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Arts & Culture in the Granite State

The beauty of New Hampshire’s natural resources and the ingenuity of the people who have settled here over time have combined to inspire a wide range of artistic endeavors and arts engagement.  Here are just a few examples:


Native American PowwowNew Hampshire’s Indigenous Native American Heritage

Long before European settlers were drawn to the natural beauty and abundant resources found in the state we now call New Hampshire, indigenous Native American tribes made this area their home. Tribes included:  the Abenaki, Penacook, Winnipesaukee, Pigwacke, Sokoki, Cowasuck and Ossipee. Abenaki (Western Abenaki) is the tribe most often associated with New Hampshire. The word Abenaki is often translated as “People of the Dawn Land.” (woban means day-break and ski means earth). Many of the place names in New Hampshire are the original Abenaki names and help us to continue to value and respect their contributions to our state’s cultural legacy.

Drumming during powwow at Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum
Photo by Lynn Martin Graton

Today, Native Americans from around of the country call New Hampshire home. The NH State Legislature established a Commission on Native American Affairs in recognition of the historic and cultural contributions of Native Americans to New Hampshire. The commission promotes and strengthens Native American heritage and furthers the needs of New Hampshire's Native American community through state policy and programs. There is no official state or federal recognition of an indigenous New Hampshire tribe or dedicated reservation lands in the state.

Native Americans in New Hampshire celebrate their heritage through a variety of events including a network of intertribal powwows where singing, dance, food and crafts from many tribal cultures are enjoyed. Click here for an independently compiled schedule of powwows.

New Hampshire is home to many native artisans who carry on the craft traditions such as beadwork and brown ash & sweetgrass basket making. Some of these artists are listed on the State Arts Council’s Traditional Arts & Folklife Listing. The Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum is the only museum in New Hampshire dedicated solely to Native American collections and public programming. From May 1 to October 31, they feature a variety of exhibits, workshops, festivals, and educational events for the community.

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washington town center New Hampshire’s Colonial Heritage in Architecture, Music, Dance & Crafts

People in New Hampshire are proud of the historic buildings that are central to the character of its small towns and cities. Most of the historic wooden buildings in town centers date to the 18th and 19th centuries. Town centers often consist of one or more churches, perhaps a parish hall, a town hall or Grange building, and a general store. Many of the large brick buildings one sees near waterways in New Hampshire were once prosperous mills producing a variety of products including yarn, textiles, or shoes.

Washington Town Center
Photo by Lynn Martin Graton

braided rug by anne winterlingCommunities work together to protect the structures and character of their towns; New Hampshire boasts over 60 local historic districts. The State’s Division of Historical Resources offers many resources on architectural and landscape preservation as well as grants for conservation. The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance works to educate the public on aspects of historic preservation, hosts workshops and special events, and maintains a list of qualified contractors specializing in a variety of skills needed to preserve and restore historic structures, keeping them viable, authentic and beautiful.

Hooked Rug by Anne Winterling
Photo by Lynn Martin Graton

The preservation of the architectural fabric of our communities is complemented by the vibrancy of traditional music, dance, crafts and cultural celebrations in New Hampshire. The State Council on the Arts awards Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grants to help preserve traditional arts, many of them rooted in those traditions introduced during colonial times from Europe including ash basket making, blacksmithing, rug hooking and contra dance fiddling and dance calling. The State Arts Council’s NH Folklife website is an educational resource where teachers, students and visitors to the state can learn more about the traditional arts in New Hampshire. The Learning Center is full of information including things done first and best in New Hampshire, essays and interactive games. The site also has a Traditional Music Collection, a searchable database of independently produced recordings that are hard to find in stores. You can also learn about New Hampshire’s participation in the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C.

Each fall communities in New Hampshire celebrate their agricultural roots in a series of regional agricultural fairs. Some of the activities and demonstrations focus on the arts and crafts of domestic life including quilting, rug braiding and hooking and cooking.  During the summer, a number of farm stands around the state host music events and workshops that are both fun and educational. The Department of Agriculture, Markets and Foods publishes a variety of publications where you can learn more about these cultural activities.

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thomas coleInspiration & Creation- Artist Colonies & Retreats

The beauty of New Hampshire’s mountains and waterways has been a source of inspiration for artists for hundreds of years. Artist colonies, retreats and even a well-known school of painting are part of New Hampshire’s artistic legacy.

A View of the Notch Called the White Mountains, Thomas Cole
Photo courtesy National Gallery of Art

The White Mountain School of Painting got its start in the 1850s when a few artists sought to document what it meant to be American and to find the spiritual cathedrals of this new country in its forests. Benjamin Champney visited Conway, New Hampshire to paint en-plein-air in the 1850s and soon invited many artists to join him. During the 19th century, it is thought that over 400 artists came to New Hampshire to paint scenes ranging from the White Mountains in the North to the rugged 18 mile coast and off shore islands. Thomas Cole became one of the most famous painters of the era; his painting, A View of the Pass of the Notch Called the White Mountains, is widely thought of as one of the most important paintings to capture the spirit of the White Mountains.

The beauty of New Hampshire captured in paintings spurred tourism and the building of a number of grand resort hotels to accommodate summer visitors seeking relief from the congestion and heat of city summers. Most were located in the White Mountains but some, like the restored Wentworth by the Sea, are located at the seacoast. Many of the hotels sponsored an artist-in-residence to create lasting images of the splendor of the scenery for visitors to take home.

New Hampshire has also given rise to historic and influential artist colonies such as the Cornish Art Colony that included internationally renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and painter Maxfield Parrish. The Dublin Art Colony included artists such as Abbott Handerson Thayer. The McDowell Colony in Peterborough was established in 1906 and continues to be heralded internationally as one of the most prestigious artist colonies where many great works of art have emerged including the American classic play Our Town by Thorton Wilder. Poet Celia Thaxter  hosted gatherings for artists, wrote poems and created magnificent gardens at her family home on Appledore Island.

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Literary Arts in New Hampshire student performing in poetry out loud

New Hampshire has been both home and inspiration to a wide range of authors, poets, journalists and publishers. Writers and poets of national stature including Robert Frost, Horace Greeley, Sarah Josepha Hale, Louisa May Alcott, Celia Laighton Thaxter, H.A. Rey, Marie Harris, Maxine Kumin, Charles Simic, Donald Hall and Dan Brown – have spent formative time in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has a poet laureate program that helps to promote poetry and many notable poets have served the state over the years.

The New Hampshire Center for the Book and the New Hampshire State Library have compiled the New Hampshire Authors Database, which contains information on over 1200 authors and illustrators who have called the Granite State home.

Student participating in Poetry Out Loud
Photo by Lynn Martin Graton

 The NH State Library also offers listings of children’s book authors and illustrators from NH and those NH authors and illustrators who are available for community engagement presentations. New Hampshire is home to illustrators such as Tomie DePaola and Beth Krommes.

New Hampshire also boasts many high quality literary organizations and educational centers that nurture the literary arts. The Frost Place, the former home of poet Robert Frost, in Franconia, New Hampshire offers public tours as well as programs for poets. Other organizations that promote literature and poetry across the state include the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, The New Hampshire Writers’ Project, and The Monadnock Writers' Group.

The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts nurtures poetry in high school aged youth through the Poetry Out Loud program, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. The goal is to encourage the nation's youth to learn about their literary heritage through memorization, mastering public speaking skills, and building self-confidence.

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david lamb setteeA Legacy of Fine Crafts

The appreciation of handmade fine craftsmanship, highly skilled artisans and community come together in the many fine craft organizations and guilds across the Granite State. The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen is the oldest fine craft organization in the United States and has over 750 juried members. The League’s headquarters and main gallery is located in Concord and there are seven regional stores and educational sites across the state. The League presents an annual fair in August that attracts thousands of people devoted to filling their lives with handmade crafts.

Settee by David Lamb. Photo courtesy David Lamb

Artists and crafts people strengthen their networks and goals through other organizations and guilds including the New Hampshire Arts Association, the New Hampshire Professional Photographers Association, the Guild of New Hampshire Woodworkers, the New Hampshire Furniture Masters, the New England Blacksmiths, the White Mountain Woolen Magic Rug Hooking Guild, the New Hampshire Weavers Guild and countless other fine craft groups that meet regularly to share the joy of fine craftsmanship together.

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weathervane theatreSummer Theatre in New Hampshire

New Hampshire has a vibrant and varied live theatre scene, ranging from community productions involving schools and local residents, to professional Equity theaters that operate year round, to theatre companies that operate during the summer months when visitors to the state can enjoy hiking in the day time and a professional theatre experience in the evening.

Weathervane Theatre, Whitefield, NH
Photo courtesy Weathervane Theatre

The roots of theatre in New Hampshire go back to the 1900s when vaudeville and other traveling shows began touring the region. An influx of summer people brought interest in small community and family theatre productions that were often performed right in homes, barns, town halls, and even pastures. Founded in 1931, The Barnstormers Theatre is the oldest professional summer theatre in the country. The company originally consisted of young graduates from colleges in and around Boston who “barnstormed” from town to town. They permanently settled in Tamworth after World War II.

Both community and professional theatres in New Hampshire have formed associations. The NH Theatre Awards, a gala annual event is held to celebrate excellence in all aspects of drama, from writing, to acting, to set design. Learn more about the range of theatre venues across the state.

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concord community music schoolMusic that Bonds Community

New Hampshire is home to a variety of time-honored music and dance traditions, quality performance venues, and highly talented musicians. There is a long tradition of social dancing in the state and in the New England region. Some of the most popular dance forms are contras, squares, and barn dancing. Contra and Square dances trace their origins to the 17th century and the first European settlers in the area. Today dances are heldswing your partnerevery week throughout the state to suit a variety of interests and musical tastes.

Performance at Concord Community Music School
Photo courtesy CCMS

Many of NH’s dances are still held in old town halls and grange buildings and attract a mixture of old-time residents, new community members, and tourists. Community dances are traditionally accompanied by live music with the fiddle being a central instrument. Dances are led by a dance caller who adds his or her unique phrasing to dance prompts. Dance callers serve as dance teachers, choreographers, and historians preserving a host of anecdotes about the dance and its music. 

Couple swinging during contra dance
Photo by Lynn Martin Graton

There are also many fine community music schools across the state that offer lessons and promote music in a wide range of genres. These include the Concord Community Music School, the Manchester Community Music School, Mountain Top Music Center, and NH Independent School of Music. There are also performance venues of every size and atmosphere where you can hear and engage in almost any kind of music any night of the week. Visit the calendars of NHPR and for performance listings.

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 Public Support for the Arts – The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts

The State Arts Council was established in 1965 as the official state arts agency, one of 56 state and jurisdictional state arts agencies, and is a Division of the Department of Cultural Resources. New Hampshire’s public investment in the arts helps to ensure that the role of the arts in the life of our communities will continue to grow and play an ever more significant part in the welfare and educational experience of our citizens. The State Arts Council promotes and supports the efforts of New Hampshire artists, arts organizations, communities, and schools through grants, professional development opportunities, juried artists rosters, electronic and print publications, statewide research and more.

arts and culture in the granite state

Links to Explore:
New Hampshire State Council on the Arts
            About Us
            Program Services
National Endowment for the Arts
New Hampshire Arts Learning Network
NH Creative Communities Network
NH Folklife

  Last updated: October 10, 2016         

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