Artisan Paula Phillips checks out the water bird-inspired artwork of Hugh Verrier on Thursday in River Roads Artisans Gallery in Skowhegan. Verrier blends watercolor painting with sculpture. Phillips’ hand-knitted items are sold at the store. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

SKOWHEGAN — As fall foliage reaches its peak coloring across central Maine, a local art gallery has teamed up with the Somerset Woods Trustees to promote local artisans and to get more people out on the nearby trails.

The River Roads Artisans Gallery at 75 Water St. has a group of about 26 artisans that maintain their collection of handmade crafts for sale in the shop. Each artist lives within 50 miles of the gallery. Kathleen Perelka, a member artist, said the gallery is a true co-op and each artisan pitches in to keep the shop afloat, keeping the books, tending to customers, decorating the display window, and splitting rent and utilities.

The featured artist this month, Hugh Verrier, 89, of Eustis, creates birds and fish through a process he created himself using formed paper and watercolor.

During Craft Weekend last fall, Verrier demonstrated his craft at the Farmers Hall in Canaan. He’s been an artist for more than four decades and began creating art with wood and stone sculptures before shifting to watercolor paintings.

To create the birds, Verrier’s process involves cutting, boiling and forming 300-pound weight paper and then detailing the creations with watercolor paint. From there, he bends the paper into shape and lets it dry. When the sculpture is complete, it is reinforced with sculpture wire and put on to a mount.

“Our local community connection this month is Somerset Woods,” Perelka said. “We are trying to support all of the local nonprofits as much as we can.”

The water bird artwork of Hugh Verrier is on display Thursday with a painting at the River Roads Artisans Gallery in Skowhegan. Verrier, the gallery’s artist of the month, blends watercolor painting with sculpture. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“It all pulled together nicely,” Perelka said. “I’ve been friends with Hugh (Verrier) now for four or five years, and I just think his work is amazing. He’s 89 and he works every day on his art. We wanted to feature him because he’s one of a kind and does amazing work.”

The front window includes works by Verrier as well as birch trees harvested by artisan Alan Haley and maps of hiking trails that are maintained by Somerset Woods Trustees.

Perelka added that artisans have also donated some of their work to be raffled off, with the money raised to promote and help support local trails maintenance.

The gallery delayed its typical spring opening because of the pandemic back in May. By July, after some conversation between artisans, the decision was made to open slowly. Now, Perelka said, everyone continues to pitch in to help plan events to help bring customers in.

“People coming through are glad to see that we’re open,” Perelka said. “For me, it wasn’t so much about making huge sales, but looking alive downtown — that we look like we’re looking toward the future. I think it’s really important to provide people with hope.”

“Having some of our trail work and maps in the window will help us,” said Jack Gibson, president of Somerset Woods Trustees. “Somerset Woods sells itself if we can get people out on the trails. That has been such a success.”

The water bird-themed artwork of Hugh Verrier is on display Thursday at the River Roads Artisans Gallery in Skowhegan. Verrier, the gallery’s artist of the month, blends watercolor painting with sculpture. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Formed in 1927, the Somerset Woods Trustees protect lands throughout Somerset County that have significant natural or cultural resources and manage them in a sustainable way for the public to use. Some of their properties with trails include Coburn Woods, the Gorge Overlook and Debe River Walk and Weston Woods.

Gibson said the organization recently purchased additional acreage on Wesserunsett Stream through a no-interest loan. Fundraising has just begun for this project.

On Nov. 7, through the collaboration, Somerset Woods Trustees will be hosting a walk to the Gorge Overlook, beginning at the gallery at 11 a.m.

Verrier’s work will remain on display through Thanksgiving. The gallery is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“The reason we’re able to stay open is because we’re a true co-op gallery,” Perelka said. “We’re really fortunate that we have a lot of talented people here.”

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