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Ontario Plain Group of Twelve at River Art Gallery

"The Trail" by Geoff Harding

Enter through the gift shop

Among the many cheery storefront enterprises along the main street of the historic and cultural district of North Tonawanda is the tall pink building at 83 Webster St. Directly across from the newly restored marquee at the Riviera Theater, the River gallery opened in 2008 in what was once was the regional newspaper press hub, the Evening News building. River’s parent company, Pencil in the River Studio began there 25 years ago. Now both businesses collaborate to provide creative print production and exhibition services supporting a burgeoning arts community.

The gallery’s executive team of Lisa Langer, creative director, Cindi O’ Mara, exhibition director, and marketing specialist, Carolyn Perillo strives to assist each member artist to define goals, to build professional networks and expand their careers within a cooperative retail environment. Sue Treat manages the retail gift shop featuring a variety of artworks and handcrafted jewelry.

The River Gallery could be seen as a kind of standard-bearer for small towns that have redefined the main street for cultural tourism keeping something of the historic architectural archive along with diagonal parking. The gallery’s logo script “R” itself reads like a piece of wrought jewelry, perhaps hand formed in copper like many of the works found in the glass cases that front the gift shop portion of the floor through-space. Clever captioned greeting cards and repurposed materials in mixed media beckon from every available surface presented with accompanying business cards and brochured biographies as digitally savvy graphic designers mix with analog artists pursuing a long life’s avocation.

The exhibition areas are by contrast spare giving ample room to display the work of the gallery’s current membership in inspirations derived from local color to realms of fantasy and nostalgia. Artworks vary in process and subject matter from dreamy soft focus to hard-edged realism, to humorous photos of everyday activities and span a variety of textures in surface and materials. Among the most articulate expression in the current show is the work of Geoff Harding. His Native American scenes give a forceful commanding clarity to every aspect of pictographic detail. In other artist’s works seasonal deadfall and deserted woodlands vie for wall space with bright mid foreground landscapes. A series of ink sketches examines the posture of performing musicians while corrugated metal is pressed into service as a ground for mixed media.

Gallery members, both self-taught and professionally schooled are encouraged to invest the time necessary for networking and building patron relationships working with the gallery staff to enhance their particular artistic skill set and build confidence in marketing their work. Many members have active careers entering shows with the goal of winning national awards or participating in festivals selling their original work as well as what has become the second tier of contemporary art retail, the giclée reproduction, the fine art version of ink jet printing especially popular with artists whose process such as mixed media or collage is often shown to better advantage in reproduction.

Artists from all over the Niagara Frontier would benefit from taking the opportunity to visit the River Gallery. The goal-directed disposition of the staff may provide just the creative career support and professional direction previously overlooked.

The exhibit runs through July 12 at River Art Gallery and Gifts, 83 Webster St, North Tonawanda.

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