Gallery in the Woods & Dante's Infurniture:
A Short History of Our Here and Now
We have always been people who are moved to try and experience every aspect of life and work as artful, and to try to live and work close to the simple and strong spirit of life. Occasionally we have glimpses.
I remember having a peak artfulness experience while volunteering at the nursery school where I mixed paints for my kid's class, and watched the Marlboro 3- to 4-year-old crew jam seriously on the palette of the day. I had another artful experience when one of the kids brought his work into the gallery at age 24. He is currently exhibiting.
Dante's first piece of furniture was made from some sticks of firewood that were stacked in the corner of the kitchen. The Baby was beginning to walk and needed a stool to reach the sink. When Dante was finished making the stool, I felt that he had made the most beautiful piece of furniture I had ever seen. No exquisite inlaid bench would have surpassed the artfulness of that crude stool . . . .
Dante kept playing with wood and became a furniture maker. I kept mixing colors and found a way to paint on pots. We became purveyors of our wares. We set up our booth at the Congregational Church Bazaar and the Brattleboro Farmer's Market. I felt like a kind of farmer there, with my crop of kids and pots. The kids began to sell the pots at the market. People gave the pots to each other as presents. People slept on the beds Dante made and ate at the tables. We became makers of artful things. The marketplace became Community Glue for us all.
We set up shop in Marlboro and I sold the seconds there, broken, damaged, defective, and just plain ugly pieces for bargain prices. I liked the seconds shop because it kept me connected to people during the heavy production time when I was seeing more gallery owners at trade shows and fewer of my actual customers. We were getting to know more artists and art forms. I began to cultivate an interest in how they arrived at what they were doing, and what motivated their work and even how they juggled work and kids. Our "community" experience expanded to include a broad band of people and places.
Taking trips to shows in the city afforded us time to wander in museums, garnering ideas for our work and checking in on the work of others. The Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe was an inspiration, like a giant altar to Folks. And it was fun! The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, with its magical and outrageous integration into the community, was a wonder. We frequently visited Eyes Gallery in Philly, whose artist/owner covered the storefront and graced rundown buildings with beautiful, reflective mosaic pictures. The guy just got carried away. Artfulness: a spilling over of art into life.
We found ourselves drawn to folk, tribal, and visionary work in addition to craft. I had pursued my college studies in Comparative Religions and Jungian Psychology. I since then developed a fascination for art from living artists that expresses the mystical experiences of a culture or an individual. We began a small collection of sacred and mystical craft and art of our own, made of objects and images inherently valuable only in the currency of inspiration. Through these images and objects, we began to feel connected to the spirits of the artists that created them. They were talking to us, educating us visually. Dante explored Egyptian lines in his furniture and learned how to carve intricate patterns with a simple knife. Inspired in particular by Peruvian Retablos, I began working a series of clay and wood altars and iconic paintings.
The altars and paintings were nothing like the pots. I was again a beginner at this one, and I decided to join Windham Art Gallery with the work. By exploring visionary artmaking on my own and with the community of artists, I began to appreciate the creative process anew, and to develop a sense of how the making of art and art events join people together with exuberance and feeling. Every month of the year, people were coming out to celebrate artfulness.
Dante continued to make furniture, one piece at a time, and I continued to make acres of pots, until an injury began to interfere with my work. Apparently, my body was ready for a new job, and so we gradually shrunk the pottery shop and replaced it by stages with Gallery in the Woods. The first few years of gathering work for the inventory was done by trading pots and furniture for the work of the artists we knew from shows, and included some visionary painting and sculpture. For the first six years in Marlboro, we shaped the identity of the gallery. But because we were on a dirt road, the snows virtually stopped the yearly business at Gallery in the Woods.
During one particularly bleak winter, when the stock market faltered and sales were poor, Leo Berman suggested opening a Christmas store in one of his buildings, at 143 Main Street, Brattleboro. We decided to open around mid-September, to see how the Fall went. Our opening day was a bit shrouded in the aftermath smoke of burning Towers on September 11. Shell-shocked New Yorkers were among our first customers at the new location. The Puppet Festival was scheduled to open at the same time, and Ostrich Puppeteers cavorted in a rather surreal manner in Donut Park, making children and the rest of us laugh. We didn't think we'd last past Christmas. People kept checking up on us over the winter to see if we were still there.
We were entirely uncertain that a World Visionary Art and Craft Gallery would work, as a business venture, but we knew people would respond and be touched somehow. The work was too profound and well executed to be hidden two miles down a dirt road all winter. At least, we reasoned, the work would be seen by more people, and we could feature artists by having openings that people would actually show up for. Many of the artists we were choosing were on the fringes of their genres. Many of the craftspeople were well known. Indigenous and second world artists were added to the mix, to create an overall experience of the commonality of our spiritual life on the planet.
As a creative pursuit, the constant rotation of art through the spaces has revealed itself as an artform of its own, sort of a cross between installation, theater, and quirky retailing. In addition, we can get really psyched when we sell something made by any of these good folks. Artwork enlightens and enlivens all who take it in, and we get to watch that happen. So far, so good.
Visit us at our new and expanded Gallery--THREE FLOORS OF ART!--at 145 Main Street. Preview us at www.galleryinthewoods.com.
Copyright 2004, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont