By Arlene Distler
Celebrating its first year anniversary, Mitchell-Giddings Fine Art is a sleek and airy gallery in Brattleboro, designed with plenty of wall and floor space to show the kind of large-scale work favored by so many contemporary artists. The space was formerly a basement recording studio that the couple totally renovated. Brattleboro, known as an art town, nevertheless has not had a gallery like this.
Owners Petria Mitchell and Jim Giddings have been important mainstays of the art scene in Southern Vermont for decades. Both painters, they were founding members of the Windham Art Gallery, a much loved co-operative gallery in Brattleboro that had a twenty year run, closing in 2009. In addition, for many years both Giddings and Mitchell have been intrinsic to the running of the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center – Giddings working on installations and lighting and Mitchell chair of exhibitions with some curating along the way.
Curating, says Mitchell, is something she’s excited to be doing more of in her new role as gallery owner: “Curating provides the opportunity to bring artist and collector together. Connecting people that are passionate about sharing the mystery of creativity is the reward…and if we can help artists to be sustainable while pursuing their creative lives we would have achieved part of our mission.”
“We are so gratified,” says Mitchell, “by the positive feedback from artists, visitors to the gallery, and, happy to say, buyers.” To bring about a greater appreciation and understanding of the work they show, MGFA has instituted “Artist Talks” given by the featured artist. These “value added” events have been very beneficial to both the artist and community, Mitchell feels. The long-range plan is to hold more community events in the gallery, such as poetry readings, made possible by moveable walls.
At its Grand Opening last September that was attended by over 600 people, the works of seven artist and crafts people among the most accomplished in the area, were represented. Besides Mitchell and Giddings, the original roster was made up of: Doug Trump (painting and collage), Lauren Olitski (painting), Stephen Proctor (large ceramic vessels), Josh Bernbaum (glass), and Christine Triebert (photography).
Since then, the gallery has added eight artists to the roster: Michelle and David Holzapfel, wood sculpture and furniture; Eric Cruze and Tomo Sakai who co-create glass; David Rohn, Watercolors; Lauren Pollaro assemblage collage; Willey Finkel, Ceramics; and most recently, Jackie Abrams who creates fine woven baskets. Giddings says they are taking on new artists every month.
They hope to eventually represent 25 artists and to fill the ranks they will go outside the region. The reason, Mitchell explains, is, “Work from different areas will keep our gallery exciting, current, and create more opportunities for artists while also offering our collectors the opportunity to expand their collections and their point of view.” What they are looking for, says Mitchell, is “diversity in style and media within a contemporary aesthetic that has not been available in our area previously.”
Additionally MGFA shows artists that are not part of their “stable.” Approximately half of the floor space and walls is used for changing exhibits of invited artists on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
Mitchell and Giddings cite the challenge of being painters while also running the gallery: “Jim and I are dedicated to MGFA but also dedicated to our own painting–– yet another great challenge to all creative people––the discipline to create!” But it is no doubt a boon to their artists to have people at the helm who can see both sides of the gallery equation. In emails, artists emphasized respect of the owners for the work and good gallery/artist relationship as important reasons for their signing on.
Says Lauren Olitski, “Making art is about communication,” and this is helped by the paintings being “thoughtfully installed, with proper lighting, and space around them;” Chris Triebert notes the owners are “acutely aware of issues facing Vermont artists,” and Doug Trump appreciates that the couple are “deeply involved and committed.” This new addition to Brattleboro’s art scene raises the bar not just in Brattleboro but also throughout the tri-state region.