Lebanon’s AVA Gallery has undergone many transitions and changes this winter, saying goodbye to Bente Torjusen following her 30-year tenure as Executive Director, welcoming incoming Executive Director Trip Anderson, and completing the construction of an innovative and energy-efficient new sculpture studio.

New AVA Gallery Executive Director Trip Anderson outside the new sculpture studio

In January, AVA Gallery completed three major capital projects: the new 4,000-square-foot Bente Torjusen West Sculptural Studies Building, and two separate solar arrays—one on the sculptural studies building and one on the existing Carter-Kelsey building. The solar arrays are part of a plan to for the buildings to be net-zero energy. In the summer months, the large array on the “Bente building” may provide enough energy, not just to power the new building and the heavy machinery in the sculpture studios, but also to supplement the array on the Carter-Kelsey building making both buildings energy neutral.

In addition to the solar array, the Bente building boasts many sustainability features. A rooftop garden of native, indigenous, low-maintenance plants provides insulation for the building as well as contemplative space to enjoy a break for lunch. Locally sourced and recycled materials are used extensively throughout the interior of the building, and the foundation stones from the previous building are used to create a retaining wall along the edge of the new building.

The purpose-built sculptural studies building features metal, glass, stone, wood, and clay studios. Moveable walls separate three connected spaces for the core studio, the machinery area, and the forge, kilns, and welding area. Eighteen-inch-thick walls reduce noise to the exterior neighbors and also provide insulation for energy efficiency. In the stone carving studio, snorkel hoses extend down from the ceiling to collect dust. “The whole building is designed to be extremely energy efficient while also being safe and comfortable,” Anderson said.

Anderson expects that the building will receive at least LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, the second highest rating awarded by the US Green Building Council. This same honor was bestowed on the Carter-Kelsey building in fall of 2008. The LEED Green Building Rating System places emphasis on quantifiable, measurable, and documented environmental benefits.

While the construction was complete in January, the staff at AVA gallery still have work ahead of them before the building opens to the public. The staff will spend February and March setting up the space and installing the equipment and tools. Master artist workshops will take place in April and May to help the staff and artists learn the best ways to utilize the space. Anderson explains, “We want to make sure everything we do here is up to the AVA standard, so the master artist workshops will provide us with that foundation.”

A New Leader for AVA

Bente Torjusen began serving as the Executive Director of the AVA Gallery in 1986. Torjusen, a native of Oslo, is known in the Upper Valley for her vivacious personality and for shepherding AVA through its early years, when it was located in Hanover on the second floor over the Dartmouth Bookstore, into the prominent New Hampshire art institution that it is today. In 1990, Torjusen oversaw AVA’s move to Lebanon into the 140-year-old factory building, now the Carter-Kelsey building that houses the AVA offices, studios, classrooms, and exhibition halls. When plans were drawn up for the newest addition to the gallery, Torjusen ensured that the building would be LEED-certified and on track to become a net-zero-energy building.

Trip Anderson officially started as the Executive Director at the AVA Gallery in December, after a month-long transition period with Torjusen. Anderson comes to AVA Gallery from the Worcester Art Museum, where he commuted from Grantham, N.H. He served as a Grants Officer at the museum, as well as the museum’s leader in the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s UP initiative, advocating for inclusive accessibility.

His background is in preservation architecture and art history, having studied fine arts at Harvard University and serving as an instructor and guest lecturer in visual arts and design communications at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, the Boston Architectural Center, Bemidji State University in Minnesota, and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay. “I’ve always had friends in the Upper Valley, and I’ve always loved this part of the world,” Anderson said. “This is my first opportunity to work in the Upper Valley, and it seemed like a natural fit.”

Events at AVA

In February, AVA Gallery hosted  the 9th Annual Best of the Upper Valley High School Exhibition. AVA contacted a number of regional Vermont and New Hampshire public, private, and vocational high schools, encouraging the art faculty to nominate works by students who show exceptional promise in creative disciplines, including: Ceramics, Drawing, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, Digital Art, Sculpture and Wearable Art. About 100 students were represented in the show. Artist Carrie Fradkin says, “The work in the high school exhibition gets progressively better each year.”

In late May, AVA Gallery will host a grand opening celebration in for the Bente Building, and public classes in the space will begin over the summer. Both the staff and board anticipate innovative programming and opportunities in the new space under Anderson’s leadership. “Anderson will provide a key role in developing programming and fulfilling the promise of these new studios for sculptural studies,” stated Sloane Mayor, AVA’s Board Chair.

AVA offers dozens of exhibitions each year, more than 150 art classes, school vacation camps, after-school programs, and a large variety of outreach programming.

Located at 11 Bank Street right off Colburn Park in Lebanon, AVA Gallery and Art Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (7 p.m. on Thursdays). Admission is free, and the gallery is handicapped-accessible. For more information, visit avagallery.org.

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