NORTH TONAWANDA — If you accept the theories that art is everywhere and art is where you find it, then art is ready to be discovered in some unlikely places, like wine bottles, beer bottles — and Oliver Street in North Tonawanda.
Currently in transition at the Project 308 Gallery is a show of fanciful beer bottle labels created by artist Michelle Maggard, titled “Buffalo Bred and Brewed,” and one of wine bottle labels, “Thoughtful Fermentation,” by Kristy Carroll. These Buffalo State College students have taken over that small space in front of you, that brand-identifier on the bottle from which you’re pouring, and applied some art; watercolors in Carroll’s case.
Their work occupies that increasingly common spot where art meets advertising, with a nod to history and to the future. A century ago, Western New York had a thriving brewing industry and culture, with artistic ephemera — labels, coasters, saloon art — galore. That same part of the world is gearing up to be a player in the current century’s competitive wine industry.
An example is Carroll’s “Forbidden Seed” series, a row of empty bottles with striking cut fruit depicted on the labels, a tidy display of art graphic, fine and commercial in one easily appreciated location. The effect is reminiscent of the mid-century work of artist Donald Evans, whose work included tiny, hand-painted postage stamps for fictional countries.
“She defines the labels’ special interests,” Project 308 Gallery curator Natalie Brown said of Carroll.
Maggard’s labels were on display until Nov. 23. Carroll’s can be seen beginning today, for a week.
The gallery itself similarly offers something unusual yet familiar. It is a long and narrow storefront, formerly the secondhand store Ziggy’s Attic, on a relatively downtrodden section of Oliver Street. Near tattoo parlors, auto auction headquarters and corner convenience stores, and in a neighborhood once legendary for its working-class bar culture, an art gallery has been in place for more than a year.
Here is presented an exhibit of art discretely packaged for consumption, somehow symptomatic of modern times, yet exactly right for modern times. It somehow is not where you expect to find it, in a storefront on a block not known for its artwork; in a way it’s exactly where it should be.
In preparation for its bottle art exhibit, the place has been swept clear of its previous project, art classes for the ages 2-to-12 crowd. Little canvases, little sponges, pastel chalk, squishy things.
The impresario, Brown, 25, is a North Tonawanda resident and product of North Tonawanda High School, Niagara County Community College and Buffalo State College’s art history curriculum.
“In graduate school they recommend you be specific (in a course of study). I chose museum studies,” Brown said. Hence, an art gallery of her own.
“It’s the best feeling, putting on art events, allowing artists to be exposed to an audience. The audience can really experience an artist’s work here. Sometimes I spread myself thin, but the outcomes are so worth it,” Brown explained.
Brown’s work, and those of her featured artists, offers a glimpse into how to succeed, 21st century-style, in a cauldron of creativity and commerce, as competitive as sport or Wall Street. The artist can create on a canvas as small as the several square inches of a bottle label, and develop not just the picture but the entire label, down to the surgeon general’s warning and the five-cent-deposit details, if necessary. The outlet for display comes from the visionary who wants to run a gallery, so she creates a gallery instead of awaiting a chance opportunity to land a low-level curatorial job somewhere. There is just no stopping some people.
Project 308 Gallery keeps erratic hours, but will be open most evenings this week, as well as the morning and afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 7 for the Downtown Merchants Association of North Tonawanda’s “Webster Winter Walk.” Call 523-0068 for details.
IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Buffalo Brewed and Bred, beer label designs by Michelle Maggard" • WHEN: Through Wednesday • WHERE: Project 308 Gallery, 308 Oliver St., North Tonawanda • MORE INFORMATION: Call 523-0068. ••• • WHAT: "Thoughtful Fermentations, Wine Label Desgins by Kristy Carroll" • WHEN: Saturday through Dec. 9 • WHERE: Project 308 Gallery, 308 Oliver St., North Tonawanda • MORE INFORMATION: Call 523-0068.