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July 29, 2021EFFINGHAM — In honor of the 75th anniversary of New Hampshire's conservation districts, Carroll County Conservation District is presenting a Conservation Legacy Award to an individual who has demonstrated a sustained commitment to the stewardship of natural resources in Carroll County. Nominations were accepted from January, 2021 through March, 2021. After a rigorous review and selection process, it is our privilege to offer Carroll County's Conservation Legacy Award to Blair Folts, an activist, artist, and outdoorswoman of Effingham.
During the worrying drought in the early Summer of 2021, I met with Folts to better understand her perspective of the path she has taken through life. The day we chose to convene was in the midst of a heatwave, for which the roiling, steely clouds behind Folt's Effingham farmhouse promised no relief. Warmly, she welcomed me onto her porch with tea and chocolate. From there, we observed the storm rolling in as monarch butterflies flitted through her milkweed patch. Over the pattering rain and sonorous murmurs of thunder, I learned what Folts believed had led her to being considered for the Legacy Award.
Blair Folts is best known as the Founder and former Executive Director of Green Mountain Conservation Group, "a community-based, charitable organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of natural resources in the Ossipee Watershed in central Carroll County." From 1997 to 2020, Folts led GMCG in its transformation from a small group of concerned citizens around Folts' kitchen table to a formidable force for conservation research, education, activism, and land protection. GMCG is now complete with a board of directors, donors, town representatives, staff, volunteers, and a service area that includes more than 10,000 residents of Carroll County. "Blair is very quick to give credit to the others who were involved in the formation of this organization," note her nominators, "but it is Blair who has been the spark plug and the glue that has been instrumental in the success of GMCG."
From Folts' memory, she has been an activist since childhood, and it is perhaps an unrelated series of events that gave her the tools needed to build Green Mountain Conservation Group into what it is today.
During her first year at University of Maine in Orono, Folts was assigned to the forestry dormitory. Studying Art and English, Folts told me that she looked at her roommate's hatchet hanging on the wall and thought, "Is this really the place for me?"
Despite her initial trepidation, Folts now credits her connections with the School of Forestry for much of her success as an activist. Existing in this liminal space between the humanities and sciences, Folts continued to expand her practice in reaching across disciplinary and political divides.
"Natural resources don't know political boundaries," she said, explaining the necessity of collaborating across the aisle. This is also in line with Folts' belief in community-driven change, and is one of the reasons that GMCG incorporates representatives from each town within its service area into its leadership team.
Following this philosophy of non-partisanship, transparency, and focus on the footprint of the Ossipee Watershed as opposed to human-imposed town borders, Folts was able to truly make conservation -not politics- the focal point of her activism.
As for her art, Folts has studied Art and English at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England and earned a diploma from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1985. According to her mission statement, her work attempts to "convey the peacefulness and strength found in nature through painting, printmaking, installation, photography, performance and writing." An avid rock -and ice- climber, Folts translated her intimate relationship with nature into experiential pieces, with subjects such as the inside of a snow storm or the top of an ice floe. Within her art, as within her advocacy, Folts seeks to be educational, powerful, and purposeful.
"My art is a message," she explains, "it can't just be hedonism."
Currently, Folts is working primarily with lithography.
"It's layered," she informs me, "like conservation- the prints inform each other."
One of her projects features photos of land in present day, incorporated with original deeds and pictures of people who initially lived there. It displays the processes of conservation or degradation.
Folts' work has been showcased in dozens of exhibitions, publications, and collections, but she specifically notes her ongoing relationship with Peregrine Press in Portland, Maine.
"The studio where I work is 100 percent non-toxic," Folts says, when I ask about the sometimes conflicted relationship between the means of making art and protecting the environment. "We use soy-based ink and clean our brushes with olive oil… the artists demanded it."
She also mentions her inclusion in Gods in Granite: The Art of the White Mountains of New Hampshire by Robert McGrath, a well-respected former professor of Art History at Dartmouth College. In it, Folts' landscape paintings are showcased alongside renowned artists.
Notwithstanding her numerous and impressive aforementioned achievements, perhaps one of Folt's most admirable traits is her tireless belief in humanity's ability to come together and make positive change. As affirmed by her nominators, "the word no is not in her vocabulary."
Towards the end of our interview, Folts recalled to me a visit from the Appalachian Mountain Club several decades ago. They came to discuss acid rain. It was one of the foremost environmental issues of the day.
"It's been solved," Folts tells me. "Climate change could be solved, too."
This is the hope she has for upcoming generations. I have hope, too, if we could all be a bit more like Blair Folts.
About Carroll County Conservation District
The Carroll County Conservation District serves the residents of Carroll County, New Hampshire by working to protect and improve our local agriculture, natural resources, and scenic beauty.
Since 1946, the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts (NHACD), has provided statewide coordination, representation, and leadership for Conservation Districts to conserve, protect, and promote responsible use of New Hampshire's natural resources. NHACD works collaboratively with county districts, federal, state, and local agencies, nonprofits, and other conservationists as a volunteer, tax-exempt, nonprofit organization.