2010-09-30 / Arts

D’Ann Calhoun Fago: 70 Yrs. of Art


One of the works on display at the Governor's Office gallery will be "Bootlegger's Daughter," an oil painting completed in 1938. Calhoun Fago has drawn much of her artistic inspiration from the faces of marginalized and impoverished people in her native state of Kentucky and elsewhere.One of the works on display at the Governor's Office gallery will be "Bootlegger's Daughter," an oil painting completed in 1938. Calhoun Fago has drawn much of her artistic inspiration from the faces of marginalized and impoverished people in her native state of Kentucky and elsewhere.

A solo exhibit of the art of D’Ann Calhoun Fago of Bethel will be featured in the Governor’s Office gallery from Oct. 5 to Nov 24, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The gallery on the fifth floor of the Pavillion Building in Montpelier is one of the most prestigious art spaces in Vermont, and this exhibit in is “long overdue,” a spokesman for the governor’s office said this week. A prolific and gifted artist, D’Ann Fago at 93 continues to work in her Bethel studio.

Gov. Jim Douglas will host an opening reception on Wednesday, Oct. 6, from 3 to 5 p.m. for friends and family. A photo ID is required for admission.

Calhoun Fago has figured prominently in the cultural life of the state of Vermont for over 40 years. Best known as the director of Vermont’s Arts and Crafts Service during the 1960s and 70s, Fago’s life in the arts began in her native state of Kentucky and moved on to North Carolina, Georgia, New York City and eventually Vermont.

In traversing the arc of her artistic journey Fago has employed a broad range of media in a wide range of styles.

The Governor’s Office exhibit will present a sampling of her work, some produced as long ago as the 1940s and others more recently. Watercolors, charcoal and pencil drawings, and works in other media explore the natural and human worlds.

Fago’s interest in people is striking. She grew up identifying with society’s marginalized drifters, prostitutes, and the hardworking poor—coal miners and dirt farmers, and for over 75 years her prolific output has returned to that inspiration.

At the University of Kentucky in the 1930s, Fago studied with modernist painter Edward Fisk, who introduced her to the work of Robert Henri. After graduation she taught art in the hardscrabble Kentucky coal country, and developed an interest in handcrafts of the region. This led to studies at the Campbell Folk School in North Carolina as well as the Meaders family pottery in Georgia.

In 1938 Fago was awarded a scholarship to attend the Boston Museum School, which not only drew her north but back to the fine arts again. She eventually settled in New York City, studying with abstract painter Stuart Davis and earning her MFA at Columbia. In 1941 she married Marvel Comics editor Vincent Fago and they raised their two children, John and Celie, in rural Rockland County, N.Y. There the family remained until 1968 when D’Ann was hired as director of Vermont’s Arts and Crafts Service, a division of the Department of Education.

Heading North

She was on her way to begin that job when she stayed overnight at the Greenhurst Inn in Bethel, Fago has written.

“Wedged between the mountain and the river, Bethel recalled to me the mountain towns in my native state of Kentucky. Upon making inquries about houses for rent, I was directed to talk to a woman drinking coffee across the street at the Mills Store.

“We rented her old farm house that morning.” That old farm house on Christian Hill is where Calhoun Fago still lives.

Once in Bethel, she began to write frequently for The Herald of Randolph during the 1970s and 80s, contributing a sparkling string of B-1 feature articles about her neighbors in Bethel and environs.

In 1986 many of these articles were included in a substantial book, “Valley Portraits.” Some 46 profiles are included, and the subjects are as diverse as one can imagine. The book includes photography by her son, John Fago, and by Bill Burke, Ed Grazda, Gordon Harding, and D’Ann Calhoun Fago herself.

At 93, Calhoun Fago continues to work at her art in her Bethel studio. She also spends time writing, reading, enjoying family and friends, and taking walks and being in her garden.


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