A new art space sprung up this spring in Kingston at 24 Hurley Avenue in Kingston, the address where the old monument and headstone shop had been pushing up daisies for some time.
Named as a nod to that former business, Headstone Gallery has finished jumping through the procedural hoops needed to get the operation ready and renovated in time for its inaugural opening on June 4.
The new site of both a ceramic studio and an art gallery, the building of the late monument-making factory was itself an old barn once attached to the farmland and grazing fields now buried under Dietz Stadium. Based on the look of the exposed hand-hewn beams, building inspectors place the building’s construction in the mid-1800s.
Responsible for the new endeavor are two local artists, Accord-born Lauren Aitken and Atlantean Chase Folsom. Strangers before the pandemic, each having pursued their own separate paths to degrees in the fine arts, both working primarily with ceramics. The future partners in gallery-owning met for the first time as neighbors in Kingston.
“Basically, after closing on the building before the winter of last year,” says Aitken, “we started the permitting process, which takes time. Which was good. It gave us an opportunity to line up our artists for two years. It was a really good amount of time to read and research. Chase very much used many of his contacts and connections.”
Folsom had spent the decade before the pandemic as a professor of ceramics. “When you’re a full-time professor, you have to be showing all the time,” says Folsom. “It’s the academic hustle.” He had his tenth solo show this year.
“Our focus here is really being able to show people in solo or two-person exhibitions,” notes Aitken. “Less artists showing means they have more space. We’re trying to give them the most amount of lead time so that they can also make new bodies of work if they want to.”
“It’s one thing to be an artist and be in a group show, which is how artists start out, but to be given half of a 1200-square-foot room or more based on wall space or whoever is showing … that’s a really amazing thing for an artist to have. And we’re showing two-dimensional work and three-dimensional work, drawings, paintings, ceramics, sculpture, wood. We’re showing a broad range. Interdisciplinarity has been a part of the artistic practice for most artists for a long time now.
Keeping it all
The space is impressive. Their whole idea of the building was to keep as much as they could. They didn’t want to hide the chimney stack or the two massive steel beams that run up high across the room near the ceiling.
“I think that’s something that often gets lost in new construction,” Aitken says, pointing out features of the gallery. “This actually was the headstone and monument factory. Those I-beams were probably where winches and chains could be attached to move all the granite headstones. There was a crank on the wall and all these trolleys. And there was this massive metal sandblaster in the corner to blast the headstones. It’s easier to cover it up than figure out how to incorporate it but we kept all that stuff.”
The building setup has been neatly divided with a 1200-square-foot gallery space set up on one side and a 1200-square-foot workspace on the other, where the kiln lives like a little 2200-degree Fahrenheit volcano for firing ceramic creations.
“A kiln can be lifted with a bunch of people onto a palette, but they’re awkward. It’s like moving a stove, it’s inconvenient but you can do it. So if we ever need to expand we’re already set up, and this side could also become a full-time gallery.”
The studio half has been set up with lighting to match the gallery side for this inaugural exhibition accommodating four different artists, paired together in two different shows running concurrently until June 26.
The fine art of pairing
“Vice Versa” features the charcoal renderings of Canadian artist Marina Fridman paired with the ceramics-based styling of Philadelphia-based artist Nick Lenker.
Fridman’s two-dimensional contributions to the show are expected to be light-hungry. Lonely celestial objects will float upon large voids of black charcoal-suffocated paper. “She tried everything,” says Folsom. ”Because if you don’t, if you just do it on black paper, you can tell it’s black paper. But black charcoal actually absorbs the light. So when the light hits it, it doesn’t reflect.”
Lenker’s creations by contrast will subvert the third dimension in brightly colored ceramic possibilities. “The thing that makes him so profound in ceramics,” says Folsom, “he makes his own ceramic decals, he’ll digitally make the object in ceramics, cut out the individual slab pieces, measure the exact measurement of those pieces, and then create this kind of multiplane form that looks like it’s pixilated in real life.”
“Like a flower bouquet in a video game,” says Aitken, “that you have to run into to get the hundred points. He’ll basically make that flower bouquet as an object in real life, out of fired clay. Pairing artists to actually show together, it’s a more intimate process than most people think. It’s really about researching and deep-diving into the concepts that they use or their themes and how we can connect them.”
It’s rare that artists in the gallery circuit get to have an actual say, and have conversations with another artist on the same bill before showing together.
“I think a lot of galleries go into someone’s studio,” explains Aitken, “and they pick out the work that they like and the work that they are going to sell, and the artist will make new work, but they are heavily directing the flow of that work, the size and the scale. We send out emails to each artist separately to see if each would be one the other would want to show with. For us, it’s a really nice opportunity to give the artists a chance to make what they want, a year, two years out.
The second show on the bill, “Weeds in the Woods,” is an example of how Aitken and Folsom plan to showcase the artistic sensibilities of their chosen artists.
“We’re very interested in pairing people that will work well together,” says Aitken. “That was one thing I loved about Eun-Ha Paek and Dominic Terlizzi. They both live in Brooklyn, but I remember it was so cool, because when we did a studio visit with Dominic we knew what he was making. When we got to Eun-Ha just on a very superficial visual level, their work looked so gorgeous together. So conceptually it was right, it already fit, but in person the colors they were using, and actually the way that they work and their processes, are very similar.”
A place to feel welcome
The co-owners have opinions about the intersection of art and commerce.
“Having shown for as long as I have, I always think, like, what did I not get from galleries I showed with?” reminisces Folsom. “Contrast it to non-profit spaces or gallery, or museums, it’s not their job to sell your work. It’s their job to show your work. So that becomes difficult for an artist that has been making for 20 years, if you’re not selling things. I want to help market the work the way it should be marketed. I feel like there’s so much over the years that has been put on the back of artists. So many artists work for free because we work in a society that by and large doesn’t value art.”
Is buying art only for the wealthy?
“I don’t have a single dish in my kitchen that isn’t handmade. You know, people will come over and be like who is this? And I’ll be like “Oh my god, Liz Quackenbush! I love her! And that thing is real. You don’t do that when you pull out a plate bought at Target,” argues Chase. “Look, I buy art. I remember I bought a piece of Dominic’s work when I was living in Philadelphia and had no money. And I paid him $100 when I had it, and so on until I paid off his paintings. I wanted one so bad. I paid him in installments. Artists should be able to work full-time as artists in this country. People should actually want to buy art. We have a lot of work to do in art education. I think people always think that art is for rich people, and that’s sad to me. That’s not true. It’s for everyone.”
“Being from here,” interjects Lauren, “it doesn’t matter if you have money, it doesn’t matter if you want to buy, don’t want to buy. I think the fact that we are bringing really exciting, really interesting, kind, nice artists to show in Kingston is the point. This space really is, we want it to be community-facing as much as possible, to be accessible. We have linked up with O-Positive. We’re going to be doing a mural on the one side. We’re trying to do small music events. We’re starting a sculpture garden in the front courtyard …. You can come in, you can see artwork, maybe run into other people you wouldn’t run into otherwise, in your day-to-day …. You can come with people, come by yourself. That’s the biggest thing, we want it to feel as welcoming as possible.”
Information about the artists, their art and the gallery is at Headstonegalleryny.com.