When Corinne Dodge decided to do a visual arts interpretation of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” she had a specific spot in mind: a place on the Derry Rail Trail where the path splits, made glorious by fall’s yellow leaves. She went to the site and found what appeared to be a middle-aged man walking away from her.
“He was backlit, and had a jaunty walk,” Dodge recalled. She tried to replicate that springy walk and energy, but said, “he kept looking like an old man.” Dodge decided to go with that, and, she recalled, “the picture painted itself.”
Dodge and two artist colleagues, Judy Krassowski and Inge Seaboyer, will be exhibiting their “Road Not Taken” pieces and other art based on Frost’s poems throughout February at the Derry Public Library.
Dodge, an artist for “maybe 20 years,” and her friends first mounted their exhibit three years ago, after extensive remodeling of the first floor of the library. She was asked to do an exhibit of art inspired by Frost’s poems, and she invited Krassowski and Seaboyer to join her.
Some of the work had already been done, as they found paintings and drawings that reflected Frost’s themes. Some of it was new. They decided as a group to each do an interpretation of “The Road Not Taken,” and then choose individual poems that spoke to them.
They ended up with 28 pieces and a hit show. Since then they’ve been touring New Hampshire, “one library to another,” Dodge said. They were invited back to Derry this past summer.
Why was Frost a good subject? “So many people can interpret his poems in so many ways,” Dodge said. “Different people have different visual concepts.” For “Road Not Taken,” she, Seaboyer and Krassowski each had unique takes.
They brushed up on their Frost by talking to trustees at the Frost Farm in Derry, who had “tons of information.” The exhibit was also shown at the farm for several weeks, she said.
Frost lived at the Route 28 farm for the first decade of the 20th century.
One of Dodge’s favorite poems was “The Secret,” one of Frost’s less-prominent works. “When I read it, I knew immediately that I wanted to paint it,” she said. She wasn’t pleased with her first effort, and is redoing it now, she said.
It’s been a journey, Dodge said, adding, “We had no idea where this would take us.” Putting the text next to the paintings was a deliberate move, she said, because “different people see different things.”
Her interpretation of “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” was deeply personal. As she studied the poem, she kept “wanting to do it from the perspective of the driver of the wagon, and I wanted it to be a woman.” She took her inspiration from Muriel Church of Chester, who kept horses and had sleighrides at her farm before dying at nearly 100.
“I thought of her as I was doing this piece,” Dodge said. She wanted to do the picture in pen and ink, which is time-consuming, and she wanted to focus on the hands, which are hard to draw, she said. A friend advised her, “Put the hands in mittens!” and Dodge did, using her father’s old firemen’s mittens. She honored both Church and her own past.
And Dodge won’t attempt to change her “Road Not Taken.” It was supposed to be that way. “It’s more of what I realized I meant, the end as opposed to the beginning,” she said. “Toward the end, you start to look at life differently.”
Krassowski said of her work, “I look at things as a process. I like personal interpretations of work.” And she’s always looking for a chance to present a different point of view, she said.
Krassowski’s work is driven by the events of everyday life, she said. She welcomed the chance to interpret Frost’s poems, which are part of the American heritage.
The exhibit is a good mix of styles and techniques, Krassowski said, though she warned that it’s subject to change as the artists discover new poems and new ways of looking at Frost’s work and their own.
In her research, she was surprised to learn what a patriarchal society Frost lived in. “He just uprooted his family because he wanted to,” she explained.
She was also surprised to learn the deeper meanings of some of the work. “A lot of people read ‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening’ and they think it’s this cheery, sleighbell thing,” she said. “But his intent was more serious. It’s a somber, pensive piece.”
Her favorite piece so far is one based on a less-known poem, “Close the Window.” “I did a little watercolor,” she said. “We all do it, we go by a house and look at what’s inside.”
Krassowski has grown as an artist since doing the Frost series, she said. “It hit me as an illustrator, that not everything has to constantly be finished, be perfect,” she said. “And it won’t always be to the public’s liking.”
That’s all right with Krassowski, who said, “You have to be confident and happy with what you’ve produced. Be confident, put it out there.” She even interpreted a couple of Frost’s poems in the Japanese “Manga” style, she said.
Seaboyer said she thought the exhibit was “a great idea” when first approached by Dodge. She used some of her older pieces, which already expressed themes found in Frost’s work, and then created some new ones, including her “Road Not Taken.”
It was a learning experience for Seaboyer and her colleagues, she said. “In revisiting Frost’s poetry we found not only some old favorites, but ones we didn’t know,” she added.
“One, ‘Asking For Roses,’ was not even in my Frost anthology,” she said. She found it in an online data base, PoemFinder, and did a painting of an abandoned house in Weare. “A couple stumbles on a garden around an abandoned house,” she explained.
The project has spilled over into the rest of her art career, Seaboyer said. “A colleague contacted me, he’d always loved one of Frost’s poems, ‘The Beech,’ and commissioned me to do a painting based on it,” she said. “It may wind up in the exhibit.”
Seaboyer, a professional forester, often finds her fan base in the natural resources community. The library exhibit gives her a whole different audience, she said, with library patrons wandering over while the three women are setting up. “They may be finding Frost poems for the first time, or revisiting them,” Seaboyer said. “It’s a connection with art and literature.”
A program on Frost, “The Day that Made Robert Frost,” will be presented Monday, Feb. 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the library. Speakers are Town Historian Rick Holmes and local poet Robert Crawford. The program is free and open to the public.