97 Manchester, NH: Helga

[Andrew Wyeth, Braids (A Helga Portrait)]

Bootleggers hung in the lobby, opposite the Currier Museum's admission desk. I asked the woman working there, whose name tag said "Helga," what she thought about it, having to stare at it all day.

"I started working here six years ago," she answered in a husky whisper, "and this is the first time that they have had art in the lobby." She shook her tired, pallid face with a put-upon demeanor, sighing, "I didn't sleep the first night after the curatorial staff hung it here. People are sort of taken aback that it's right there for them immediately.

"It's marvelous. Hopper is one of my favorite painters. You don't have to work hard to understand what he's after. The house in this is a Hitchcock house to me; and the people are very anonymous. I always think the water is moving, that the boat is actually moving.

"I have a fun little association with it," she giggled. "I was involved in the docent program and gave tours to schoolchildren, and I happened to mention that the title was Bootleggers. One of the little boys in the group didn't understand. He associated it with bootleg tapes."

"Do you think," I asked, "people in your community are as isolated as Hopper portrayed Americans?"

"I think isolation is a theme with everybody here. I'm from Canada, but I've been here since the '60s. I love both countries. But there is a much higher individualistic attitude here. I had much more a feeling of belonging up there. Down here, everyone is very challenging. Your egos are much more highly developed. In Canada, our reference was to England, not to a president or a government but to a homeland. Americans are quite different. Even though there's the same language, there's a different philosophy. You have isolated people for lots of different reasons.

"Hopper does capture the isolation, and I think that isolation has become more pronounced as we've gotten into the latter part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. But Hopper was from an era and a generation when people were involved. People are so spread out now. Families are separated by distances. There's so much information now. You can not be in the same pool. You're your own little pool. I think it's pretty awful."

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