Arts offer elation for local painters, craft makers

  • Stephen Schneider stands in the Sunderland Library with two of his paintings. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Carol Ryan of Sunderland knitting in her home. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Carol Ryan with a crocheted item in her Sunderland home. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Stephen Schneider’s artwork. Staff Photo/Paul Franzz

  • Stephen Schneider stands where he created the painting he is holding. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Friends Carol Ryan and Mary Goodwin knit in Ryan's Sunderland home. Between them is a needlepoint Ryan's mother created of a girl knitting. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Friends Mary Goodwin and Carol Ryan knit in Ryan's Sunderland home. Goodwin lives across the street. Goodwin uses the Continental Method pulling the yarn with her left hand while Ryan is using the English Method, feeding the yarn with her right hand. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Goodwin uses the Continental Method pulling the yarn with her left hand. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Ryan is using the English Method, feeding the yarn with her right hand. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/26/2020 5:00:52 AM

Embracing the digital moment we are in, Friends of the Sunderland Public Library is offering its first virtual auction, which features the work of area painters, jewelers, knitters and more, all of whom share a strong passion for their own, unique craft. The auction began in October and will run through Monday.

Sunderland painter Stephen Schneider is one of the local artists whose work is part of the auction. He and other local artists participate in local painting groups, and members’ work has been featured in exhibits at the Sunderland Public Library.

“I had done a fair bit of painting in college, but then I kind of set it aside,” Schneider said. “I found one of these local groups and they helped me get back into it. It’s great having groups where you can go out and paint on a weekly basis, and have people critique your work. That really helped me get restarted.”

He said he attended Harvard, where he “kind of” minored in art. While he loved it, he said he didn’t see the practicalities of it at the time. It wasn’t until around 2000 when he returned to the art form.

“I don’t know, maybe you’ve played this game with yourself,” he asked. “Where you have something you want to do, like collecting art supplies and say ‘I’m going to start soon’ but it’s hard to get yourself out and do it.”

Schneider said there is something special about painting because it encourages him to pause and look at the world around him. As he paints or draws, he said he gets drawn into the subject and begins to notice more and more.

“I think the act of doing art actually helps you to see more than you may have seen before,” He said. “It’s almost like meditation for me, I think. I’m not a person who goes out and meditates but, from what people describe meditation being like, for me, it feels that way.”

Schneider said he joined the Hilltown Plein Air Painters group roughly 20 years ago. En plein air, or plein air painting, is the act of painting outdoors. Some members of the original group, who lived further south, then founded the Amherst Plein Air Society. These groups get together on a weekly basis to paint views of local landscapes.

“There are so many beautiful spots up and down the Connecticut River valley and in the adjoining regions, but I think a lot of us enjoy water,” Schneider said. “Painting water, you not only see the reflections but you can see through it. As you gaze at it more and begin to explore on your canvas what it looks like, you start seeing more and more. It becomes a fascinating little universe to examine.”

One of the best things about gathering as a group, Schneider said, is the ability to get feedback from his peers. He said the friendly critique sessions are a time for the painters to trade tips and help grow each other’s skill sets. Schneider said he enjoys trying to capture depth or atmospheric perspective in a painting. Atmospheric perspective refers to an artistic method of creating the illusion of depth, or recession, by modulating color to simulate changes effected by the atmosphere on the colors of things seen at a distance.

Schneider has said he likes to “keep a little humor” in his work, and not disregard “the human element.” While other artists may feel inclined to omit things like power lines, a fire hydrant or a stop sign, Schneider has learned to enjoy keeping these signs of human influence in his work.

“One of the things I’d always hated was power lines in photographs,” he said. “I would go climb over barbed wire fences when I was taking a photograph to avoid having the power lines, they annoyed me so much. Now I have a hard time remembering why I was so bothered by them.”

After fellow artists said he viewed power lines as a representation of the connection between people, Schneider gained a new appreciation for the feature and challenged himself to start including them in his work. Not only do these man-made elements create a sense of scale, but they also provide a timestamp of sorts for the painting. Schneider referenced impressionist painter Oscar-Claude Monet’s “Arrival of a Train,” and how it retains a strong sense of time and place.

“You can try and make something feel entirely timeless, but then I think it loses something,” Schneider said. “That history and that place in time make it kind of special for somebody later, particularly, who may be looking back.”

Carol Ryan

Another featured artist, Carol Ryan, is a member of the library’s Knitting Circle and member of the Friends of the Library and helped coordinate knitted and other handmade items that are part of the auction. Ryan is a Sunderland resident who started knitting when she was a young girl, learning from her mother and sister.

“My mother was knitting all the time,” Ryan said. “I have an older sister. My mother did the knitting and sewing. I do both, and my sister, well, she really just got into sewing.”

Still today, Ryan said younger folks are picking up knitting needles and threading sewing machines, in part, as a way to carry on traditions from elder family members. Having been knitting and stitching since she was just 8 years old, Ryan is well versed in the craft and enjoys sharing her skills with others.

If not for the pandemic, Ryan would be joining between one and two dozen people each Monday morning for the Sunderland Knitting Circle. Ryan said she first started going to the Knitting Circle at the public library after she retired, and quickly found the draw wasn’t just about finding time to knit without her cats wanting to sit on her lap.

“It’s a social group,” Ryan said. “You learn about events in the community. People talk to each other about different things, you trade information. That’s kind of the benefit of the group.”

The group was started in Sept. 2013 by Ryan’s neighbor, Mary Goodwin, who is now 94 years old. Around the neighborly conversation, circle members trade tips and advice for different knitting and sewing skills.

For example, Ryan said one member has been teaching others how to make socks. The group is comprised of women, though Ryan said one man did join at one point. The ladies get together to knit, crochet, cross-stitch, do embroidery and more. One woman, Ryan said, makes knitted and sewn clothes for American Girl dolls.

In crafting for the auction, Ryan said she made all of the featured baby hats. She said she focused on this as a good option for gift ideas ahead of the Christmas season. Handmade items, like the featured hats and sweaters, make great holiday gifts, and Ryan said they may add new items to the online listing as the auction carries on through November.

Before retiring, Ryan worked at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for roughly 30 years. In interacting with students and younger people, she saw interest in knitting and sewing was growing in popularity. While she wasn’t sure exactly why so many younger folks were getting into knitting, she said it could have something to do with the positive cognitive effects the hobby can have on the human brain.

According to a 2011 study led by Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, those who engage in crafts like knitting and crocheting have a diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss. Other studies have shown that knitting and crocheting teach mathematics skills and hand, eye and brain coordination — all while promoting peace of mind.

For example, a person knitting must count stitching and rows, often in complicated ways. There are different colors and different row lengths based on what’s being created, which force children to think flexibly about patterns that emerge and transform. Knitting is a multisensory experience that requires much of the same coordination, motor skills and left and right hemisphere activity as playing an instrument, and could arguably offer similar benefits. In addition to these potential cognitive benefits, the act of knitting can also be a meditative experience.

“It kind of frees up your brain to think about other stuff,” Ryan said.

While she enjoys having projects that she can conduct while “on autopilot,” Ryan also likes to jump into new challenges. Often, she said, after finishing one project, she finds herself interested in doing something that feels very different. No matter what the endeavor, there is always a sense of satisfaction from completing a piece.

“If you like making things it is very satisfying,” Ryan said. “It’s not for everybody, but it does appeal to a certain level … You’ve created something. And the process by itself is fun.”

Open to knitters of all levels, the Sunderland Public Library hosts the knitting circle as a place for socialization, sharing skills and enjoying a stress-free environment.

“Library services are more important than ever as our patrons adjust to a new way of life,” Library Director Katherine Umstot said in a press release for the auction. “Without the support of the Friends of the Sunderland Public Library and their donors, Sunderland Public Library would not be able to provide many critical services to our patrons.”

The Virtual Fall Arts & Crafts Fair will continue through midnight, Nov. 30. The artwork can be viewed and bids placed at The auction was organized as an alternative to the Friends’ traditional book and bake sale, which was canceled this year as a result of gathering restrictions in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, the auction has surpassed its fundraising goal of $3,000. All proceeds from the auction will support the library’s programs, technology for patrons and other essential community services, according to the release.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.

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