In 1974, when two potters from Pennsylvania moved onto Main Street, little did the residents of Bethel know that the work, home and gallery of Melody and Garret Bonnema would become a beacon of artistic energy and quality that would still be thriving today.
Each year, the Mahoosuc Arts council identifies local artists who have made and indelible mark of creativity in our region. This year the council is pleased to announce that the 26th annual Bethel Art Fair will be in honor of the Bonnemas.
Not only have the Bonnemas been a foundation of the arts in Bethel, they also have directly supported the council for many years. The Bonnemas became involved when a forum was held by the National Training Institute to evaluate community assets and needs. Out of this was born several initiatives, two of the most notable being the Mahoosuc Land Trust and the Mahoosuc Arts Council, according to Garret. After the council was formed, Garret put his mathematics training from Bates to good use, serving as the council’s treasurer for six years. Bonnema Pottery has also been proudly placing ads every year in the arts council’s Mountain Arts Guide.
Several types of Bonnema Pottery will be featured by the council over the next few months. The collectible Bethel Art Fair poster will feature a tile painting by Melody. The work of both potters will be featured in an exhibit at Owen Gallery at Gould Academy which will kick off with an opening reception July 3 and a day-long exhibit July 4 during the art fair. Finally, the 2015-16 edition of the Mountain Arts Guide will feature a panorama of one of Melody’s tiles folded over the cover as well as a biography feature on the inside.
Combining colors in endless variations is their trademark, with patterns created by pouring glazes in overlapping layers, reflecting the depths of the landscape. The distinctive Bonnema colors include the rich browns associated with stoneware and also many shades of white, pink, yellow, and green. They also use many blues that are suggestive of sky, water and distant mountains. They use stoneware and porcelain clays to make lamps, dinnerware, serving pieces, tiles, vases and garden accessories, and much more.
Their time off from working on pottery actually fuels their creativity more. Melody finds inspiration by furthering her art studies, as she studied at Pratt Institute, by taking and hosting life drawing/sculpting classes and en plein air classes. Garrett, an avid hiker, often returns with photos from the trail for Melody to draw and sculpt into pottery.
Forging a path through virtual reality with no internet sales, all are welcome to visit the rustic gallery and studio they spent years transforming from a 100 year old barn. Racks and racks of bisque pieces await the final glaze to be applied by the gentle hands of this couple and these pieces bring to life layers of glazes that define the look and style of their unique art.