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Colorcycle Invites Locals Young and Old to Create at the Thorne

Building a window panel from decorated CD jewel boxes
Building a window panel from decorated CD jewel boxes

As you walk in the lobby door at the Thorne, you’ll immediately notice the stunning effect of the gallery’s latest project. And not only is the installation impressive to see, it’s also bringing community members of all ages together to create a beautiful solution to what was an annoying problem.

When Keene-based, Austrian-born artist Katharina Rooney visited the gallery in 2015 to set up an exhibition, she was struck by the changes that educator/designer Shari Osborn had made to the lobby. “It was no longer a passing-through space, but had been updated by to look more colorful, inviting, and contemplative,” Rooney said. She was impressed, and asked the students working there how they liked it. They loved the lobby, except that the new location for their desk allowed the afternoon sunlight to shine through the large windows right into their eyes.

Rooney, Osborn, and the students discussed creative ways to solve the problem, and when Thorne director Brian Wallace invited Rooney to become the Thorne’s first Artist in Residence, real movement towards a solution got under way. The Artist in Residence program is conceived as a way to connect educators, artists, and audiences at the gallery, and the links that Rooney’s project galvanized between educator-led school group tours, casual visitors, friends, campus colleagues, and Keene State students – not to mention the subtly dramatic and ever-shifting appearance of the artwork – perfectly fulfill this vision.

This is the complicated genesis of the Colorcycle project, which invites members of the campus and local community to create small pieces of art using recycled CD jewel cases as the basis for their individual designs. By adding various recycled and repurposed materials such as paints, fabric samples, found natural objects (such as seed pods and dried flowers), transparent sheets, colored wax papers, and folded paper to decorate the CD cases, participants can create small panes that Rooney is using in a series of large panels that look a lot like stained glass. Participants are encouraged to make totally abstract pieces, both because the educator is interested in familiarizing audiences with art basics and knows that abstraction can be a challenging concept, and because the artist believed that an overall design would be have more visual unity if comprised of many abstract elements (see the video below). Rooney is filling the upper windows in the Thorne lobby with those panels, and the effect is powerful.

“The idea is for people to dive in and fearlessly explore new processes to create art,” Rooney explained.

Art alum Molly Fletcher ’08 brought her students from St. Joseph Regional School in Keene to tour the gallery and design CD panels as part of the gallery’s revived education program. “Our field trip to the Thorne was a great success!” she reported. “The collaborative arts are such an important thing for students to learn at a young age, and it will be great to hear what the first few students who visit the finished windows have to say about the final product. I think it looks fantastic! We loved every minute.”

Kristin Frohling had a similar experience when she brought her students from the Wheelock school participate in the education program: “Engaging students with the broader community of Keene is a value that we, at Wheelock, hope to impart to our students. Working on a creative collaboration was fun and made our students aware of how they can influence and improve a public space. I hope that they also gain a sense of ownership of a small part of the finished piece and can admire it if and when they return. We really appreciate the connection to Keene State College and hope to continue growing this connection.”

Engaging the community, creating beautiful art, and solving a problem all via one brilliant project – what could be more perfect? “My hope is that Colorcycle will make people who walk into the transformed lobby experience a ‘wow’ factor as they step into an obviously changed space,” Rooney said. “I would like to create a sense of mystery, wonder, and surprise, while shielding people who work at the gallery from the glare of the sun.”

Does it succeed? Visit the Thorne and see for yourself.