Out & About: Creativity and humor key to senior center’s ‘bad art’ fundraiser 

A homestead that Gaal Crowl painted for Bugbee Senior Center's Bad Art Fundraiser. Crowl, a professional artist who paints under the last name Shephard, painted the homestead using her left hand to make it

A homestead that Gaal Crowl painted for Bugbee Senior Center's Bad Art Fundraiser. Crowl, a professional artist who paints under the last name Shephard, painted the homestead using her left hand to make it "bad art." (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center) Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center

A photograph of Bugbee Senior Center Director Mark Bradley that Bugbee administrator Alec Struver used to paint his portrait of Bradley for the senior center's Bad Art Fundraiser. (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center)

A photograph of Bugbee Senior Center Director Mark Bradley that Bugbee administrator Alec Struver used to paint his portrait of Bradley for the senior center's Bad Art Fundraiser. (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center) Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center

A portrait of Bugbee Senior Center Director Mark Bradley, painted by Bugbee administrator Alec Struver for the nonprofit organization's Bad Art Fundraiser. Gaal Crowl, a member of Bugbee's board of directors, commissioned the piece, which now hangs in her White River Junction studio. (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center)

A portrait of Bugbee Senior Center Director Mark Bradley, painted by Bugbee administrator Alec Struver for the nonprofit organization's Bad Art Fundraiser. Gaal Crowl, a member of Bugbee's board of directors, commissioned the piece, which now hangs in her White River Junction studio. (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center) —

A portrait of a girl named Anna that Eleanor Zue, a social worker at Bugbee Senior Center, painted as part of the organization's Bad Art Fundraiser. (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center)

A portrait of a girl named Anna that Eleanor Zue, a social worker at Bugbee Senior Center, painted as part of the organization's Bad Art Fundraiser. (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center) —

A portrait of a squirrel that Kathy Tracy, a member and volunteer at Bugbee Senior Center, painted as part of the organization's Bad Art Fundraiser. (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center)

A portrait of a squirrel that Kathy Tracy, a member and volunteer at Bugbee Senior Center, painted as part of the organization's Bad Art Fundraiser. (Courtesy Bugbee Senior Center) courtesy Bugbee Senior Center

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-26-2024 10:20 PM

Modified: 01-29-2024 8:13 PM


WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — On the wall of Gaal Crowl’s White River Junction art studio is a painting of Bugbee Senior Center director Mark Bradley.

“It makes me smile every time I see it,” Crowl said in a phone interview. While the portrait has Bradley’s distinct red hair and glasses, it also has “one arm looks like it’s stretched way beyond its limits.”

The ridiculousness displayed in the painting created by Bugbee administrator Alec Struver is intentional: It is part of the White River Junction-based nonprofit organization’s “Bugbee Bad Art Fundraiser” which pairs volunteer artists with people willing to pay $40 to have their loved one — animal, place or other — enshrined in acrylics.

Bugbee, which primarily serves older adults in Hartford, Norwich and Thetford, is seeking more volunteer painters to help with the commissions, as well as more commissions. The proceeds of the fundraiser will benefit the center’s programs, including congregate and home-delivered meals, in addition to exercise and other classes that take place at 262 N. Main St.

“Anyone in the community can submit a photo, and anyone in the community can be a painter,” said Susan Manley, Bugbee’s volunteer and activity coordinator.

The idea was inspired by a bad art fundraiser Manley heard about for an animal shelter in Berkeley, Calif. While that fundraiser focused on pet portraits, Bugbee’s is a bit more expansive.

“We have art classes here, and we always enjoy them,” Manley said. “We wanted something creative for our seniors to do that would be fun, wouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Around a dozen volunteers have painted around a dozen portraits since the fundraiser launched in December. Bugbee provides the supplies: a 10-by-10-inch canvas, acrylic paints and a pizza box to put the finished product inside. All painters also write a personal note to the recipient. The only requirements for volunteers are enthusiasm, some creativity and — perhaps the most important — a sense of humor.

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With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Bugbee staff are hoping to drum up more interest by pitching the portraits as gifts.

“It’s for any anniversary, birthday, any occasion you want to give a nontraditional gift that’s not just chocolates and flowers,” said Manley, who commissioned a portrait of her spouse.

Crowl, a professional artist who paints under the last name Shephard, also volunteered to complete a painting of a homestead. In order to make it “bad” she used her left hand. (Though if you ask Manley, Crowl’s “bad art” is pretty good.)

“Some people were skilled. Some of the bad art wasn’t as bad as it should have been,” said Crowl, who also serves on the Bugbee’s board of directors. “Some of it’s pretty stinky, but the whole thing is really clever.”

She said she’d be open to taking on more commissions.

“My left hand’s not doing anything,” Crowl said with a laugh.

Kathy Tracy, a member and volunteer at Bugbee, painted a portrait of a squirrel.

“I was actually quite nervous at first,” Tracy said. Once she brought the kit home and started, her nerves went away and a feeling of enjoyment took over.

“It kind of takes the pressure off that it has to be bad art, so if somebody is going to give it as a gift, they know it’s going to be for fun and to support the fundraiser,” she said.

Another goal of the fundraiser is to foster a greater community connection, particularly with those who might not be as familiar with Bugbee, Manley said. Eleanor Zue, a social worker at Bugbee, painted a portrait of a girl named Anna sitting on a swing.

“It was fun, and you really do sort of get into it. You feel connected to that kid and that swing,” Zue said. “Now I want to meet Anna.”

White River Junction is known for its artsy vibe and, from the Tip Top building to the Main Street Museum to the Center for Cartoon Studies to Long River Gallery and Gifts, there’s numerous spots to see art created by professional artists. Bugbee staff and volunteers hope to connect more with that culture — even if their art is a little bit different.

“I think it was a perfect blend,” Crowl said. “There’s plenty of good art in White River; there’s plenty of bad art at Bugbee.”

For more information about the fundraiser, to volunteer or to request a portrait, contact Manley at 802-295-9068 or susan@bugbeecenter.org. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.