Homegrown is an unexpected oasis on Providence’s East Side. Inside this unassuming building on Gano Street you’ll find airy, white-walled rooms, fragrant with greenery. An elegantly limned hummingbird and vine mural by artist Mary Linberg hovers on the wall above a display table lined with exotic plants and bonzai pots created by artist Paul Olson. The Homegrown Gallery itself is located on the second floor, but the art here is not limited to the gallery walls. The downstairs retail space is a showcase for the creative life in Providence, from the beautifully designed pottery and planters to the hand-crafted counters and display shelves.
I spoke with Russell Stafford, owner of Homegrown, and Hannah Purcell, who curates the Homegrown Gallery and manages the indoor retail shop. The day we arrived, Stafford was elbow deep in boxes of newly arrived succulents, obviously in his element. “Russell is a plant genius,“ Purcell said, and she was not exaggerating. Stafford’s knowledge about plants was initially self taught, but after he got a master’s in English literature at Andrews University, he went on to study biology and botany at Harvard, earning his second master’s degree in forest science. Homegrown is not a shop that re-sells plants raised en masse by wholesalers. Along with indigenous Rhode Island plants, Stafford cultivates rare varieties you are unlikely to find anywhere else. They are all raised organically, either in Stafford’s nursery out back, or at Revive the Roots in Smithfield.
Stafford and Purcell met through their involvement with Revive the Roots, a non-profit with the mission “to create ecologically regenerative and dynamic social spaces through the education and practice of permaculture.” Stafford is the master horticulturist for this Smithfield-based organization. Purcell’s own background is in art – she has a BFA in print making from the University of Buffalo; fortunately, she also has a very good grasp of retail. Stafford and Purcell’s combined talents, along with their shared interest in sustainability, have created a great synergy that is apparent throughout the shop and gardens. Stafford said, “I knew what I wanted for the design, but Hannah would listen to my ideas, and then take them to a whole other level.”
Purcell has also taken the concept of nature-themed artwork to another level in the Homegrown Gallery upstairs. For those expecting botanical drawings, the wall-sized paintings by artist Sun Quest, splashed with deep, vivid colors and abstract forms, are a surprise. Purcell explains: “The concept for the gallery is about exploring all of what nature-themed artwork can be – from those that are very specifically based on nature, to those that are inspired by nature … we are looking for diversity.”
The current show displays just that – artist Pablo Youngs uses spray paint and stencils to create dense patterns and geometric designs with a distinctive Mexican flare; Sun Quest layers pictorial ideas and paint in order to generate sensations and feelings of organic phenomena; and Robin Halpren-Rude’s paintings are an expression of pure happiness, their flowers belying a life defined by a struggle with medical issues. This is not your usual floral show.
Moving from the upstairs gallery to the floor below, the aesthetic carries through. Stafford said, “We want to celebrate Providence and the people here who are doing so many amazing things with arts and crafts.” There is a nod to students and apartment dwellers with the tiny air plants in their animal shaped leather vases, made by Betsey Williamson. “They symbolize how the outside and the inside are tied together,” said Stafford. Every element in the shop has been thoughtfully considered. The hand-crafted counters are made from re-purposed materials – leftover tiles, cinder blocks and wood – yet the overall ambience is clean and modern, with simple lines and artful spatial design.
Purcell tells us that the response from local artists has been very positive. “We’re already working on another show for late September. A lot of artists are really excited to see a new gallery starting up.” The Homegrown retail shop welcomes garden accessory ideas and creations from Providence artisans as well. If you love plants, art and Providence, Homegrown is a must-see.
Homegrown is open Tuesday through Sunday at 135 Gano St, PVD. Visit their website at homegrownpvd.com for hours, directions, and a truly unique online shopping experience. You can also follow Homegrown at facebook.com/homegrownpvd and on Instagram @HomegrownPVD