This month we are proud to present:
Shelburne Arts Co-op
People sometimes describe Shelburne Falls as a place where “nothing ever changes and something’s always changing!” What doesn’t change much is the ambiance of this small town that looks like it could be the 1950’s—(that’s why they make movies here!). What’s always changing is the number of interesting shops and galleries and restaurants that keep opening.
A similar description could be applied to the Shelburne Arts Co-op, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this August. What hasn’t changed in all these years is the gallery’s location—26 Bridge Street, and its commitment to displaying fine art and craft from local and regional artists. What’s always changing is the range and variety of work represented, as new members join, and long time members often explore new techniques, to provide a constantly fresh and exciting high quality visual feast.
Two of the founders of the Co-op, Marian Ives and Christine Conniff, are still active members, and were able to provide some recollections about how the Co-op began and what the early days were like. Inspired by a friend’s experience with co-ops in Cambridge, a friend of Marian’s suggested the idea of opening one here, but then decided it was too far for her to travel. So the idea was dropped for a while, but then re-surfaced when another friend expressed interest, and Christine, who lived in town, learned of the idea and felt that her retail experience could be an asset. They placed an ad in a local paper and received several responses, which inspired them to move forward with renting a space and meeting to determine what the form of the co-op would take.
Among the initial challenges were recruiting enough members to make the project viable, setting up a legal format and bylaws, and agreeing on standards for work that would be accepted. One of the early members, Julie Hall Rocke, who passed away several years ago, was instrumental in helping things move forward—she contributed some of her own money, worked many hours in the shop, recruited additional members, reminded them to pay their dues, and did many tasks having to do with setting up and maintaining the physical space, which had been a bookstore just previously. In an interview several years ago, she recalled those early days: ““We did our own electric... everything we did we learned something with the place. I remember taking the ceiling tiles out to paint them. There was the sound of kids running upstairs and then all of a sudden there was a huge thing of dust. You couldn't see anything! By the time you got down you were just black. It was so dirty behind the tiles. I was doing the bookkeeping for a while.. and I'm dyslexic for god's sake!”
Some of the artists who joined in those early days are still active members—painters Sandy Denis and Nancy Baker are among these. Nowadays the Co-op includes a total of 24 working members, and an almost equal number who are consignors. The range of work continues to expand, and now includes painting, printmaking, photography, collage, sculpture, mixed media, decorative and wearable fiber art, glass, ceramics, jewelry, wood, leather, basketry, paper, and metal. And some of the items in the gallery are truly unusual— where else would you find a needle felted river otter, a polymer clay slug, a necklace made of beads created from discarded books and magazines, a portrait of one’s pet reproduced on a glass panel, a giant grasshopper weathervane, a leather pocketbook made from recycled bike tires and gears, a felt crown to delight a small child, a set of bookends designed to look like a miniature Cotswold cottage?
Other things have changed too in recent years—there is track lighting, there is a Facebook page, the gallery has gift boxes for almost everything, and accepts all credit cards including American Express!
The longest wall in the gallery is devoted to special exhibits, which change monthly. Some are group shows built around a particular theme, and others are one or two person shows which give individual artists a chance to showcase their work. Recent shows have featured Nina Rossi’s mixed media sculpture, Marty Yaffee’s color photographs of Shelburne Falls, and a group exhibit entitled “Go With the Flow”, that celebrated the colors and moods of rivers, lakes, and the distinctive glacial potholes that many come to this town to view. The August exhibit—“Past, Present, and Future” will again be a group show that will include images from times past in the town as well as pieces representing the evolution of particular artists’ work, as well as whatever else the title inspires! And the reception on Saturday August 4, from 3 - 6 pm will feature demonstrations by several members working in media including felting, stained class, woodburning, paper bead making, and more.
What will the next years bring? Given the vitality of the Co-op and of Shelburne Falls in general—increasingly recognized as an arts destination that attracts tourists from near and far— one tends to assume that this lovely gallery will continue to flourish. In reality, its future may depend in part on the ability to attract new members, as current artists move, retire, or take time off for different reasons. But the “draw”of the Co-op, not only as a place for artists to sell their work but also because of the strong ties and the sense of supportive community among the members, suggests a bright future!
Codfish..Bas relief Copper sculpture by Marian Ives
Ancient Stones..Oil by Edith Bingham
Painted Box by Marie Sakelarian
Transcendence..Acrylic by Sandra Denis
Wendy's Happiness.. Photograph by Candace Silver
Lady Slippers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks..Watercolor by Julie Hall Rocke