He uses a camera. She uses oil paints. But Byron and Cynthia Niederhelman have a common interest: representing the Monadnock Region’s beauty and uniqueness and sharing it with others.
That’s the idea behind an exhibit at the Hancock Town Library pairing Byron’s photography with Cynthia’s paintings. It’s called “Close to Home” — the couple has lived in Hancock for more than 40 years.
“From a photographer’s point of view, I have an interest in the village and the Monadnock area,” Byron said. “Cynthia has the same interest, and we thought that it would make sense, since we have work representing this area, to share it in an exhibit.”
The exhibit, which opened September 4 and runs through October 12 in the library’s Daniels Room, alternates between paintings of Monadnock Region landscapes and photographs of nature and Hancock village.
Many of Byron’s photos show the Hancock Meetinghouse. The white Federal-style building, topped with an ornate steeple, was built in 1820. Byron said he’s drawn to it as “an important community gem that represents a lot of our early American history.”
His work captures it from various angles and in different seasons: framed by red and yellow leaves in fall, rising above a burst of lilacs, surrounded by snow, on the far side of Norway Pond.
Other photos capture scenes of village life — an Old Home Days parade, diners at Fiddleheads Cafe, children sledding behind the Meetinghouse — or moments in nature. In one close-up, a butterfly is poised on top of a flower, its wings sharp and vivid.
“I like to find the unique viewpoint which kind of captures people’s interest,” Byron said.
Cynthia compared his work to 19th century Impressionist painters who tried to capture slices of life. “He doesn’t look for the whole grand big scope,” she said, citing the butterfly photo as an example. “He picks up moments in time.”
Using loose brushstrokes and vivid color, Cynthia’s paintings capture the types of landscapes familiar to anyone who’s spent time hiking in the Monadnock Region: a river winding through a yellow-brown marsh in fall, a view of far-off hills on a perfect summer day, light playing off the snowy banks of a creek, Mount Monadnock rising above a forest of brilliant yellows and oranges.
“Composition for me is the biggest part,” she said. “It’s the balance, it’s the design. And when I can get that right, the rest of it seems to work.”
Cynthia said she paints most landscapes en plein air — outdoors, looking at the scene she’s putting to canvas.
“I find going out to paint, it’s right there and your first reactions to it are the best, and they’re the truest,” she said.
Many of her paintings have a pinkish or orangish cast, like the sky at sunrise or sunset. She paints on orange canvases, which suffuse the works with warmth, she said.
Retired educators, the Niederhelmans say they love Hancock for its uniqueness, scenery and easy access to outdoor recreation. “We’re willing to drive to go to Home Depot,” Cynthia said. “We’d rather have this in our backyard.”
She began drawing as a kid and studied art in college and grad school. She later taught art to high schoolers.
Byron developed his talents as a photographer while teaching biology and earth science, bringing in nature photos to help his students learn about subjects like the Contoocook River and Mount Monadnock.
This isn’t the first time the couple has shown their work jointly. Five years ago, their “Close to Shore” exhibit showed photos and paintings from coastal areas.
Both strive for “an artistic representation of something we’re interested in,” Byron said. “So she uses a different medium than I do, but we both are motivated by the same thing, and that’s an artistic representation of whatever it is.”
“Close to Home” is open during regular library hours: Monday and Wednesday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call ahead at 525-4411 to make sure there are no special events when you plan to visit.