Artistic mitosis in Phoenicia

Christina Varga and her son, Martin Henry, at Ensō Art Gallery. (Photo by Violet Snow)

Phoenicia’s Arts Upstairs, which closed its doors last winter, will be reincarnated in two new forms this month. Many of the artists involved in the former community gallery will show their work in the side rooms of the Phoenicia Open Market, just as Ensō, a new gallery and workshop space, is opening at the former Arts Upstairs location. 

Both ventures will hold openings on Saturday, December 15, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. They will also be open during the day — the Market for sales of crafts and vintage items, and Ensō for parents to sign their kids up for weekend and after-school art classes, and to express their thoughts about possible drop-in art workshops.

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Gillian Johnson, proprietor of Bite Me Bakery in the Phoenicia Plaza, jumped at the chance to take over the lease for the upstairs space at 60 Main Street, when the previous gallery, the Phoenicia Arts and Event Space, was shutting down. “I didn’t want someone else to take it and make it into something other than an art space,” said Johnson, who has no plans to cook or serve food at Ensō. The second-floor location has been an art gallery since 1998, when Nita Friedman took over the then-vacant space to open Upstate Art. Johnson added, “Art is sometimes available only to people with a lot of money or knowledge about art. In Phoenicia, we make it available to everyone.”

Johnson has been joined by musician Scott Kent, who lived in Woodstock in his 20s, taught middle school band and orchestra in San Diego for 18 years, and has returned to settle in Mount Tremper. “This area is unique,” said Kent. “I love being among creative people.” His immediate plan is to create a jazz band composed of middle school and high school students, to rehearse and perform at Ensō. He envisions two groups, one of accomplished young musicians and one of beginners who may eventually graduate to the other band. Down the line, he may use the space for concerts by professional musicians and formal music workshops.

Former Woodstock gallerist Christina Varga, whose work was featured in the first exhibit of Phoenicia Arts, will curate the art shows at Ensō. She plans to gallery-sit while running the studio, a room lined with work tables and boxes of paint, glue, ribbon, cloth, buttons, aluminum pie plates, and myriads of other materials. The kitchen will not be used for cooking but will serve as a wet room for activities such as silk-screen printing and sculpting with clay. Varga will supervise children who stop by for drop-in workshops, exercising their creativity for an hourly fee. 

As for art on the walls, no hanging fee will be charged, and the gallery will take 50 percent of any sales. Work currently on display is by Varga, Bronson Eden, Paul McMahon, Christine Moss, Mikey Tuttle, and several other artists. In the hallway is a piece by Clyde Fusei Forth, representing an ensō, the Zen Buddhist symbol formed of one or more circular brushstrokes. It is meant to express a moment when the mind is free, enabling the artist to create.

Meanwhile, down the street at the former pharmacy building, where the Open Market vendors fill one long room, manager Stephanie Ginsele has been mulling over what to do with the two side rooms. During the campaign season, she held several well-attended meet-and-greet sessions for political candidates. Sparrow’s poetry group meets there most Thursdays at 7 p.m., and a knitting group is held on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Earlier in the fall, Chip Gallagher held an art show of his tripods, wood sculptures made from branches joined naturally at the base. They are salvaged from trees he has cut down, trimmed, and then turned upside down.

Ginsele would like to hold classes and other activities in the space. “We’re exploring the possibility of getting funding to grow this,” she said, “and make it available to the public, free of charge.”

Margaret Owen, former director of the Arts Upstairs, has curated a show that incorporates heroic-sized art to take advantage of the big storefront windows and high ceilings. Pieces include Kevin Green’s humorous totem shovelheads, Doug Maguire’s expressionist landscapes, Dave Channon’s anti-gravity chariot and dashing steed, and the entire Owen clan’s oeuvre. Works are on display by two dozen or so artists from the former gallery: Judith Singer, Astrid Nordness, Bronson Eden, Jan Sosnowitz, Lynn Fliegel, Anna Contes, Anique Taylor, and many more.

The Phoenicia Open Market, 41 Main Street, and the Ensō Art Gallery, 60 Main Street, will both hold openings on Saturday, December 15, from 4 to 7 p.m. in Phoenicia. For inquiries about the jazz band at Ensō, open to students from 7th to 12th grade, contact Scott Kent at phoeniciamusic@yahoo.com.

There is one comment

  1. Dave Channon

    Super cool! Phoenicia needs a daycare center. Thanks to Varga for providing a place for kids to romp! Thanks to Gillian for helping make it happen! Thanks to Scott for keeping a music venue alive at the space formerly known as The Arts Upstairs. Will it be a home for Chicken Night? We hope Christina will show lots of other artists in addition to her own work! See you at the opening this evening!

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