Local artist making a splash in the shires arts scene

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MANCHESTER — Artist Rhonda Retray is making her mark on the shires art's scene, currently exhibiting her creations at both North Bennington's Left Bank Art Gallery (which she also curates,) and Bennington's South Street Cafe.

The artist is no stranger to the area, growing up in Bennington prior to attending Alfred University and later The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

"Both of those schools were very open and you got to explore kind of any artistic practice you wanted, so I did a lot of sculpture and printmaking and painting and pretty much anything I could get my hands on; I did glass, I did neon at Alfred," said Retray, who moved back to the area to raise her daughter. "I have a lot of different interests and I try to gear the art making to the idea."

That multifarious method is explored in Retray's newest collection at the Left Bank, titled Wreck Tangled.

"For this show I was talking to my daughter who just turned 9, and we were trying to think of a show that we could include a lot of people, and even children, in," said Retray. "She was having a debate with her little stuffed animals in the back of the car, and they were debating about sandwich cuts; rectangles versus triangles."

In her daughter's imagination, Retray found inspiration.

"It describes this common format but then also seems like a total disaster," said Retray. "What she was saying when her little characters were arguing about it was that rectangles can be so messy, and I thought it was brilliant. That's what gave me the idea for this."

The show combines a variety of artists including youth and adults, and a plethora of interpretations of the geometric concept.

"It's open enough where you can have a lot of good work, but you can also challenge people," said Retray, who has curated exhibitions at the Left Bank every 6 to 8 weeks since the spring. "It's a really fun way to get people to come look at art, and to highlight some of the really great work that's around."

Retray has a bevy of her own work to display as well, and is currently exhibiting work at both the Left Bank and the South Street Cafe in Bennington.

"With my work I love play on words and I love double images. I love novelty and I love print ephemera, so I make my own print ephemera," said Retray. "I like things that are funny and unexpected and have a good sense of humor."

The artist's work at the South Street Cafe, in a show titled "Milk and Honey," celebrates the "magnificent abundance that is Vermont in the summertime."

"They're totally different shows," said Retray, who grapples with concepts of warnings, rebirth, abundance, and more in the exhibition. "When they asked me to do a show there they said it would be in the summertime, so I thought I could something with the concept of Milk and Honey."

That abundance that is reflected in her summertime show at Southstreet can also be found in community, according to the artist.

"I love seeing the connections, and seeing this work together is just really exciting to me. It's why you make art; so you can share it with people," said Retray, on her experience as a curator. "What's great about this space is people may come here for yoga; they may not come for an art show. It's a nontraditional art space and I think that's great."

That community engagement is also found in service, primarily through North Bennington's Vermont Arts Exchange (VAE.)

"I just love it. I work with the Vermont School for Girls, and I've been there for about a year now," said Retray. "I love the conversations we have, and I love the things that they're willing to do. I really thrive off of helping people make things happen."

For the artist, the experience represents a homecoming of sorts.

"When I first came back it felt a little bit like I was a ghost haunting the place I used to live because so many of my friends had moved away," said Retray. "Being here feels like home though, and it's really nice."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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