At Home with Art

For Mary McGowan, it’s only natural that the walls of her Concord home showcase many types of art: She is the founder of city’s McGowan Fine Art gallery, and has been connecting people and environments with works of art for more than twenty-five years.

Nor is it surprising that the home that she shares with Lew Feldstein, chair of the New Hampshire Charitable Fund, is as much a work of art as the paintings and sculptures it houses.

Blending life and art

From room to room, McGowan’s welcoming, comfortable home quickly became a showplace for art, an inclination that continued after she opened her gallery in 1980. Her goal—at home and at work—was to showcase high-quality work by northern New England artists, particularly those from New Hampshire.

The front entry epitomizes the balance between what works well for the character of the house and what suits the tastes of its occupants. The oak woodwork on stairway, balusters, rail and floor is original. “It’s the kind of thing you appreciate and leave just the way it is,” says McGowan. From the foot of the stairs, a gallery of black-and-white family photos by photographer friend Hope Zanes welcomes you from the second-floor landing. Just inside the front door, your eye is drawn to small paintings and an enormous tapestry that runs most of the length of the entry hall.

Painted in warm, neutral shades, the walls throughout the ground floor seem tailor-made for exhibiting artwork by friends, clients and other favorite artists. As a silver craftsman with the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen for ten years, Mc- Gowan says she chose to focus on representing other artists’ work “once I’d decided that my eye was even better developed than my hand.

“Because art is such a big part of my life, the art I choose to live with is going to cover a wide range,” she says. The living and dining rooms offer a generous sampling of the eclectic mix on view here—rich, contemporary canvases by Paul Pollaro of Hancock and Bert Yarborough of New London; Concord cityscapes by Melissa Miller; and light-saturated landscapes by Eric Aho of Vermont. Three-dimensional work includes sculpture by Gary Haven Smith of Northwood and exquisite turned-wood bowls by the late Melvin Lindquist of Henniker and his son, Mark Lindquist.

Artwork with a more traditional—and personal—connection includes a photo of Navajo country by friend Ulli Steltzer, a portrait purchased during McGowan’s travels in Moldova and a vintage gold-framed portrait of McGowan’s great-grandmother and her sister. McGowan enjoys mixing different types and styles of art. “A house reflects the lives and interests of the people who live in it,” she says. “That’s what makes it a home.”

The living room’s antique portrait of her great-grandmother, for example, is surrounded by several contemporary pieces. “These all work together because they’re unified by the sunset color in one of them,” McGowan says. “I often shop a painting around the whole house before deciding right where I want it, right where it works the best.”

Such perfect placement is exemplified over the dining-room fireplace in the large oil on canvas by artist Molly Barker of San Francisco, California. In it, two figures are gazing upward, an image that seems to ask you to stop and join them.

“We’d just had the high ceiling in that room redone, and it was something of a work of art itself. It’s as though those two figures are looking up at it, too, which was a fun bit of coincidence,” McGowan says.

Appreciating the art of craftsmanship

For McGowan, living with art means more than hanging a painting. In fact, she’s surrounded by artwork of another type: fine craftsmanship. Her kitchen is a perfect example.

There the red birch counters and cabinet doors complement the warm tone of the butcher-block island in the center of the room. In addition, McGowan worked with designers at Vintage Kitchens in Concord to come up with the inky blue color of her cabinets, which provides contrast to the birch.

Beneath the cabinets and open shelving, a huge soapstone sink resurrected from the basement is an inviting focal point. When its original faucet size couldn’t be replaced, McGowan opted for two smaller faucets and unwittingly created one of her twin grandchildren’s favorite spots in the house. A photo from the preschoolers’ recent visit shows them clad in miniature chef’s aprons, standing elbow-to-elbow on chairs at the twin faucets—a creative melding of art forms.

Like McGowan’s art collection that brings together old and new, her home is a beautiful combination of classic and contemporary, thanks in great part to her late husband, architect Duncan McGowan. When Duncan was working on a project at the old jail and police station—which now houses Margaritas restaurant in Concord—he salvaged some paneling that now frames a cushiony sofa in a cozy kitchen nook.

In addition to the sink and wood paneling, the kitchen features a number of other reclaimed items whose craftsmanship Duncan’s eye couldn’t fail to appreciate, “and which he could never bear to see go to waste,” McGowan says. The kitchen’s two side walls each contain tall, glass-fronted cupboards—medicine cabinets Duncan rescued from an old nursing home—now attractive storage for spices, kitchen implements and other objects.

Here and in the dining room, two antique stoves that once burned coal but now burn wood have helped keep the house warm. “The one in the dining room came out of the old train station in Concord,” McGowan says.

The history of McGowan’s home is part of what makes it such a showplace. The stately Victorian was built in two stages beginning around 1870, with the three-story carriage house at the back added later. “By the time we got the house [in 1972],” McGowan says, “it was owned by Edgar Hearst, president of New Hampshire Savings Bank and one of the founders of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. There had only been three owners before us.”

The Outdoor Canvas

All the beauty inside the house flows freely to the outside. Surrounded by veteran pines, birches and maples, the home maintains its countrified feel, despite being within walking distance of downtown Concord.

The property includes an impressive, mansard-roofed carriage house at the back, home to a studio today. Former adjoining servants’ quarters at the back of the house are now a small apartment. Tucked between house and carriage house and accessible from the back entrance between the kitchen and dining room is a delightful, sheltered courtyard where McGowan and Feldstein spend as much time as they can. “Even when the weather gets cooler, the bricks absorb enough heat on a sunny day that we can sit comfortably at meal times on the porch out here,” McGowan says.

Today, she and Feldstein have plenty of opportunities to share the house with their large extended families and friends. In addition, McGowan regularly hosts informal dinners after openings at her gallery for the artists and their families and supporters.

Yet however much this house is a showcase for art, it remains—first and foremost—a home, McGowan says. “Sometimes people imagine that having art in your life and your home implies introducing some kind of formality. This house revolves around art, but there’s certainly nothing formal here.”

Coming up at the Gallery

McGowan Fine Art has showcased the distinctive work of a range of New England artists for more than twentyfive years. Exhibits in the coming months include:

North Country Studio Workshops

The North Country Studio Workshops are held every other year at Bennington College in Vermont, and this juried show reflects artists’ experiences there. A percentage of proceeds from this show benefits the workshops.
February 5-March 14
Reception February 8, 5-7 p.m.
(Snow date February 15)

Bert Yarborough

Bert Yarborough has been recognized by the New Hampshire Arts Council and received a Fulbright grant to study in Nigeria. He is best known for his colorful and primal abstracts, but has been moving closer to the human form in his paintings. March 18-April 25
Reception March 21, 5-7 p.m.

McGowan Fine Art
10 Hills Avenue
Concord, NH 03301

The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.