Art Escapes: Four Galleries Worth the Trip

September/October 2019: Volume 40, Issue 5 

Art Escapes

Four Galleries Worth the Trip

By: Debbie Kane

Fall may be the best time to enjoy New England’s spectacular landscapes, both natural and creative. Whether escaping to the beaches of Cape Cod, exploring the shores of Downeast Maine or enjoying the rural splendor of northwest Connecticut and central Vermont, there are numerous galleries throughout the five-state region worth discovering. Here are four galleries that are must-see destinations:

Five Points Center for the Visual Arts
Torrington, CT

Named for its corner location in downtown Torrington, Five Points Center for the Visual Arts is the cultural center of this northwest Connecticut city. Established as the Five Points Gallery in 2012, it attracts visitors from across Connecticut and the U.S. Painter Judith McElhone was one of the first artists to move into the original studio space. Now executive director of Five Points, she attributes its popularity, in part, to its location as well as the quality of the contemporary art created and exhibited there. “Our gallery looks like something you would see in New York City’s Chelsea,” she says. Five Points recently featured shows by painter/printmaker Robert Dente and metal sculptures by Bradford McDougall and, this fall, features 35 artists from around the world in Freed Formats: The Book Reconsidered.

Susan Clinard, Waiting Room 3, 2019, part of her solo exhibition, Inside Out, in the East Gallery at Five Points Center for the Visual Arts. August 15–September 14, 2019. Courtesy of Five Points Center for the Visual Arts.

Five Points has never been “just” a gallery; its mission includes art education. A strategic partnership with the University of Hartford and Hartford Art School helped establish the Launchpad Initiative, an incubator for emerging young artists that includes showing their work in a community pop-up gallery called the Five Points Annex. The organization is also acquiring the University of Connecticut’s Torrington campus; the plan is to create a 90-acre art park and community art center. “It’ll be a think tank for emerging artists to come together and share ideas about art of the 22nd century—art we’ve not yet imagined,” says McElhone.

Gaa Gallery
Wellfleet and Provincetown, MA

When Bettina Rosarius, a longtime art collector who divides her time between Wellfleet, New York and Cologne, Germany decided to open a gallery on Cape Cod she wanted a challenging art program. The result is Gaa Gallery, with locations in Wellfleet and Provincetown. Nearly all of the gallery’s artists travel to the Cape for their openings, and in doing so forge new connections with the region and its landscape, according to Kirsten Andersen, Gaa Gallery media and communications associate.

Both locations are easily accessible by foot. The airy two-floor Wellfleet gallery, with its exposed ceiling beams and wooden plank floors, has featured works by contemporary art greats such as German conceptual artist Hanne Darboven, American street photographer Garry Winogrand and painter/sculptor Jim Dine; a recent exhibition, House Becomes You, showcased the sculptural collage and video work of Dani Leventhal Restack and Sheilah Wilson Restack. “We want to curate challenging shows,” says Andersen. “We like to think of our gallery as a destination when the New York City gallery season slows down.” Through September 21, the gallery is showing zeit-geist-zeit, a group exhibition featuring emerging artists such as Arghavan Khosravi and established artists such as Judy Pfaff.

Judy Pfaff, × × × ÷ ÷ ÷ + + + , Installation at Gaa Gallery in Wellfleet, MA, 2018. Courtesy of Gaa Gallery.

Gallery Wellfleet attracts the culturally curious and is a space for innovative contemporary art. It’s the questions visitors ask, and the conversations that result, that especially appeal to Andersen. “We have enthusiastic visitors who articulate how they love a painting or want to discuss post-minimalism,” says Andersen. “We’re so lucky to be in these communities.”

BigTown Gallery
Rochester, VT

The pretty town of Rochester, population 1,700, has a thriving cultural community, thanks, in large part, to BigTown Gallery and its owner/ gallery director Anni Mackay. Originally from Britain, Mackay opened BigTown in 2003, after relocating to Vermont from New York City. “There were a lot of things I liked about Vermont, including the beautiful environment and interesting people,” Mackay says.

But she sensed something was lacking. Recognizing a need for stimulating arts programming, Mackay developed art classes for elderly residents, branched into community development work and then purchased and renovated the building that became BigTown Gallery. “Everything that’s happened since then has been a progression of what works,” Mackay says. She represents an impressive list of artists from around Vermont and beyond, including Varujan Boghosian, Lucy Mink and Erik Baier. In an upcoming exhibition, Mackay showcases outsider artists such as Canadian Jordan MacLachlan, whose clay figurines demonstrate a symbiotic relationship with the animal world, and the late Morton Bartlett, who created and photographed ceramic dolls.

Under the umbrella of BigTown Projects, a nonprofit that’s separate from the gallery, Mackay produces literary and performing arts programs, including a summer reading series and live music. “Having a gallery in this tiny community communicates that all is well here,” she says.

Jordan MacLachlan, detail from Unexpected Subway Living, on view at BigTown Gallery this fall. Courtesy of BigTown Gallery.

Littlefield Gallery
Winter Harbor, Maine

How often do gallery owners invite visitors into their home to see the collection?

Kelly and Jane Littlefield, owners of Littlefield Gallery, do it daily—their home, an 1891 New Englander and an adjoining 750-foot exhibition space, is the gallery. Visitors drop by to see the art that’s hanging on the first two floors. “People come wandering through the kitchen or sit at the dining room table,” Kelly says. “They come as visitors, perhaps become clients, then become friends.”

The Littlefields, former schoolteachers who retired to Winter Harbor, started collecting art more than 30 years ago. Neither has a formal art background but the high-quality works they show and the artists they represent are widely recognized. “We just bought what we liked,” Kelly says. “We had no idea what we were doing when we opened the gallery in 2008. We wanted to be part of the community, so we designed the gallery as a destination.” The Littlefields feature works by a number of contemporary Maine artists, including painters Amy Bernhardt, Terry Hilt and James Linnehan. The couple’s true passion, however, is sculpture, which is found in the yard as well as inside their home and includes pieces by Don Best, Hugh Lawson, Mark Harrington and Dan Miller.

With every exhibition, the Littlefields host an opening (often attracting between 100 and 200 people) as well as a dinner for the artists, inviting locals, visitors and others for food and conversation. Recently, they endowed a sculptorin- residence program at the University of Maine. And they continue to attract more visitors each year.

Hugh Lassen, Totem, Virginia Mist granite on a granite base, 40 x 42 x 14″. Courtesy of Littlefield Gallery.

Debbie Kane, a frequent contributor to Art New England, is a writer and editor living on the New Hampshire Seacoast. Her work appears in New Hampshire Home, New Hampshire Magazine, and AIA-NH Forum as well as in regional college and private school alumni magazines and blogs.