick. “This was not the home of a recluse. “So, it’s fitting to have a lively conversation … expressed in art.”
Jewett, Daly said, “was both a woman of contemporary taste and ideas, and a woman who in her time was concerned that the regional identity of the New England she knew was changing rapidly, even disappearing, because of industrialization. A lot of people in New England at that time, the late 19th century, were concerned about this.”
Daly assembled a four-person jury: Brian Chu, art professor at the University of New Hampshire; Mary Harding, curator at George Marshall Store Gallery in York; Richard Nylander, curator emeritus of Historic New England; and Joshua Reiman, assistant professor at Maine College of Art.
They reviewed 95 submissions, and chose 23 pieces of work.
“We had so many great entries for ‘New England Village,’ really interesting work,” Daly said. “It shows that this is a genuine arts community, true artists who have something to say and the gift and skill to say it in stunningly beautiful ways. The pieces in the exhibition really captivate visitors. People linger with the works.”
WHERE: Sarah Orne Jewett House and Visitor Center, 5 Portland St., South Berwick
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday; Through Sept. 11
ADMISSION: The art show is free; Jewett house tours (recommended), $8 adults, $7 seniors, $4 students
MORE INFO: 384-2454, historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/sarah-orne-jewett-house