New Hampshire is already small, but for artist Sue Anne Bottomley, everyone's practically a neighbor.
Or they are since the New London woman spent the last two years visiting each town with the goal of drawing pictures of all of them. Bottomley has produced a blog called Colorful Journey where she displays her drawings and tells each town's tales.
Bouncing beside her grandpa down rutted dirt roads in his old Chevy pickup truck, a 5-year-old, Sue Anne Bottomley discovered New Hampshire.
“ My father and grandfather knew where we were going and how to get there but as a child, but I didn't. So, it was always an adventure to see what was around that corner."
The lure of those open country roads and sense of grand adventure, born in that truck more than 60 years ago, never left Bottomley. Instead, she turned her wanderlust into the Draw New Hampshire project, the goal of which was to draw each of the state's 234 towns.
When she visited Newington, she drew the town’s library. And that’s where she met the library’s director, Scott Campbell.
“It was art for art's sake, it was for her own personal edification. She was going around to each town, capturing a little snapshot. And I thought that was really cool."
Bottomley says she’s someone who has always had an artist’s approach to life.
She went on to get a degree in fine art and then lived with her family in England, California and Baltimore. In 2009, a year after she moved back to New Hampshire, her husband helped her set up a blog where each month she could share her travels or anything else she fancied. She started including drawings of trips abroad and visits to family. She was drawing her life, she says. And after awhile she started drawing New Hampshire.
“I love to look at maps and one day I pulled out the ones of towns in New Hampshire and realized I had 19. And I thought well, why not just keep going."
She figured she could do 10 places and drawings a month, no matter the weather, and it would take two years. Each month, she wrote on the calendar "draw 10," to keep herself motivated and in her off hours, she studied maps, looking for connections and easy passage from one place to another.
Once in a place, she kept the drawings small in scale, using only 6 x 8 pieces of paper.
It was amazing how many places along the way had held history for her. Ashland: the site of her father's first teaching job. New Hampton: the place her father in law went to prep school. Alton: the place where her husband used to run a store.
“I mean you can snap a photograph as much as I love photography and not really remember where you took it or anything about it. But if you're drawing it, not only can you remember everything, like the weather and what you ate for lunch and anything else that was going on in your life, but you can always focus in on the details you like best and leave out or minimize the one's you don’t care for as much."
On Nov. 17, she visited her last place: the Salmon Falls Mills in Rollinsford. It was a gloriously sunny day and she was lucky enough to finds a bench to sit on. Her family came to celebrate the last site with her.
“I just went into pure enjoyment, drawing the shadows, drawing the sun. There were things I just had to fit in there. I drew the river, the mill was based on mountain water power, I had to draw the bridge from Maine, because a lot of the workers came from Maine. I like to tell a story. "
As if by serendipity, at the very end a train went across. She got that, too.