Franklin Countys First News

A Main Street performance like no other


Singing the hymns along with the bells at Henderson Baptist Church will be Ariel Simpson-Johnson's way of introducing herself to the community on Friday at noon.

FARMINGTON - Those bells that play from the Henderson Baptist Church steeple everyday at noon and 5 p.m. will be accompanied by a new voice in town this Friday at noon. Or, if it's raining, Saturday at noon.

Singing the hymns along with the bells will be Ariel Simpson-Johnson's creative way of introducing herself to the community. The artist's performance, titled "Here's One Way to Say..." will not only include singing but interacting with pedestrians who happen to be strolling by the corner of Academy and Main streets from noon to about 12:30 p.m.

Simpson-Johnson moved from Boulder, Colorado, to Farmington last winter with her partner Christopher Lavery, after he was hired as the University of Maine at Farmington's new assistant professor of art. On arrival, she noticed things were a bit different in this New England hamlet than they are out west. Among the differences: the daily musical interlude on many Main Streets.

"We didn't have church bells like they do here," she said. "I was kind of enchanted by them." Asking around about the bell hymns, residents told her either they didn't notice the bells playing or they didn't think it was unusual. Her bell enchantment led her to Dan Woodward, the man behind the programed playlist that features four different songs that play each day from the tall white church steeple. With Woodward's collaborative help, Simpson-Johnson will know which hymns to sing when and how. The four songs are about about 20 minutes long.

"As a, 'from awayer,' I wondered how to talk about it and offer something," she said. Her artwork is usually of the painting and sculptural variety, and hasn't strayed into performance art until now. Viewers can expect a PA system set up along with a collection of things from her home to serve as a set on the church's stage of lawn.

She plans to sing and not talk to those passing by, but is hoping to collect signatures as way of silent introduction and will be a part of her performance, along with a few surprises.

"We'll just see what happens," she said smiling. Since arriving to Farmington and finding employment at the Homestead Bakery on Broadway, Simpson-Johnson said she loves the history, aesthetics and people who live here.

"The people here are impressive, so hard working. The winters are harsh but people just deal with it," she said. "I've met so many interesting people so far."

And, if things go according to her plans, she'll get to meet many more people during her Main Street performance.

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2 Responses »

  1. Ariel,

    I used to live on the corner of Middle and High street, and those bells drove me nuts! Many times I came close to setting up my drumset in my front lawn, and rocking a face melting drum solo...hoping that the police would come to sentence me with disturbing the peace. Then I would have made a huge scene about how the church was "above the law" for not being cited for disturbing the peace, and what about the separation of church and state, and so on. I'm sure it would have been fruitless.

    Anyway, good luck in your performance art piece. I wish I could hear it. I encourage all to go see it.

    -Nate Burns

  2. I LOVE the bells ringing at noon and at 5:00 p.m. It reminds me of my childhood where all the churches rang their bells. When Henderson Memorial started playing the hymns I was elated and was glad to see the tradition carried on. In a small town, such as Farmington, the bells mark the noon hour and lunch as well as the hour of leaving work to go home to family. The church is not above the law, Nathaniel, just providing a centuries-old tradition that you may not have been introduced to. The many visitors at my home have been thrilled to experience the bells while touring historic downtown Farmington. I'm sure Ariel will add to the ambience provided by the bells.

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