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  • By Gabrielle Griswold

The Joys of Collecting Local Landscapes

Charlie Vogel shares insights on White Mountain Art

White Mountain Art is with us again! Not just as Nature designed it, in the actual mountains, hills, lakes, trees, and fields around us, but as a subject of aesthetic discussion and -- possible future hopes?*

One of the pleasures of being a collector, longtime White Mountain art researcher and collector Charlie Vogel of Townsend, Mass., told us is sharing with others the art he loves.

Vogel has presented many programs on White Mountain art including one hosted by the Eaton Community Circle at the Little White Church in Eaton in November 2001. It was hosted on the actual birth date of Benjamin Champney (1817-1907), often considered the doyen of 19th-century White Mountain landscape painting.

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) with a master's degree from Fitchburg (Mass.) State College, Vogel has been researching and collecting White Mountain art for 31 years.

"White Mountain art is very collectible, none better," he enthused.

In addition to lecturing on White Mountain art and artists at colleges, historical societies, museums, and libraries throughout New England, he has been curator or guest curator for many art exhibitions, and has written extensively on New Hampshire art and history.

For Vogel, who likes to go walking in this area to seek out places where the 19th century artists painted, sharing his pleasure in White Mountains art is part and parcel of being a collector. Exhibitions and slides provide welcome opportunities for doing this.

"Even though I'm a math teacher, I've always loved art and enjoyed researching stories about the artists, their history, their different types of art, where they lived, where they traveled, and everything about them," he said. "I find great joy in sharing what I know, and if I sound enthusiastic, it's because I love doing this! It's definitely a passion."

With a personal collection amounting to approximately 100 paintings in oil and watercolor, plus some prints and drawings, Vogel became interested in the subject, like others before him (including Dartmouth art historian Robert McGrath), when he met the late Bob Goldberg. Goldberg was the ardent local collector of White Mountain art whose treasure trove of paintings was once displayed in his Gralyn Antiques shop in North Conway and is now stored at Dartmouth's Hood Museum.

"I met Bob in 1972," Vogel said, "and we became very good friends, visiting each other's homes and sometimes traveling together throughout the early '70s."

Every since he met Goldberg, Vogel has been collecting, attending auctions, visiting antique shops, searching the internet, selling as well as buying paintings, and adding to his collection at every opportunity.

We asked him, as a former friend of Goldberg's, what his thoughts might be about Goldberg's onetime dream of establishing a museum of White Mountain art here.

Vogel indicated his awareness that, since its recent acquisition of the former St. Charles Church property in Conway, the Conway Historical Society has been actively pursuing plans to convert the building to a future White Mountain are museum.

"I've been in contact with historical society director/curator David Emerson about that," Vogel said, "and I think it would be wonderful to have a White Moutnain art museum here. It would be important to local residents and it would also be important to the local economy, because people would come here specifically to see the art. It would be so much fun coming into North Conway and seeing the lakes and rivers and mountains, then seeing the same landscapes as the 19th-century artists painted them."

Vogel said he thought that putting together a museum would not be difficult.

"There are an awful lot of paintings available," he noted. "There was a huge art colony here and lots of families own paintings. Once a museum got started, people would begin donating to it."

As Emerson confirmed, there is no doubt that such a museum will one day come to pass.

"For the past two decades, a number of people have worked hard to make a museum a reality," he said. "It now appears that those plans are finally beginning to fructify. We have the venue, and we have most of the capital. It's going to happen!"

But what about the ultimate dream? What about Bob Goldberg's vision of seeing his collection return here to the area that inspired it, instead of being stored away at the Hood Museum where there is no room to display it... Is that too nebulous a hope?

Perhaps not, if enough people get behind the effort when the right time comes.

For his part, Vogel said, "I would be glad to help promote such a museum, and happy to help in any way that I can."

Certainly, for those of us who only infrequently get to see an exhibition of White Mountain art, it would be infinitely rewarding to have some of that body of glorious White Mountain art here in the locality where it was so lovingly conceived, executed, and -- collected.

*This story was written in anticipation of a presentation on "19th Century White Mountain Art" by Charles Vogel presented by the Jackson Historical Society on Feb. 9, 2002.

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