Opening August 25, 3 p.m.
7617 Riverside Drive, Port Franks
Featured artists: Tony Miller and Lorraine Thomson (studio owners), Stephen Shellenberger, Tamara Croxall, Sarah Kane and Kim Ange
Music by Joani Paige
Story by Casey Lessard
“I’ve been walking around here in my pajamas showing people our work,” says Tony Miller in the studio and gallery he shares with partner Lorraine Thomson. “They show up here and say, ‘Are you open?’ I’m walking around in my housecoat. We’re very low-key. We’ve taken that mystery and snobbishness out of art. We’ve got people walking in here in bikinis and stuff right off the beach.”
The beach is where the artists and former art gallery managers took their first step toward creating their studio in Port Franks. Taking a cue from American mythology professor Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss” philosophy, Miller asked Thomson during a vacation in Costa Rica what her bliss would be.
“Her answer was, ‘To live with you, do art and be near the water.’ I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The two did not set out to run an art gallery out of their home, but after discovering the former fishery and setting up the Bliss art studio, they decided it would make a great gallery, too. The building was once a stable and barn; now, the upper level is their living space and the lower level is a large open gallery and storage space. Wide open doors let in natural light and the room can easily accommodate a crowd of art lovers.
“A friend of ours told us about it,” Thomson says. “A lot of people who live in the Port said that they considered buying it but it’s an unusual type of property as far as space. I think it just works perfectly for what we’re doing here.”
Outside of her work as an art instructor in local schools, Thomson has used the gallery to teach art classes for children and adults, including a course called ‘Everyone is Born an Artist,’ which has helped many local seniors discover their drawing and painting talents.
Their focus now, however, is giving new artists a place to show their work as they develop.
“It’s hard for young people to break into getting into a gallery,” Thomson says.
“It really is,” Miller adds. “To get your first exhibition is brutally hard. You usually pay the gallery a fee and then it’s 40 percent commission on all the works you sell. We don’t do that. We do take a commission, but we don’t gouge people. The main thing we want to do it show the work. We don’t rely on this for an income. We just love doing art.”
Miller and Thomson also believe in giving customers a chance to test drive art in their homes to see if it fits.
“Take it home,” Miller says. “If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, bring it back. No one leaves here with something they don’t want. That’s a number one rule.”
“A painting or a piece, any piece of art work is a very personal choice,” Thomson adds. “You can only buy art for yourself. Either you connect or you don’t. Our art work isn’t for everybody. We’re not doing high realism. There is a lot of meaning behind our pieces. A lot of emotion and meaning.”
The Port Franks community has welcomed the gallery and its owners with open arms – and a big opening party. “When we came here we weren’t sure if people would accept us,” Miller recalls. “The day before we opened the gallery, there’s a bouquet of roses on our front porch. No card. Then the day we opened there’s a parade of people walking down the street with trays of food. We hadn’t even met them, except for one couple. They all come marching down with trays of food and welcomed us. The River Road Gallery people showed up. They brought us a nice plant. We probably had 150 people our very first day. It was wonderful.
“I guess they accepted us, and they’re happy we’re here. We’ve had a lot of people come by and say, ‘This is what we needed.’”