Surry artists celebrated at landmark building

SURRY — When the doors opened at 4 p.m. on July 31, the public strolled in, admiring the hanging baskets, bouquets of freshly picked flowers and sampling light, homemade refreshments, while they soaked up the wealth of local artists’ diverse works adorning the walls of Rural Hall. The sound of live Celtic music drifted quietly in the airy space of the 151-year old building on Route 172.

The occasion was the “Still Upstanding!” Art Exhibit & Sale,” sponsored by the town’s Surry Celebrates Maine 200 Committee headed by Marie Merkel. The event, celebrating 10 local artists, was meant to have been held last year, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibit and reception were funded in part by a grant from the Maine Bicentennial Commission.

Surry’s 151-year old Rural Hall was decorated with freshly picked flowers and live Celtic music drfited through the air during the the “Still Upstanding!” Art Exhibit & Sale,” sponsored by the town’s Surry Celebrates Maine 200 Committee headed by Marie Merkel. ELSLWORTH AMERICAN PHOTOS BY NINA AJEMIAN

The use of Rural Hall as the venue was central to the art show’s theme, “Still Upstanding.” Constructed in 1871, the building is among eight historic structures still standing and their long lives are a source of pride. The Old Town Hall and the Old Surry Village School are among them.

“So much is being taken down because it may collapse, or it may this or that … but these are just symbols of something that is continuing,” said Margret Baldwin, the show’s curator.

A longtime Surry resident, Baldwin is an artist and owns Little Gallery in Surry.

“It looks like not much from the outside, you know — so plain,” she said. “And the inside you just have this feeling of community in there, you know. Just the space itself lends itself to that.”

The show featured Baldwin, William Beardsley, Deb Belyea, Brenda Bennett, Cheryl Coffin, Steve Collier, Jodi Edwards, Pamela Elias, Christina Evans and Marc Swartzbaugh. Their artwork, which included oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, was inspired by the town’s history, landscapes and architecture. Rural Hall, Village Cemetery, Old Surry Schoolhouse, Camp 50 and Pugnuts ice cream shop were among the subjects. All proceeds went to the artists.

Brenda Bennett’s charming painting was among ten Surry artists’ works at the “Still Upstanding!” Art Exhibit & Sale.”

Baldwin said the artists were “very happy to be involved and to have Surry kind of be recognized and be not just a drive-through, but actually be a happening place for art.”

Over the years, Rural Hall has been home to many celebrations from quilt and flower shows to dances and Thanksgiving dinners. Last year was the hall’s 150th anniversary. The hope is to celebrate the milestone later this year. A few organizations currently use the space including the Surry Garden Club, which was founded in 1937.

The artists’ reception also was a social occasion for year-round and seasonal residents to catch up and share memories of past events in the landmark building. The Celtic duo Rich and Luki Hewitt performed on penny whistle and guitar.

“The room was just buzzing.” Merkel remarked. She also is co-president of the Surry Garden Club and a board member of the Rural Hall Association. “When you go in and you look at old timbers and the workmanship, the corners, the beams … you know that there’s generations of people who have done things under those roofs.”

The Rural Hall is located at 680 Surry Road on Route 172. For more information, visit Surry Celebrates Maine 200 on Facebook or call 667-8328 or 460-1959.

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