By Jill Keppeler firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — When Partners in Art Gallery closed this past fall, it left a hole of sorts on North Tonawanda’s Webster Street — not a physical one as much as a lack of opportunities for local artists to display and showcase their work in a gallery setting on the street.
That’s a lack that River Art Gallery and Gifts is doing its best to remedy.
The gallery will host its first member’s exhibition starting today at 83 Webster St., North Tonawanda, beginning with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. The exhibit, which features the work of about a dozen artists in various media, runs through Feb. 15.
Cindi O’Mara, the gallery’s new exhibition director, said the site is going for more of a gallery feel, as well as offering artists the opportunity to become members for an assortment of benefits, including participation in yearly members’, Canal Fest and Winter Walk shows.
“It’s really exciting, just to have another gallery,” she said. “We lost Partners, so this is helping to fill in that void along Webster Street.”
The members’ exhibition features work by a number of artists who have exhibited in the gallery in the past, as well as a few newcomers. O’Mara herself has three colored-pencil works in the show, which also features digital work, watercolors, oil paintings and more. Participating artists include Kathleen Dworak, Simon Faber, Coni Minneci, Jody Ziehm, Margaret Raab, Deanna Weinholtz, Brenda Molloy, Denise Sperry, Bart Taggart, Judie Pufpaff, O’Mara and others.
Lisa Langer, owner of both River Art Gallery and Gifts and Pencil in the River Studio, which is located upstairs in the former Tonawanda News building, said it’s all in support of the arts community. Langer has owned Pencil in the River, which offers a variety of professional services for artists, including museum and gallery giclée reproductions, for about 25 years.
“We get art. We get the artists’ psyche,” she said. “It’s where people can come in and be part of a community and grow. There are a lot of professionals who have been growing their careers for years and have a lot of advice to offer ... and young ones coming in with new visionary ideas. I’m trying to promote the idea that there’s a community here.”
Toward that end, Langer said she’s been focusing on a high-level staff for the gallery, including O’Mara and graphic designer and illustrator Carolyn Perillo. She wants the gallery to be a place for artists to not only display their work, but to develop their professionalism.
“Our goal is to improve and grow our artists’ opportunities,” she said. “We’re not a warehouse. I don’t want to be a warehouse for people to leave their art and walk away.
“We’ve been working with artists for many, many years. We know the methods that are used, worldwide. We’re very much on top of that ... and if there’s something they need to know, we’re going to get them what they need to know, or get them to the right place.”
Langer has further plans, including increased programming and classes that relate to artists, and relationships with other venues. The gallery already has a close relationship with the Carnegie Art Center, where Langer and O’Mara are on the board.
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “This is just one aspect of it.”
The connections are already starting.
Perillo, who grew up in the Tonawandas, was one of O’Mara’s students during her years teaching at North Tonawanda High School and received assistance with her art portfolio from Pencil on the River. After attending Ringling College of Art in Design in Florida, she returned to NT, where she works at the gallery and currently has three pieces of art on display in the members’ exhibition.
“It’s great to still be connected,” she said.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Members' exhibition • WHEN: Opening reception will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. today. The exhibit runs through Feb. 15. There will be a closing reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 15. • WHERE: The River Art Gallery and Gifts, 82 Main St., North Tonawanda • FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 260-1497 or visit www.riverartgalleryandgifts.com.