A new shop window for area artists
Jim Giddings

A new shop window for area artists

Petria Mitchell, Jim Giddings open new downtown gallery to add marketing muscle to local art scene

BRATTLEBORO — Two local visual artists, Petria Mitchell and Jim Giddings, realized that while Brattleboro has long been an area with a lot of working artists, the town actually has few galleries dedicated to showcasing high-quality works of art.

So they opened one.

On Thursday, Sept. 18, from 5 to 8 p.m., Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts celebrates its grand opening by featuring paintings by Giddings and Mitchell, Doug Trump, and Lauren Olitski; blown glass by Josh Bernbaum; photography by Chris Triebert; and monumental ceramic vases by Stephen Procter.

The founders say Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts will present works by locally, regionally, and nationally recognized artists and craftspeople.

At 183 Main St., next to A Candle in the Night, the gallery has as its mission the promotion of sales and the creation of a nourishing and supportive community of professional artists.

Mitchell and Giddings, a husband and wife team, say they hope the gallery will earn a reputation for offering distinctive, high-quality works in a variety of media - pieces that cannot be seen anywhere else.

The couple have lived and painted in Vermont for more than 35 years. Well known in Southern Vermont as artists, both have had a long history of involvement with Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, Brattleboro West Arts, the River Gallery School, and the now-defunct Windham Art Gallery.

Mitchell and Giddings met in the late 1980s in an artists' critique group and would help establish the cooperative Windham Art Gallery, seen as a vital presence on Main Street for 20 years.

They said they felt the gallery's closure, in 2009, left a void in the local arts community. They considered reopening a cooperative gallery but decided it wasn't feasible.

“Being a commercial business was a better idea. Here we don't have always to work through committee and group decisions. Jim and I are in charge,” Mitchell told The Commons.

Giddings said “creating a distinctive space, a welcoming, and dynamic place to buy fine art and craft” was his motivation for tackling the project.

He added that the couple had long searched for a gallery in the area to show their own work.

“Petria was a bit of a pusher in getting this project off the ground,” he said. “She had been looking all over town for a place for over a year.”

Giddings admitted that he “wasn't that into it” at first. After retiring from the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center this year he wanted to devote his time to painting.

“I merely went along to support Petria, but soon enough I got tremendously excited,” he said.

The couple considered several spots downtown, including space in the newly renovated Brooks House, until they settled on the space formerly occupied by the Soundesign Recording Studio, which has moved to the basement of Candle in the Night's building.

Of their new space, Mitchell said theirs is one of the very few commercial condos in Brattleboro and they got it for a relatively fair price.

That said, the couple held off on a decision to buy for more than 10 months.

“We put the building through its paces. We had a big checklist,” explained Mitchell.

The couple were concerned that the gallery is below grade and very dry for art. One of their chief concerns was whether the Brooks House renovation would go through.

“Without the Brooks House we felt downtown was at risk. Once that project was secure we felt comfortable to proceed,” Mitchell said.

With a lot of help from friends, Mitchell and Giddings completely renovated their space for a state-of-the-art gallery. That work completed, Giddings contends there are not many galleries like theirs.

In Brattleboro, Giddings said, much of the art is shown in shops, restaurants, the library, and in other public spaces. You might find nice shows there, he said, but “too often not in the best surroundings.”

“As you can see on any Gallery Walk Friday, there may be a lot of good work on display. But in those venues the art can seem an afterthought, or lost,” Giddings said.

Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts has a stark, simple design. Giddings calls it ”beautiful, clean, and dedicated to exhibit beautiful work by great artists.”

“Our emphasis here is to use the space to best serve the needs of the paintings and other artworks. We believe in the importance of featuring our works in spare, contemporary fashion so prospective buyers can easily contemplate what they see before them.”

Mitchell added that the couple want to work with artists to create a supportive community that also links them with buyers.

The gallery showcases seven regular artists at the moment:

• Mitchell, who creates landscapes filled with atmosphere and intense moods, and whose expressive brushwork has an abstract quality that helps convey a sense of timelessness.

• Giddings, whose highly worked oilstick on paper paintings are frequently monochromatic and contain ground graphite for a painterly sheen.

• Procter, best known for monumental, wheel-thrown vessels inspired by ancient tradition. He makes his works by hand in his studio in southeastern Vermont.

• Bernbaum, who has for nearly 12 years worked with glass as a medium to explore techniques and styles, particularly color relationships.

• Triebert, a photographer inspired by the shapes and forms she finds on the local Vermont landscape, is working on an abstract series, “Geomorph,” stemming from the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

• Trump, who says he explores the mystery and grandeur of existence through painting, aims to connect to the world via place, perception, and emotion.

• Lauren Olitski, the daughter of famed abstract painter Jules Olitski, and a major custodian of his estate, who creates work influenced by her father's color and fracture but is a unique and masterful voice in her own right.

The gallery aims to expand the roster to 25 artists. The principal criterion for representaion, Mitchell explained, is high-quality contemporary art.

“We are also searching for people who will add diversity to the gallery and those who work on a large scale, which will show nicely here. We are, by and large, seeking artists who have been professional most of their life.”

Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts asks artists it represents for a 50-mile radius of exclusivity. It will not represent artists whose work is shown in other galleries in the same area.

“We do not want to dip into other galleries' treasure chests,” said Mitchell.

And Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts will continually bring in guest artists for special shows, which will rotate on an eight-week schedule.

“If we don't continually bring in new blood, Brattleboro will tire of us,” Mitchell said.

Online sales will be an essential component of the gallery's viability as well.

So far, word of mouth is working wonders.

“The buzz in town is that it will be a gratifying asset to Brattleboro,” said Mitchell. “People tell me that they like the space. They even approve of the below-grade location we had worried about. People have said that by having to descend, and then being surprised by what we have done here, our gallery feels like a destination.”

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