Mount Jasper signs reflect artist's heritage

BERLIN – Mount Jasper is a popular spot for many local residents who like to walk and hike on the quiet 1,000-foot mountain that offers stunning views of the city.
For local artist Michael Eastman, the property is historically and spiritually important because of its use as early as 9,000 years ago by the Paleo-Indians who mined the rhyolite there to make tools for cutting and scraping.
Archeologists believe rhyolite taken from Mount Jasper was used throughout northern New England and estimate as many as three million tools were produced from the stone.
Combining his love for the site and his heritage as an American Indian, Eastman has produced a series of interpretive signs for the property though his participation on the Mount Jasper subcommittee.
The signs are the finishing touches to a three-year effort to inventory the property and develop a long-term management plan for the city-owned parcel.
At the city council meeting Monday night, Jasper subcommittee chair Sally Manikian unveiled pictures of the new signs. She praised Eastman's work and said the signs will add much to the property.
"I just think they're beautiful," said Manikian.
Eastman said he grew up in a hunting family and always felt connected to the outdoors and woods. As a young man, he learned his ancestry included American Indian and he set out to learn about his culture. He has spent years learning American Indian history, language, and culture and absorbing it into his own lifestyle. And he worked to dispel myths about American history and culture.
He has done a lot of speaking and teaching on American Indian culture and language throughout the country. He has lectured at area schools and for a while hosted a summer workshop for youth at property he owns in Jefferson.
"What I really worked to do is put a human face to Indian people," he said.
He has also incorporated American Indian techniques and themes in his artwork. While much of his work is acrylic painting, he also worked and taught porcupine quillwork. He closed his Gorham studio last year because of health issues.
Several years ago, Eastman said he was walking into Jasper from Cates Hill when he discovered a huge swath had been cleared and private property signs had been posted.
He called Berlin Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme to express his concern and she told him the planning board had formed a subcommittee to inventory the property and develop a management plan. She invited him to the next meeting.
Now with the Appalachian Mountain Club, Manikian was working with Tri-County Community Action Program and the Mahoosuc Initiative when the subcommittee was formed in 2011. She had obtained a grant from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund and a private donor to do a natural resources inventory of the property.
Watershed to Wildlife Inc., of Whitefield was hired in 2012 to do the inventory. While the survey work was underway, Manikian worked with students in the N.H. JAG program and from the Enriched Learning Center to develop a walking trail network that includes a trail from the bottom and an easier route that goes in from Cates Hill. The subcommittee also worked with the White Mountain Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club to create a new parking lot on Cates Hill.
As the draft management plan was formed, the discussion turned to providing some interpretive signs. Manikian met with Eastman and he said she gave him free reign to make the drawings and copy for the signs. Andre Belanger of Studio Works in Berlin was hired to make the signs.
For Eastman, it became a labor of love. He said he quickly decided he wanted a map at the base of the mountain that showed the location of major American Indian tribes in New Hampshire and provided a sense how the Indians lived and their language. Three smaller signs would be placed at strategic points on the mountain.
"The early stages turned into an incredible amount of
research," Eastman said.
He said he triple sourced all the information on the signs because he wanted it as accurate as possible. He selected the most predominate spelling of Indian names and tried to phonically write out Indian names so people could get a sense of the language.
The drawings were done by hand in ink and acrylic paint on 100 percent rag paper. The border was done in birchbark quillwork. Eastman estimate he spent almost 400 hours on the project.
Belanger and Eastman brainstormed on the layout of the signs and Belanger did the electronic layout and placement of the copy using lettering selected by Eastman. Then the artwork and graphics were taken to Michael Godbout at Smith and Town Printers in Berlin and printed in multi-colored ink on an adhesive vinyl medium. Belanger put the vinyl medium on an aluminum-clad vinyl, which was then mounted on a high-grade plywood. The signs were then placed in a bronze finished aluminum frame.
The response to the signs has been dramatic.
"They are really, really beautiful illustrations. Michael did magic with the artwork," said Belanger.
City Councilor Lucie Remillard, who served on the subcommittee, said it was exciting to see the signs and the work that has been done.
"It's amazing it has come this far," she said.
Under the proposed management plan, the property will be designated mainly for non-motorized recreation although a snowmobile trail will be preserved. ATVs will continue to be barred from the property.
A section of the property is on the National Register of Historic Places and at the request of the state historic preservation office, rock mining and collection is prohibited.
The management plan also provides for Berlin High's future plans to build a bus garage and wood biomass plant on its property.
Mayor Paul Grenier said he initially had some concerns about not allowing ATV use on the property. But he said he has come to believe it is appropriate for the city to provide a place for quiet recreational use.
The council indicated its support for the management plan. Laflamme said she will make some final editing changes and submit the plan to the council for approval in the near future.
Remillard recognized Manikian for her work in spearheading the effort.
Manikian said she hopes to see a Mount Jasper Stewardship Council formed to get people engaged in the long-term oversight of the property. She said the site enhances what the community has to offer.
"It's a little piece of wilderness in the mist of this urban area," she said.