It’s hard to imagine how or why a near three-hour tour of galleries around Providence would wind up being absolutely free, but you won’t hear me complaining. It’s a trendy monthly adventure open to everyone with an interest in art or at the very least, a nice night out on the town.
Providence’s Gallery Night is an open event with options. One Regency Plaza serves as the centralized hub of activity and information every third Thursday of the month, starting around 5pm.
There are 26 participating locations around the city, ranging from the small and chic Cate Charles Gallery on North Main St to the Chazan Gallery at Wheeler, which showcases students’ work. Many locations exclusively showcase local art, yet others cater toward vintage and/or craft goods. And some — like Studio Hop on Hope St — offer a smattering of all three.
How does Gallery Night work? You walk into One Regency Plaza and there’s a frenzy of activity. A small table is set up with promotional materials from the various galleries and destinations, attended by pleasant and helpful volunteers. A large board is set up to one side, showing the departure times for tours (they leave approximately every half-hour, with each tour hitting different stops with different guides).
School buses roll up promptly at the back entrance to Regency Plaza and every seat is packed. People giggle about riding in a school bus for what feels very much like a field trip.
April 16 marked one of the first of many Gallery Night Providence tours featuring a celebrity guest guide: Kimberly Sherman-Leon. She was one of our tag-team sherpas, along with Gallery Night regular John Housley, with Sherman-Leon taking point. She’s made it a lifelong goal to “promote and educate on the design industry.” To that end, she founded Rhode Island Creative Magazine, an online-focused publication that highlights creative talent in RI, both professional and artistic.
As our bus pulled away, Sherman-Leon explained the format for the evening: The bus takes everyone on a loop through the city, hitting five different locations for approximately 20 minutes each. Specific galleries are different with each tour, and roughly each month every gallery changes shows. Couple that with a rotation of guides, both “celebrity” and otherwise, and you will never ever experience the same Gallery Night twice.
Our first stop was at the Dryden Gallery, located inside Providence Picture Frame, an expansive warehouse-sized location tucked away behind the Benny’s off the northern section of North Main St. Sherman-Leon gave us an insider tip: Make a beeline for the third floor and see the gallery there first, and then make your way down.
The Dryden Gallery featured work by David Witbeck. Titled “Beyond the Sea,” Witbeck’s work paid particular attention to the female form along with other work that paid great reverence to seafaring creatures and the ocean itself.
An assortment of paintings and photo prints adorned the second floor, and the first floor had its own smaller selection, but was for the most part dedicated to framing.
Studio Hop on Hope St was next, a colorful hodge-podge of artistic items with a small gallery in back. The store featured artisan and handcrafted jewelry along with vintage furniture, but the decor itself is a work of art.
Artist Michael Owen had some of his work on display and was there to speak to the crowd. A locally educated contemporary artist, his current display heavily features more traditional seascapes of boats on the water (Owen even crafts his own boats!). When asked about the prominence of boats and the ocean in art, he said, “When you’re out on the water you’re at the intersection of the water and the wind, and there’s just something so primal and wonderful about that feeling. A lot of artists try to capture that.”
The Krause Gallery, located inside Moses Brown, featured two artists: Ruth Terrill and Sammy Chong. Terrill’s work seems vaguely inspired by Dali, but done in the style of magazine cut-outs, blending scenes of space with statues and colorful patterns. Chong’s work, vastly different, explored depth by using the effect of layered plexiglass to blend integrated sections of a scene together.
The Chazan Gallery, located at the Wheeler School, shows off photographic displays from students in spectacular fashion. All the work on display is done by seniors studying studio art. Rather than a blunt display of their best work, each student opted for an artistic interpretation for their individual exhibitions. Jackie Bowshell, for instance, opted for a color-coordinated display for her photographs that transitioned across a rainbow spectrum. A mustard container, school bus, bundle of bananas and bag of Lay’s Potato Chips were all clustered together.
Our final stop was at Lore – A Collection inside the Arcade Providence. They featured a collection of art and design objects in a small shop on the outside of the Arcade’s strip. Lore features a wide assortment of handcrafted art pieces and goods from artisan textiles to knitwear design.
By the very end, we had clocked in roughly three hours of sightseeing and art contemplation, and night had completely fallen.
Hint for beginners: Don’t embark on this artistic adventure on an empty stomach. Though some galleries do offer wonderful light refreshments (I’m nodding to your delicious spread, Krause Gallery), not all do. With a close to three-hour running time, you’re bound to get hungry.