Do you want to see great art in the Williamstown area? You might think you have seen it all after visiting Mass MoCA, the Clark Art Institute, and the Williams College Museum of Art. But think again. Or, rather, look again. Just down Spring Street, one step beyond the Thai Garden, is a tasteful and inspiring collection of work illumined by a big blue sign: the Harrison Gallery. From the street, paintings, lithographs, and pastels mingle with reflections in the big glass storefront and a welcome sign on the door, inviting the passerby to take a closer look.
Upon entering, the visitor is greeted warmly by artist Elizabeth Rickert’s photograph-like pastel rendering of “Koi and Waterlilies,” and ten seconds later by gallery proprietor Jo Ellen Silipo. She crosses, smiling, from behind the counter in the “salon” up into the fine arts display where the visitor suddenly finds herself admiring luscious landscapes and Southern African beerpots. The visitor has questions, and Silipo is happy to answer them.
First of all, from where did all this come? Many may remember Gatsby’s Clothing Store, something that this visitor (a Williams first-year) is too fresh to know about. Toward the end of the 2000-2001 school year the clothing store left and the space went up for sale. About this time, Jo Ellen Silipo, a Williams class of ’79 art history and studio art double major, was looking for a way to get out of her career as a sales/marketing executive in technology and, in the best of all possible worlds, bring art back into her life. She learned about the open space on Spring Street, and, as soon as she had seen it, on March 28, 2001, she signed the deal. “The train had left the station and I didn’t know if I was going to get off and go back to normal life,” Silipo confesses. Today she’s still riding, discovering many new scenes along the way, and the best part is that she is taking us with her.
Since the May 31, 2001 grand opening of the Harrison Gallery commemorating Silipo’s father, David Harrison’53, Silipo and her partner Laurie J. Thomsen have seen a variety of visitors and are still looking for more. The Gallery opened under the concept of the identity of “The New England Landscape” and has seen the passage of locals and summer tourists.
This Fall, the draw has turned toward Williams students and their families. On one hand, the lower prices of works on display are in the $250-$1000 range, which could easily be considered beyond the reach of the college student’s pocket. But spending five minutes in front of a beautiful rolling green countryside and glowing peach sky in lush smooth pastels by Mallory Lake is a student’s ideal expenditure: absolutely free.
The current selection of works on display is part of “The Curator Show: Parallel & Perpendicular,” chosen by old Williams friends (and former roommates) Silipo and Vivian Patterson ’79, Curator of the Collection at the Williams College Museum of Art. The theme of this exposition, which also seems to be an underlying goal for Silipo, is “bring art home.” This concept is meant both in the physical sense (representing a gallery which sells art for the home) and also as a deeper statement about the disconnection Silipo feels exists between art and our daily lives in modern society. One of her hopes is that the Harrison Gallery will offer all of us another way to make art a part of our daily lives.
Silipo has many hopes for her new venture, some which included students in innovative ways. She would like to look into joining forces with the College to offer art activities over Winter Study. When asked if a student art show in her gallery would be possible, the answer she gives is yes, possibly in the spring of 2002.
She also is planning for a show of alumni work to follow in the next year. Currently, signed lithographs of Williams scenes by Class of ’79 artist Barbara Ernst Prey (who also created the Williams bicentennial calendar) are in the inventory, as well as a set of glass sculptures by Williamstown artist Len Poliandro.
Silipo says the Gallery is changing its identity. The artists on display change often and Silipo reports that they are “broadening and deepening the collection.” Up until now, artists displayed have come from the greater New England area, California, Ontario, and Oregon, Silipo’s home state.
Their selection at present includes works of impressionism, pastels, photography, and Vermont en plein air, and they are working at bringing in new media such as pottery, sculpture, and still life. With new features such as climate control, UV protection in the windows, and fresh carpeting, the stage is set for great things.
So who would Silipo like to see heeding the Gallery’s welcome sign and crossing its threshold? Well, you, me, and anyone else who will appreciate her collection. She sees herself as another member of the grand art community of this area, and her desire is to keep us all “bringing art home.”