The Front Street Gallery in Patterson will be closing its doors at the end of the year and will reopen in a new space currently under construction on East Main Street in Pawling. A group of three painters, Gene Cadore, Mary Smoot-Souter, Linda Puiatti and one photographer, Jeremy Wolff, opened the gallery as a cooperative eight years ago. To honor the occasion and bring the history of the gallery full-circle, the original artists will return for “The Founders Exhibition,” a show featuring their artwork. Artist Jeanette Rodriguez, long-time curator at Front Street Gallery, will also be a part of the show.
I recently spoke to Jeremy Wolff, the last remaining owner, about the gallery’s past and his hopes for a new chapter in Pawling. “Mary and Linda had run a gallery in the village years ago and had been looking for a space,” Jeremy says. “Gene also had gallery experience, I think in Poughkeepsie. I had none.” Originally, the idea was to split the rent four ways among the group of artists and use the space to sell their work. Linda Puiatti gets the credit for the clean modern and professional look of the space. She had a wall added, covered a window and chose the color scheme for the interior. Linda also used a special formula to hang shows. It’s not as easy as it looks to do this properly, a lot of measuring and calculation goes into creating a natural, balanced feel to the display of works of art on a wall. Later, when Linda left the gallery, she trained those who followed to use the same hanging technique. This is part of the reason no matter what kind of work is being exhibited; the shows there always have that serene, big-city gallery feel.
Over the years the gallery evolved into something a bit different from the original vision of the four founding artists. When the other three owners decided to leave the arrangement, Jeremy decided to carry on. He reached out to other members of the community for assistance in running the gallery. Jeannette Rodriguez, the current manager of the gallery, emerged as a powerhouse organizer and curator: “She was good at everything and had a great attitude,” says Jeremy. “She’s really been the face of the gallery during the past four years.” Other local artists were invited to exhibit and group shows were curated, sometimes with a theme that allowed for multiple interpretations, like “Reflection” or “Blue.” These juried shows attracted a wide variety of artists working in a range of media and styles. “The biggest surprise has been the quality of the artists who come and show in the gallery,” explains Jeremy. “Who knew these hills were full of great artists?”
The Front Street gallery evolved into a meeting ground for local artists. Many of them were established, but the work of younger, new-on-the-scene artists were also represented and nurtured. Jeremy told me: “Younger artists, who perhaps didn’t have a lot of confidence, got to see their work on the walls of a serious gallery. And they had the opportunity to meet and connect with other artists at openings.” There were even several people who were inspired by the shows to pick up the brush and begin painting again, reawakening a creative spark that had been dormant. Many of them went on to show and sell their work at Front Street and even other venues.
In addition to showing sculpture, photography, painting and drawing, the gallery space was also used for poetry readings and musical performances. Jeremy reminisced about the “Family Music Nights,” saying, “We played the music of Bowie, Neil Young, Dylan, Freedy Johnston, and the Beatles. The room would be full of great musicians, including my wife and children. Those were very special nights.” Another way Front Street Gallery served the community of artists is through offering classes in painting and photography techniques. Artists Jeanette Rodriguez and Mary Smoot-Souter shared their skills with budding artists of all ages. In recent years, a partnership with FrOGS resulted in an extension of the art show portion of the annual Great Swamp Celebration held in Lankler Hall at Christ Church on Quaker Hill, providing additional exposure for the participating artists.
Jeremy’s sights are now set on it’s future as part of The Pawling Bread Company building in Pawling. The hope is to have the bakery and cafe open in the fall. “Whatever we do will have to fit in with what the genius baker Cynthia Kinahan is doing downstairs,” says Jeremy. “She also has a great sense of design, and we’ll work together to create a gallery and event space upstairs.” He hopes to continue showing art, having musical performances, and hosting classes and other community events.
As far as the space in Patterson, Jeremy has this to say: “The space is perfect for a gallery, a great size and design. I’m hoping by some miracle it will be remain a gallery, that some business or group of artists can keep it going.”
The Founders Exhibition opens Saturday, July 7. There will be a reception for the artists from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. that day, and the show will remain open through August 24. Exhibitions planned to continue through the end of the year include the popular ArtEast show in September, the annual juried show in October, and the FrOGS Great Swamp Celebration show in December.