Molly Fletcher is committed to sharing her love of art with the Monadnock Region in more ways than one.
Fletcher, 37, grew up in Webster and graduated from Keene State College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and from the University of Delaware with a Master of Fine Arts. She returned to her alma mater in Keene in 2010 to get her feet wet in teaching, and began teaching painting and drawing.
She now teaches a mural painting class and 2D design classes at Keene State.
This career led her to begin teaching art to younger students, and in 2014 she started at St. Joseph Regional School, a Catholic elementary school affiliated with Keene-based Parish of the Holy Spirit, which has students from preschool to 8th grade. She expanded her work to the parish's high school, Our Lady of Mercy Academy, which opened in 2020. “I have every age group right now," Fletcher said. “It's interesting to go from one extreme to the next — preschool in the morning and then college at night.”
Michelle Smith, a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Joseph, was one of the people who nominated Fletcher for a Ewing Arts Award in two-dimensional arts. Smith wrote in her nomination that Fletcher "is passionate about her community in the Monadnock Region, and works to use her creative skills to uplift the arts scene around here.”
She may not have grown up in the region, but Fletcher, who now lives in Keene, said that after taking some cross-country trips, she felt drawn to the area and wanted to make this a place she could call home. “I feel like if you’re not from Keene, at some point you're going to want to make this place feel like it’s your home. You want to be — for lack of a better word — a townie. You take pride in the fact that you want to be here,” she said.
But she found Keene was lacking in public artwork. “If this is where I want to stay, I want to live in a place that has public art,” she said. “It just feels like you're supported by the community when the community gives you the OK to put work up that everyone can look at. I wanted more subversive work that is available to everybody.”
Fletcher has made it her mission to bring public art to the community in a multitude of ways, not only through her teaching, but also through her own work, and developing ways to get the community involved in art as well.
She designed the community mural that area residents were able to paint together in pieces during the three-day Walldogs festival in Keene in 2019. “Sort of like a paint by number,” she said. “This mural should last more than 25 years. It’s so cool to have a legacy like that.”
She is also the coordinator for the 2022 Keene ArtWalk, in which local artists' work is displayed in storefronts downtown. “It's definitely the most community-based thing that I have been working on. It's really rewarding, but a really, really hard job. You have to know a little bit of everything and there's some stuff I have never touched before in my life.”
But Fletcher has been enjoying the learning curve and looks forward to continuing it next year. “I love working with the artists and the businesses and the really generous people who have been helping us make this event a reality.”
When it comes to her own art, a big New England vibe runs through her work. “I completed an artist residency at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vt., and that sort of sparked the use of the plaid in my paintings. That’s where The Vermont Flannel Company is. That may be where I gained an interest in using New England as a major focus of my paintings, and many of the common tropes I use are sort of derived from my month-long stay there,” she said.
Some of her paintings are tongue-in-cheek, referencing Norman Rockwell, but going darker.
“I always felt like New Englanders thrive on a dark sense of humor, out of necessity. I don't feel like New England is always that picturesque, quaint, cobblestone-everything place. There’s also some kind of weird things that happen, like you could think of probably five houses that you know of that have just a whole yard full of broken-down cars,” she said. “There's some quirkiness for people that live here. It's an attribute that everyone has in order to survive because it's pretty brutal weather-wise.
“I think basically what started this kind of artwork was when I moved back here I had this grad-school brain of how to make work about where I am living. You paint what you know, but you also want to think about where you are and how that is influencing your work," Fletcher said. "I looked around and thought about how everyone paints Mount Monadnock and I thought, ‘there has to be something else that defines why we live here.’ I don't think it's the mountain, I think it has more to do with the personalities and the local characters. Figurative work is always a big part of it. It's more about people than anything else.”
Though Fletcher is proud of her many accomplishments, including winning a Trendsetter Award from The Business Journal of Greater Keene, Brattleboro and Peterborough last year and creating the Walldogs community mural, she said the most rewarding and satisfying part about her work has been being a teacher. “I get that satisfaction a lot just from little things that kids do, like write you a note about how great you are. Of course, you know, the gym teacher, music teacher and art teacher always get celebrity status at school.”