Artists-in-residence spend summer in N.H. forest

CONCORD, N.H. — If a tree falls in the White Mountain National Forest this month, it could be seen and heard far ­beyond New Hampshire.

Artist Xavier Cortada and composer Juan Carlos Espinosa drove from Miami to New Hampshire last week to begin a monthlong artist-in-residence program based in the forest. The program, in its second year, is a collaboration between the forest and the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire.

‘‘It’s really about using art to help people understand the forest,’’ said Frumie Selchen, the alliance’s executive director.


Cortada and Espinosa plan to hike and camp in the forest, creating individual pieces and collaborations while working with forest scientists, trail crews, and the local community. They will introduce themselves to the public with a free talk Thursday night at the forest headquarters in ­Campton and will discuss and display their work July 28 at a gallery in Center Sandwich.

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The pair have worked together in the past, mostly on projects that highlight environmental concerns. While their plans may change as they ­explore, Espinosa said he will focus on using the forest’s landscape to create what he calls soundscapes, or compositions that start with recording ambient sound from nature.

‘‘I like to absorb as much of that sound as I can; that’s the first layer,’’ he said. “The second layer is my own impressions of that location, being someone new to a place and bringing fresh eyes.”

The third and final layer is how Espinosa manipulates the recordings using samplings or acoustic instruments. The ­result will be podcasts he will post online at

‘‘I want to map, with sound, my impressions of the place,’’ he said.


Cortada will create drawings and paintings that will be exhibited at the Center Sandwich gallery, as well as temporary installations in the forest that will be photographed and documented. One will focus on the effects of Tropical Storm Irene last summer and might involve using flags and other items to mark where the storm rerouted a riverbed.

‘‘What I hope the viewer will take away from this is how two artists see and hear this natural place, and hopefully change the way they see it, too,’’ he said. ‘‘If we do that alone, we have more than succeeded.’’

The artists also benefit, Espinosa said. He still uses material from a residency in Antarctica several years ago.

‘‘One of the incredible things for me is the ripple effect of a residency like this,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m still ­inspired by it, whether it’s a chamber symphony I wrote or other stuff I sketched or wrote there. . . . It keeps going.’’

The White Mountain ­National Forest artist-in-
residency program was started in 2011 as part of the celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the Weeks Act, which led to the creation of national forests in the Eastern United States. The law enabled the federal government to purchase heavily cut-over, fire-prone land and turn it into publicly owned national forests, and helped shape the nation’s atti­tude about land conservation. Today, the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest attracts millions of visitors a year.


Though best known as a recreation destination, the forest is also managed for other purposes, from sustainable logging and wildlife habitat to maintaining water quality for surrounding communities. Selchen said she hopes the residency program will highlight a less obvious function.

‘‘This notion of how the forest is also a place of contemplation and spiritual renewal, a place for self-expression; that’s the piece that artists-in-residence really have a chance to move people toward thinking about,’’ she said.

The first year was so successful that officials scheduled two sessions this summer.

In August, ­Cortada and Espinosa will be replaced by New Hampshire painter Brian Chu.