The Arts Every Tuesday - With Love From Bronwen
by Neil Serven
It is fair to say that Bronwen Hodgkinson has long had her finger on the pulse of the Visual Arts scene in the Pioneer Valley, not just as an artist and professional graphic designer herself, but as the person in charge of The Valley Arts Newsletter, which Hodgkinson has been running for 14 years.
Published every Tuesday, the Valley Arts Newsletter provides a home for listings of craft fairs, gallery openings, and other art-related events, as well as advertisements for classes, listings for studio spaces available for rent, and crowdfunding requests for local artists and their projects. Listings are free and readers from Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin counties are invited to submit.
"It was hard to find info about shows and art events... I wanted to create a central place where people could find listings for everything going on in the visual arts."
“Anyone’s welcome to submit, even if it's someone who’s just a hobby painter and wants to list their show,” Hodgkinson says.
Hodgkinson launched the site in 2008 after being handed the reins of an earlier Easthampton-based site started by the two men who started the Easthampton Art Walk. When they moved away, Hodgkinson picked up their work and expanded the site to cover the entire Pioneer Valley, giving it the name it has today.
“It was hard to find info about shows and art events,” Hodgkinson said. “I wanted to create a central place where people could find listings for everything going on in the visual arts.”
She said that it takes her one full day a week to put together listings, not including the time required for correspondence, social media work, and checking links. “I love it,” she said, “It keeps me connected to our creative community and delighted to be helpful to artists and art lovers.”
Hodgkinson grew up in Northampton and Easthampton, the daughter of an American mother and British father. She described herself as having an interest in art from an early age, “that weird kid who dressed in black and always had a sketchbook in my bag.” She wanted to become an illustrator, she said, despite the fact that she “grew up in an atmosphere when it was viewed as irresponsible to pursue being an artist.”
After graduating from high school, she went to England, where she attended The American College in London, a small art college focused on applied arts, fashion, and design. She ended up staying in England for ten years. Her career plans were disrupted when she suffered an injury that affected her ability to hold a pencil for extended periods. That prompted Hodgkinson to pivot her studies in London to art history and graphic design.
Another outlet she found was assemblage, or the art of making things out of found objects. In addition to her web and graphic design business, called Ardent Design, Hodgkinson creates assemblage art, jewelry, and print designs through an outfit called Three Posies.
She found particular inspiration in old Catholic rosaries, which she would break apart with the purpose of using the beads to make necklaces, earrings, and other jewelry. The medieval quality of the rosaries appealed to her, she said.
Originally her intent was to make jewelry for herself, but then more and more people started asking where she got them. There was enough demand for Hodgkinson to begin selling her art, and that’s how she began Three Posies.
“I would think, ‘this is only going to appeal to goth kids,’” she said. “I’m always blown away by how well it sells.” Hodgkinson noted that she gets a particular thrill when she spies one of her creations in the wild being worn by someone she doesn’t know, which has happened more than once.
Finding the material to make her pieces is part of the fun. Hodgkinson finds a lot of it by scavenging tag sales and junk shops, and some of it comes by way of people who come into possession of old jewelry and relics and are familiar with her style.
“It’s kinda morbid,” she admitted, “but often someone’s elderly relative will pass away and leave old rosaries and jewelry that the family has no attachment to so they give them to me to reuse.”
Hodgkinson described her aesthetic as “humorously dark.”
“I’ve always been very drawn to the odd, old, mysterious, and strange, and inspiration often comes from Victorian-era curiosity cabinets and dusty old things,” she said, listing her influences as the writer-illustrator Edward Gorey and the found-object shadowboxes of Joseph Cornell.
“I love antique ephemera, precious broken things, unwanted photos, odd bits and pieces that grab at the imagination and won’t let go. I suppose my aim is for my work to look like hidden treasures found in spooky old attics,” she said.
“It’s a little intuitive, something that has the look to me of something old and slightly decayed. The whole point is to collect strange and wonderful things that you wouldn’t see every day.”
Hodgkinson typically sells her wares at craft and maker fairs. During the pandemic, while such events aren’t an option, she has relied more on word of mouth and social media, including the Three Posies’ Instagram profile. Her jewelry and screen-printed cards are also available for sale at Hope & Feathers Framing in Amherst.
For Hodgkinson, the fact that the area is situated near the Five Colleges, more or less equidistant from two publishing and academic mega centers in Boston and New York City, makes Western Massachusetts an exciting place to live and work as an artist. She said that Massachusetts has been “pretty awesome” in allocating money to the arts through the Massachusetts Cultural Council. And local organizations such as Easthampton City Arts, she noted, show how a town can flourish and be transformed by municipal support of the arts.
"Arts education is a way for young people to find their voices and eventually bring their own creations into the community. To withdraw that support is to deny students a way to shape their characters."
It's particularly meaningful for Hodgkinson to live in a community that embraces artists when the arts are often dismissed or even under attack in other communities. Arts programs are often the first programs to be defunded when schools need to cut costs, she noted. For Hodgkinson, who spent much of her formative high-school years in the art room, arts education is a way for young people to find their voices and eventually bring their own creations into the community. To withdraw that support is to deny students a way to shape their characters.
^ Gallery showing some of Bronwen's work. She creates assemblage art, jewelry, and print designs under her Three Posies initiative
(Click on any image to enlarge).
“Every single thing we use and look at, we’re surrounded by things that have been designed and created by artists and creative people,” she said. “We don’t think their work has as much value as someone doing another job.”
Sharing that appreciation is part of what motivates her work putting together the Valley Arts Newsletter, bringing exposure to other hard-working artists in the region.
“My hope is that it increases the presence of the visual arts in our community, helps empower artists (especially young and emerging) with free publicity, and simply spread the word, here and beyond our area, about the tremendous amount of arts happening in our area,” she said.
See the Valley Arts Newsletter Listing on ArtsHub.
PHOTO CREDITS: Bronwen Hodgkinson.