Art-warming event: Gallery 77 brings together the work of 35 artists

By Patrick McArdle

“The Art of Rutland County” is everything from paintings to dance performances to a bizarre “baby” with an oversized clown’s head in a wooden playpen to a room that serves as a reminder that extinction may be on the way.

All of those and more were among the works provided by more than 30 artists who took part in the opening of 77 Gallery, at 77 Grove Street in Rutland, an art space that opened to the public on November 19.

Curator Bill Ramage said the show would run through the end of March. However, the future of the space as an art gallery will be decided by the building’s owner, Mark Foley Jr.

What connects the participants in “The Art of Rutland County” is exactly what the name implies: The 35 artists live or work in the area.

“Basically, this is kind of a celebration of the visual arts of Rutland County. (Artists) from Brandon, from Poultney, from Fair Haven, from Rutland. And there’s just about every genre that you would like, from very traditional landscapes to installations to abstractions, figure drawing. There’s just about everything,” Ramage said.

Ramage, who said he had been a gallerist for almost 40 years, said the artists in the show are seasoned professionals who he knew from such professional experiences as running galleries and teaching art at Castleton State University and in Rutland.

“I know everybody here sort of personally,” he said. “I’m sure I missed some people and I feel bad. I’d like to apologize to the people I overlooked but 35, also, just seemed like enough.”

Bianca Zanella, a community arts organizer who assisted with the opening, said she liked to think of 77 Gallery as the early stages of a movement to bring attention to the importance of art in downtown Rutland.

“What we’re seeing here today is just the first show, with over 30 different local artists,” Zanella said. “We’re seeing a huge scale of work here. We’re seeing everything from collage work, mixed media, acrylic, sculpture, bronze cast. Just really varied, and I think that’s what’s going to make the 77 Gallery so special. We’re not just seeking one kind of art.”

The Grove Street gallery is one of the first spaces being used by the organization Art is Vital — Downtown Rutland.

“The talent that is Rutland County may seem under-appreciated, but as you can see by just looking around the room, it is vast,” Zanella said. “I think the goal and the mission of Art is Vital is to really celebrate the artists who live here, as well as increase the engagement we have with not only the local artists, but outside work, because art, and the creative energy behind the artwork, brings so much more positivity to the community.”

Beth Miller, of Middletown Springs, said she considers installation art her genre, and her medium is natural forms, or things found in nature.

Miller’s installation was based on the idea of the “Sixth Extinction,” a theory that says the Earth is looking at a sixth event where multiple species are facing extinction. But unlike the previous five events, the current event is believed to be manmade.

But, while she said she wants to spread awareness in a visceral way with her installation, she is more optimistic about the mission of Art is Vital.

“What is really interesting about this show is it gathers so much creative energy that can feed the culture of Rutland,” she said. “It’s this kind of hopefulness, it’s this kind of energy, that can move Rutland forward in a positive direction.”

At the opening reception, dozens of visitors got to see art pieces and a dance performance led by Erika Lawlor Schmidt, of Vital Spark North. Many were fascinated by the “Armature for Kimball Union Academy Wildcat,” an enlargement of a sculpture of a wildcat made of wood, steel, plaster and clay by Rutland artist Glenn Campbell.

Campbell is known in the Rutland area as a teacher at The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center. He said he has many pieces like the armature on display; it is a framework over which a sculpture is made but he doesn’t always display them because they’re based on other works.

“But Bill (Ramage) liked it,” he joked.

Artist Mary Fran Lloyd, of Rutland Town, is an abstract artist who works in collage and acrylic.

“I show in several galleries, so I know a lot of the artists, and what the nice part of this is, of course, is bringing all of the artists together in one or two spaces,” she said. “Plus, having downtown so involved with the new art galleries. It’s going to be a great holiday season, I think, for that reason.”

Both Ramage and Zanella said they were hoping to enlist the help of the Rutland Herald to allow the gallery to be open during normal business hours.

Zanella said the Art is Vital organization is also seeking “gallery sitter” volunteers who will be able to help keep the space open through the run of the show by offering to come in. She said volunteers could even do work from the space, if their job permits such arrangements.

The gallery is located in the same building as the new offices of the Rutland Herald, but is not connected with the newspaper.