Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Local Galleries Persevere Through Coronavirus Troubles

people standing
From left: Alan Hollins, Terrie Powers, Anne Hart Chay, and Shaina Cilimberg stand in front of a mural by Josue Fred. (Photo: Jakob Cordes/VPM News)

The Eric Schindler Gallery

Openings at the Eric Schindler Gallery are usually a social event - a chance for patrons to enjoy art, wine, and cheese.

Owner Kirsten Gray says she misses seeing all of her regulars face-to-face, but she’s enjoying the challenge of helping people find new ways to connect to art. Although she’s looking forward to welcoming crowds back one day: “When the pandemic passes, the party will come back.”

Gray is currently hosting the gallery’s first show since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, featuring the work of Julie Elkins, a sculptor who teaches at Virginia State University.

Elkins’ work - a series of clay pieces ranging from monumental vases to intricate dioramas - now fills the gallery space, which admits just four people at a time. Because of social distancing requirements, Gray took a very different approach to the opening on September 10, inviting visitors to come for individual tours over a ten-hour open house, and holding court on Facebook live with Elkins. The gallery’s opening even featured a performance by Elkins with Murv, her handcrafted puppet.

“Julie and I have a good time together, so even though it was just the two of us on a virtual stream we were howlin’ between takes,” Gray said. “It’s different, but I got just as much joy, if that makes sense.”

Sitting on the back porch of the Eric Schindler Gallery for a socially distanced interview, petting one of Gray’s cats, Elkins says many of the pieces in the show emerged from a place of personal grief. “I was working on them while I was taking care of my mom, who was dying,” she said. She was preparing for an annual arts conference, “And then she died, and I thought, well, at least this conference will keep me out of the grief hole for a little bit.”

The ceramics were originally intended to show at the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts annual conference, an enormous gathering of artists from across the country, showcasing outstanding work in the field. COVID-19 scrapped those plans. Instead, Elkins retreated to her isolated home in Charles City.

“I got really into like, foraging for food in the forest and collecting seeds, so I was doing all this survival stuff,” she said, “and then once I had that in place I was like, ‘Well I guess I can make some art in case this blows over and I can still make pots for people.’”

Although she doesn’t know when the gallery will re-open normally, Gray says she was heartened by the response Elkins’ show drew: “To see, as soon as galleries and artists put their things up, how people flock to it, shows it’s necessary.”

Anne’s Visual Art Studio Gallery

On Broad Street, in the heart of the Arts District, anne’s Visual Art Studio Gallery is seeking to stay afloat with a fall sale featuring local artists, many who have lost their jobs or primary income due to the pandemic.

The gallery’s windows, which normally overlook a shaded section of Broad Street, have been boarded up since they were shattered in May. The plywood is now adorned with a brightly colored mural, but the gallery is still closed to the public. Gallery owner Anne Hart Chay says it took weeks to get back into the gallery herself after tear gas deployed by Richmond Police permeated the building's AC system.

Even as the gallery’s physical location lays dormant, engagement through their website has skyrocketed. Hart Chay says that transitioning from doing business in person to making sales over the phone and online has been difficult. “I mean, it just never stops for me. I’ll be mowing my late grandparents’ yard,” Hart Chay mimes answering her cell phone, “and it’s like ‘Yes, that is available.’”

Hart Chay was planning to open a show, “Languages of Clay, Fiber and Poetry,” featuring work destined for NCECA, but the clay masks and mixed-media sculpture by Carolyn Gabb now sit in the shuttered gallery. Some of Gabb’s pieces are available for sale on the website, along with work by other artists like Terrie Powers.

Powers says that although the gallery has found buyers through online postings, there’s something lost in social distancing: “Openings are when you get out and feel a human connection around you, and we don’t have that now.”

You can find information on new shows at the Eric Schindler gallery here, and browse the artwork for sale at anne’s Visual Art Studio Gallery here. Anne's is also open to the public on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday from 1-3 pm, as well as by appointment.

Related Stories