Life Lessons

AVA Gallery and Art Center  Exhibit April 27th through May 25th, 2018 

This exhibit is a tribute to those who have inspired and provided us guidance. Not on a large scale such as a celebrity or politician; but to those who have individually supported us on a deeply personal level.

Life lessons is a celebration of those who have shown us the way.


Check out my Artist Talk - about this exhibit - Broadcast on CATV and now posted on youtube: 


Nancy           oil on canvas 12x12

Nancy was a high school teacher, a director of musical theater—doing so with much love—and an incredible pianist. Nancy also provided a loving home for many stray cats throughout the years.

Most of all, Nancy’s home was a place for teenagers to find refuge. It was open to teenagers that were trying to find acceptance, needed to receive some words of encouragement and to truly be themselves away from social pressures.

Nancy, before losing her battle with cancer, provided a safe space before anyone knew what that was.

This is a tribute to the great person Nancy was, and who’s spirit lives on in all of those who have been touched by her. 


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Rita         12 x 16 oil on canvas

Mothers Day  Reflections 2015

How do I say goodbye to my mother?  She has been a constant, loving presence in my life since before I can remember. Until recently she was living a vital, engaged life, driving for all of her errands and active social life, winning at bridge with regularity, traveling to Vermont, and tending to her friendships with care and thoughtfulness. She was an amazing 91. But things change.

Following her hospitalization in December, I have been witness to her rapid decline, her increasing immobility, cognitive impairment and her dependency on full time care.  Wendy, the hospice nurse who has been so lovingly visiting mom, told me recently that we could expect her to be with us for “weeks to months.” I guess I should have been prepared for this, but it seemed sudden and so definitive.  I don’t want her to suffer, or to lead a difficult or joyless life. But it’s very hard to imagine my world without her.

Mom’s life story is probably similar to many women who were born in the 1920’s, experiencing the Great Depression while growing up and taking on roles before women’s liberation changed that landscape. Her German-Catholic parents instilled deep values of working hard, keeping busy, strong faith, and commitment to marriage and family.  Mom raised us five kids to be independent, good and responsible. Mom was creative and resourceful and someone who contributed very positively to her world.  But I believe she was also lonely and sad at times, despite her full life, and I think she underestimated her specialness and beauty and her positive impact on those around her. As her daughter, I wish that she could have experienced greater freedom to explore all of her potential, but I know she has found her life satisfying.

I have been so blessed to have my mother for such a long time and to experience the very satisfying growth in our relationship over the past dozen years.  As a child I modeled myself after her, trying so hard to be the good and dutiful daughter.  As a young adult I became critical of her shortcomings and limitations and pulled away to find  out who I might become outside of her influence.  For a long time I felt a vague sense of disappointment  as I wanted to be seen and loved for who I really was rather than the daughter I felt she expected. And then somehow we came together as I increasingly valued her as a whole person and was able to let go of my need for the perfect mother. She began to see and accept me for who I was becoming.  Our mother-daughter relationship has evolved into something cherished by both of us.

There is much I will miss when she dies.  Hearing her express her love and appreciation for me is a now part of my daily life, a constant that I know will become even more precious when it is no longer possible. How will I fill that time when I usually call her and will so miss that contact?  I’ll have few reasons to return to my home town and soon will never again visit my parents’ house, where so many memories are held. I’ll miss my mother’s positive attitude, her strength, her generosity, her faith, and her love of dancing. I will be motherless and I can’t imagine what that feels like. This period of my life is coming to an end, just has her life is in its final days.

I have witnessed many friends dealing with the grief and often complicated aftermath of their mother’s death. And I know those whose mother died when they were young and the huge void that has left in their lives. I have the luxury of time and the support to prepare myself for this loss. But what preparation? Can one really prepare for the death of their mother? Will I be okay without her?

Although I can’t know the future, her death is clearly approaching and I am greatly saddened by this reality.  I am sustained by so many special memories and am greatly comforted by my wonderfully supportive family and friends, many of whom have already faced this huge life change.  

I know that Mom is being well cared for, and although she may be weak and forgetful, and her abilities very diminished, her love is strong. I hope that her final days will be comfortable and at ease, with flowers blooming in her garden, which has always brought her great joy and surrounded by people who love her.  As she often says now, “my life has been so blessed,” and indeed it has. She tells me she is ready to let go and I am deeply grateful that she is at peace.  As she slips away I, too, feel the great blessing that her presence has been throughout in my life.



Ernie          oil on canvas 12 x 16

My grandfather, Ernie, only received a 6th grade education, but that didn’t hold him back.

During his lifetime he owned & ran four successful businesses. He was a collector of Indian & Harley-Davidson motorcycles, antique clocks, pocket watches & fobs. He was well known & loved in his community.

He passed away in 2004 at the age of 88, and to this date, people still share their memories & stories about him.




Posie            oil on panel 11 x 14

Her real name is Lydia. She’s been called “Posie” since she was a baby because people thought she looked like a cheery flower. True to her name as a glass half full kind of gal, Posie inspired her family to coin a new phrase: “pose-colored glasses.”

Posie is technically retired, but it’s hard to tell by looking at her calendar. Currently, she’s chairing three Boards—Crossroads Academy in Lyme, The Family Place in Norwich, and the Sterling Springs neighborhood in Hartford

Posie has always been committed to causes that focus on children and giving them the very best start possible. She spent her career advancing the mission of The Aloha Foundation in Fairlee, Vermont first as the director of Aloha Hive summer camp for girls for almost 20 years, then as director of development, and finally executive director from 1998 until 2005.

Always on the move, always giving, always there for others. We love you, Mom!


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Roger 1 - 16x20 oil on canvas                              Roger 2 - 13.5 x 18 oil on panel

I had the opportunity of spending time with Roger while sitting at a local wateringhole. We spoke for several hours. What struck me most from our conversation was, that despite much struggle and tragedy in Roger’s life, he continues to be positive, lighthearted and always inspirational. 


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Mookie oil/canv  14 x 18        Grace oil/canv 24 x 24      Champ oil/canv 20 x 20 

White River Animal Rescue

“We save dogs in need of urgent care from high kill situations.” 

Amy Knight, and her team at White River Animal Rescue, work tirelessly to provide homes for dogs that are facing imminent euthanasia. On average, they rescue 350+ dogs a year, and are the ‘go-to’ resource for animal rescue in New England.

WRAR has developed strong resources in the community. This allows them to rescue dogs regardless of their age, breed, or ease of placement in order to find them a good home. WRAR is creating opportunities for new chances at life in the 11th hour.

Simply put, we rescue dogs and puppies from high kill shelters. Our mission began in 2009 and, since then, we have rescued, rehabilitated and adopted out over 4,000 neglected and/or abandoned dogs.”  

92% of dogs they rescue have between 30 minutes and 24 hours to live. WRAR directors and staff do not accept salaries for their amazing work. They do what they do for the love of the dogs. 

Learn more about and help support WRAR at: .

The portraits of Mookie, Grace & Champ, are dogs that now live in loving homes BECAUSE of the incredible gift White River Animal Rescue provides. 



Keith          11 x 14 - oil on canvas

My husband, Keith, deserves recognition for his 30 years in the military, and 25 years as an oral surgeon here in the Upper Valley.

He has always been genuine, kind, giving and a real peace maker. He is very well respected in the dental community, and his patients appreciated his talents and generosity. 

He inspires me, and those around him, by his calm and unassuming manner. He is the peacemaker at meetings and during heated discussions.

His 100% dedication and professionalism during his two professions--dentistry and the military--were always awe inspiring. He despises gossip, and when he has something to say, it is worth listening to.


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Joanne 12 x 16 oil on canvas                              Maryanne 12 x 16 oil on canvas

Aunt Joanne and Maryanne have literally dedicated their lives to helping others.

They started their adulthood by entering the convent as Catholic nuns in Louisville, Kentucky in the late 50’s. They were also very active in the civil rights movement and committed themselves to helping under-privileged youths. 

Although leaving the convent in the late 70’s, Joanne & Maryanne have remained deeply spiritual and have an unwavering faith in God.

Their legacy includes generations of people who are inspired by their influence, and have become great individuals, as a result. They are great educators and healers of the mind, the body, and the spirit. 

As children aunt Joanne had all of us believing that she was the ‘flying nun’. I’ve never stopped believing and feel that aunt Joanne and Maryanne really do fly!

Having always, and continuing to do so, Joanne and Maryanne live their lives as angels on this earth.



Jane         9 x 12 oil on canvas

My mother, Jane, was my constant and my inspiration for 41 years.  I lost her 5 years ago, but she is still my inspiration in many aspects of life.  

 I think of how she owned her own business and strived to always make it the best. That inspires me to give my ‘all’ to things I do.

 When I am trying to recreate her recipes, I am inspired to try and make them as good as she did.

 I think of the love my mother had for her family and friends. That inspires me to always be there for my family, and friends, like she was. 

 I think of her sense of humor and love of life. That inspires me to always try and find the best in situations and to laugh.

 I think of everything my mother was to me and to so many people. That inspires me to always try and be my best. 




Dianna         11 x 14 oil on canvas

My sister Diana was diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer on September 5, 2013. She took her last breath on March 5th, 2015 after a double mastectomy, chemo, radiation--you name it.  She was positive to the very end. I miss that positivity!

As her husband Rob, of 30 years, said, “No matter what the situation was, Diana’s attitude was always ‘we can work with this, we can make this right, let’s fix it’.”

She always tackled life by ‘tackling the bull by the horns’ so to speak. This was the only thing in her life she could not fix even though she gave it her all. She was 50 years young leaving behind two adult sons and one granddaughter at the time. 

I miss her positive outlook on life, her can do, can be done approach to every challenge.





Maxwell     13 x 20 oil on panel

We picked up our beautiful Doberman puppy on October 18, 2016. It was a very exciting day for us. I was determined, from the very start, that I would train Maxwell to be an obedient and loving companion. He would be an ambassador for the Doberman breed. I began by taking Maxwell to the local nursing home and any other public places I was able to take him. I wanted to socialize him not only with people, but also other pets.

We began our journey.

Shortly after we began, the day after Thanksgiving, our son, Jonathan, lost his life in a car accident. My husband and I were devastated. To this day I don't know how we made it through this time of great sorrow and loss. Family and friends came to us and gave us great comfort and support. Maxwell, even as young as he was, knew something had happened to us. He seemed to sense our need for emotional support and kept up a constant vigil between my husband and me. He was relentless, not taking ‘no’ for an answer. He just kept giving. I believe our bond with Maxwell became so strong because we came through this time of grief together.

Shortly after Christmas I knew it was time to do something about Maxwell's training. I hired a wonderful trainer and she guided me, and Maxwell, through all of the steps of training. We went from Obedience to CGC, ACGC,  CGCU, Novice Trick, Intermediate Trick, Advanced Trick training., AKC Achiever Dog. All of this we accomplished by the age of thirteen months.

While we were doing this training, I had this overwhelming desire to help people with emotional needs, like me and my husband suffered, after the loss of our son. I saw how good Maxwell was with us and knew he could help other people like us.

I asked my trainer what we could do and she recommended a wonderful organization called Alliance of Therapy Dogs. We trained very hard, and on August 30, 2017, we received our certification as an Official Therapy Dog team. Although we have not been doing therapy for long, we have been many places together.

We bring love, kindness and emotional support wherever we go. We travel to nursing homes, schools, and any other place we are needed. Maxwell is an amazing partner to me and we love our work.

I'm proud to be officially certified with AKC Therapy Dog- ADT Therapy Dog - DPCA Therapy Dog.  



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Peter         12 x 16 oil on canvas

Peter is a resident of the Upper Valley. He has written 17 books and is a famed lawyer, engineer, and think-tank pundit.

From WikipediaPeter is a partner at the law firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel , an author, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is credited with articulating a conservative approach to environmentalism in his 2000 book, Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists,[1] and with coining the term Junk Science in 1991.[2]


Peter earned a law degree from Harvard University in 1982 and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Huber graduated number one in his class at Harvard while also working as a professor at MIT. He then clerked on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and on the U.S. Supreme Court for Sandra Day O'Connor.



Bente        16 x 20 oil on canvas

Like many people, I daydream about what winning the lottery would be like.  When I was asked to write the text for this portrait of my mother, Bente Torjusen West, former Executive Director of AVA Gallery and Art Center, what came to my mind, is that I truly won a lottery you cannot put a price upon lottery, simply by having her as a mother.

My mother loves numbers. She counts in Norwegian.  If you pick a date, she has an uncanny ability to tell you on which day of the week it falls. My mother’s first language is Norwegian, yet she cannot read an article in English without picking up grammatical errors that many Americans would overlook.  But this is not why I love her…

My mother is a brilliant art historian, creating programs for children at the Munch Museum and writing a gorgeous book on Edvard Munch.  She cared selflessly for my aging father for many years and supported him to live out his vision as an artist. She was at the helm of AVA for many years, and to put into words what she has done for this organization would take more space than I have been allotted.

What I love most about my mother though, is her ability to connect with human beings and to respect the human soul.  My mother has a great respect for people. She has an ability to connect with people, to make them feel heard, valued and respected.  This is something she does in her daily life, but in the past few weeks, I have seen this play out in a profound manner. Children, even adult ones, become annoyed with their parents.  I don’t want to make it seem like my mother is a saint. What I am trying to say her, it that my mother has a special skill, one that can’t be quantified or put into numbers, that makes them feel like they have won the lottery, just by having her in their lives…         

Anna B.T. West,

Eldest Daughter of Bente Torjusen West