Maps and Legends at Haskell Gardens: A Conversation with Steven Froias
Haskell Gardens, a New Bedford hidden gem, will serve as the backdrop for work from local artists starting this Friday. The show is called “Maps & Legends Two: If by sea…” and is curated by our very own Steven Froias. If you haven’t been to Haskell Gardens yet, it’s a peaceful six-acre oasis located off of Shawmut Ave. Founded over thirty years ago by horticultural legend and New Bedford resident Allen C. Haskell, the garden holds a unique space in New Bedford’s history, making it the perfect spot for a show called “Maps and Legends.”
We know Steven Froias best as our “Groundworker at Large.” True to his moniker, Steven is a man about town and he’s behind many great initiatives in our city. He created the New Bedford Bookfest, a bi-annual festival featuring local authors and publishers, and he did the logo design for Love the Ave, a movement to promote Acushnet Ave as an international marketplace. Steven is also an artist himself, and his vintage stenciled signs recall a sense of the past with a contemporary, playful twist.
Froias has a keen eye for all the little and unexpected things that make neighborhoods and cities great: from New Bedford’s hardware stores to its corner shops, from rising stars Tim Cole and Jeremiah Hernandez, to noticeable improvements in New Bedford’s architecture and street scene. Froias has elevated the Groundwork! blog to become a chronicle of New Bedford’s past, present, and future, celebrating the quirks, accomplishments, and successes of our city in real time, as the story unfolds.
So it makes sense that Froias’s own description of “Maps and Legends Two: If by sea” reads:
Maps & Legends refers both to the history of New Bedford and its sense of itself in the larger world. Viewers are invited to embark on a voyage of discovery that includes the artwork, the stories and this very special place, Haskell Public Gardens, a Trustees of Reservations property.
I asked Steven to answer a few questions about the upcoming show, his practice as an artist/writer/curator, and what makes him so curious about New Bedford. But before you dive into the questions, take note: Maps and Legends Two: If by sea opens on Friday, July 14th from 5-8PM. At 6PM, New Bedford residents will share their own legends as part of a storytelling hour emceed by Groundwork! member Shelley Cardoos.
What inspired you to curate shows at Haskell Gardens?
Well, first of all, it’s a beautiful space. Every cliche you can think of – enchanted garden, hidden gem, urban oasis – applies to Haskell Public Gardens. And, it’s in my neighborhood! Which leads me to another reason to get involved there…it was at a neighborhood Ward 3 meeting that I met the garden’s on-site horticulturist, Kristin McCullin. She came to a freezing winter meeting to introduce the park to people living around it and let them know it would be opening later that year in the fall.
Like you, Sarah, and your partner in co-working crime, Dena Haden, and so many of our friends and co-workers, it seemed here was another person offering New Bedford focus, energy and talent. As we’ve all experienced at Groundwork!, that sense of purpose and commitment from the people around you inspires you! Kristin encouraged area residents to get involved in the park, and I was thrilled to let the gears start turning in my mind as to what I could bring to this very special place.
In your words, the theme “Maps and Legends” refers to New Bedford’s own history and its sense of itself in the larger world. This theme resonates in the topics you write for the Groundwork blog, and also with your own artwork. What drives this curiosity for you as a writer, curator, and artist?
Hmm, I think it all comes back to Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been a fan of the great detective since I was a kid and like to think I bring that same sense of searching for answers to everything I do – whether it’s art or writing or organizing events. I like to dig deep to solve the case and bring to light what’s underneath. With the art, it’s providing a connection to the back-story. With the writing – especially with the posts I’m fortunate enough to get to write for the Groundwork! blog – it’s all about the here and now – and the future. Any city – but New Bedford in particular – is a puzzle of many pieces that constantly needs to be sorted through to solve. It’s an adventure!
Can you talk about the artists who will feature in this year’s show, and why you chose them to show work?
They’re amazing! Kelly Zélen and Zachary M. White are the stars of this show. I believe in seizing serendipity when it rears its head. After first discovering Kelly’s work for myself at Kilburn Mills Studios, and then asking her to appear in last year’s Maps & Legends, I kept hearing people say how impressed they were with her sculpture. Jeremiah Hernandez – who as we know is curating a huge show this week at Groundwork! – spoke about his respect for her work. I have great respect respect for his opinion, so was confident I was on the right track asking her to be one of the two featured artists for this year’s Maps & Legends.
As for Zachary M. White – here’s some more serendipity. As so often happens, though I had met Zach before, I only recently discovered that he’s a maps aficionado and artist. Naturally, I found this out at Groundwork!, which is why I call the place the Center of Gravity in New Bedford.
Zach had brought some of his prints to show TDI fellow Jim McKeag and Dena, and luckily I was there. When you mount a show called Maps & Legends, what more could you ask for than a prolific, talented young artists producing stylized…maps!
This year you are adding an element of live storytelling to the opening exhibition. What kinds of stories can we expect?
Well, as you noted above, I get to tell lots of stories on the Groundwork! blog. I do this by looking and listening everywhere throughout the city – the game’s always afoot and I’m always on the case! I thought it would be nice to let people hear it from the source – directly from some of the people who have caught my eyes and ears and provided me with material.
It’s also inspired by the Community Conversations Jacob Miller organized for AHA! New Bedford this past winter – and I’m happy to say Jacob has helped recruit some people to come to the opening and share their stories – their New Bedford Legends – with us all under the skies. Again, Jacob is one of those people who are passionate about doing new things in the city, and I’m always down with collaborating with someone like that.
What do you love most about living in New Bedford?
The fact that the story never ends. Too many people try to pigeonhole the city – and sometimes in very negative ways – but it constantly fights back. It’s a scrappy place and hold its own. It’s still evolving and actually writes its own story. You can try to place it into a context or wrap a narrative around it, but really, it’s a perpetual mystery that challenges you to always reevaluate the evidence and….start again. Catnip for a writer!
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