BRATTLEBORO — Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts is moving on up. Literally.
After more than five years down below Candle in the Night, this gallery of contemporary art has moved to its renovated space upstairs in the same building at 181 Main St.
Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts features innovative works by mid-career and established artists in a variety of media. The beautifully designed new gallery consists of three spacious rooms, as well as ample office and storage space so it can accommodate much more art than ever before.
Best of all, the gallery looks out onto Main Street through a large display window that will allow passers-by to peek in at what's going on inside.
“This actually is the space where we always dreamed of locating our gallery,” says co-owner Petria Mitchell.
While their space beneath the former furniture and carpet store had a striking, stark design that was beautiful, clean, and well suited for exhibiting beautiful work by great artists, there was always the problem of being located below ground.
“People would hesitate to come down the stairs to visit us,” Mitchell says. “I think they were unsure of what they would find. I have had friends tell me that they have seen prospective customers pausing at the top of the steps and then turning away. When we found out the new space was coming available with the retirement of Larry and Donna Simons [owners of Candle in the Night], we jumped at the opportunity.”
This was the second time the couple has seized such a chance. When the bottom floor of Candle in the Night went up for sale in 2014, these two local visual artists decided the space was the best they could find at that time in downtown Brattleboro.
Mitchell and her spouse 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.
Brattleboro may have long been known as an arts town, but as Giddings told The Commons in 2014, much of the art is shown in shops, restaurants, the library, and other public spaces.
You might find nice shows there but “too often not in the best surroundings,” Giddings says. “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.”
So Mitchell and Giddings opened a gallery themselves.
Petria Mitchell and Jim Giddings have been successful professional artists for over 46 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 says she and Giddings felt the closing in 2009 of Windham Art Gallery, which was a collective, left a void in the local arts community, and although they considered reopening a similar cooperative gallery, they decided it wasn't feasible.
“Perhaps the biggest difficulty in a collective is getting the artists to work hours in the gallery,” Mitchell says. “Being a commercial business was a better idea for us. Here we don't always have to work through committee and group decisions. Jim and I are in charge.”
Even so, both Mitchell and Giddings are enthusiastic about the recent opening of the Harmony Collective Art Gallery, a cooperative art space in downtown Brattleboro.
“We welcome them,” Giddings says. “We do not think there can be too many galleries in our town. With so many places to find high-quality original works, Brattleboro is becoming a choice destination for viewing and buying all kinds of art.”
Beginning with only seven artists, Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts now presents works by about 30 locally, regionally, and nationally recognized artists and craftspeople. The principal criterion for representation is high-quality contemporary art.
Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts tries to make it easy for the artists they represent. The artists simply present original work - ideally framed and ready to be hung - along with some background information so Giddings and Mitchell can create a narrative for viewers to better understand what is on display.
Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts highlights represented as well as guest artists for solo shows, which rotate on an eight-week schedule, and the gallery encourages these artists to give a gallery talk about their work, which most are eager to share with the public.
All these talks have been filmed and can be viewed at mitchellgiddingsfinearts.com.
Finally, the gallery also asks for a 50-mile radius of exclusivity. Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts won't represent artists whose work is shown in other galleries in the same area.
How it came together
The new Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts Gallery was a long time coming.
“Donna and Larry decided they wanted to retire three years ago,” Mitchell says. “They discussed with us then the prospect of buying their upstairs space for a new gallery. We only had our gallery less than a couple of years, but even at that time we realized we should not miss this chance.”
But getting the money for the entire Candle in the Night space was beyond their budget.
Over time, and after negotiating with another buyer to purchase the other half of Candle in the Night, Mitchell and Giddings were able to acquire the space for the new gallery, which is what they wanted in the first place.
So after years of hesitating and fits and starts, last Sept. 30 the couple closed on the property. Mitchell and Giddings were able to begin to renovate the space a few weeks later.
They designed the gallery themselves.
“It turned out to be more difficult and expensive than I thought,” Mitchell says. “It was rather like building your own home.”
They gave themselves a six-week deadline to have the gallery open. Then they ran into a crisis in early November when a sprinkler was accidentally set off during renovation, flooding the space.
Even though this meant a massive clean-up and new renovations (for instance, the beautiful original floor had to be replaced with a new maple one), the gallery did open on schedule.
“Our opening was just amazing,” Mitchell says. “We had wall-to-wall people here. With refreshments and live music, we had over 600 friends in the gallery, which was so much more than we ever anticipated.”
Since the opening of the gallery, it has seen many more daily visitors than they did downstairs. “People now feel so much more comfortable just walking in,” Mitchell says. “So far it bodes well for the future. To put it mildly, I think we made the right decision in moving upstairs.”