Of Abandoned Mines and Kitchen Tables

With two New Hampshire projects, The Revolving Museum hopes to reinvent Ruggles Mine and kitchen table conversation.

Three years ago, Jerry Beck took a drive with his young daughter through New Hampshire and passed a sign for Ruggles Mine in Grafton. His daughter shrugged, but Beck convinced her to check it out. Armed with a pail and hammer for rock collecting, they emerged from a tunnel into the expansive cavern of the now-defunct mica mine. “We just thought this was the coolest place we had ever seen,” he says today.

Beck, who specializes in bringing art to unique and forgotten spaces, immediately envisioned a show there. Ruggles Mine has since closed and gone up for sale. In November, Beck got permission to stage an exhibition of musicians, sculpture, light and sound installations, video, poetry-readings and performances throughout the rock-framed environment.

He now hopes The Revolving Museum, the artistic-event organization he founded in 1984, will purchase the mine and turn it into a destination—an experimental and interactive theme park of visual creations woven together “so that your imagination is exploding wherever you look,” he says. To that end, he and TRM are planning another Ruggles Mine exhibition and fundraiser in late summer or fall.

But that’s not all Beck has planned for New Hampshire. He also has partnered with City Arts Nashua to help revitalize its downtown with public art. The “Comeback Kitchen Table” show will launch in May to call attention to the vanishing custom of families gathering for meals and conversation—“what used to be the heart and soul of family life,” Beck says.

Comeback Kitchen Table | Revolving Museum Director Jerry Beck and City Arts Nashua Board President Kathy Hersh

Comeback Kitchen Table | Revolving Museum Director Jerry Beck and City Arts Nashua Board President Kathy Hersh

More than 1,000 artists are working on 10 projects for the show. An alternative high school has created a Jean-Michel Basquiat-themed installation with an anti-drug message. “It will hopefully be a catalyst for people to explore the tables, sitting down, talking,” Beck says of the show.

The idea grew out of Beck’s nostalgia for his own family time spent around the kitchen table when he was a kid, laughing and telling stories. Today, trying to draw his 10-year-old daughter’s attention away from her digital screen is a challenge, he says.

An art major at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Beck spent a semester in London, charmed more by the punk rock scene than Renaissance painting. Back in Florida, he and some fellow art students launched a series of public art projects in empty buildings and other forsaken sites. They called themselves SARTists—Student Artists Reshaping Tallahassee.

In 1983, Beck started graduate school in Boston at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. He founded The Revolving Museum soon after with “The Little Train That Could .. Show” in an abandoned city rail yard. The old train cars were turned into gallery space and performance stages. On “hobo night,” homeless participants told stories. Another early TRM show took over an old Civil War fort on Georges Island in Boston harbor.

Each of Beck’s efforts seeks to connect communities with the creative work in their midst, a goal all the more relevant during this time of upheaval, he says. “We’re in a cultural revolution right now,” Beck says. “And the arts—as they always have—need to be at the forefront.”

The Revolving Museum – Jerry Beck, founder and artistic director
Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Ruggles Mine –  Grafton, New Hampshire

Comeback Kitchen Table exhibition in Nashua, New Hampshire

Top photo Ruggles Mine Show, Revolving Museum
Janet ReynoldsOf Abandoned Mines and Kitchen Tables

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