Ask any artist. Making art is invigorating and fun. But unless you’re lucky enough to have a gallery or a dealer, figuring out how to get it on public display is a headache. So the artists in our area (myself included) are especially grateful that Ulster Savings Bank in Gardiner dedicates its walls to showing paintings, photographs and quilts by local artists.
It all started about ten years ago, when the handsome, old, family house from the 1840s at Ireland Corners was converted into a new, local branch. Great care was taken to preserve the period feeling of the building, which meant that although there were the usual elements, such as a long banking counter for the tellers, the offices were discretely positioned, and a large room was left open as a meeting space. As a result, to a remarkable degree the building still feels like a comfortable private home. There’s an airiness, a gracious ceiling height, and—most miraculous of all—a good deal of empty wall space. Without crowding, one can hang ten to fifteen medium-sized pictures.
While guiding the renovations, Branch Manager Kathy DeLano saw the opportunity for a program benefitting local artists, the community, and the bank’s employees. It was launched at the end of 2009.
Like many good ideas, it’s the height of simplicity. Artists— both individuals and in groups, amateurs as well as professionals—apply to the bank, through Jared Cole, the Assistant Manager, for permission to hang a show for a six-week period. Dates are proposed and agreed on. A show ends on a Thursday morning, a new one is hung that afternoon, and on Friday at noon, the bank hosts a reception for the artist or artists, invited guests, and bank customers. Everyone has a good time and—as always with art—the atmosphere in the bank responds to the new look. Instant redecoration! Bank employees tell me the changing vista brightens their activities. It’s very much a win-win program.
Most of the shows display the work of a single artist, with recent shows including starkly haunting black and white photographs of local sites by Bruce Pileggi; a very jolly collection of kids’ works from Sunflower Art Studios in Gardiner; and a striking series of caricatures of well-known personalities by the illustrator Richard P. Clark.
In the Spring, in anticipation of the Gardiner Open Studio Tour (GOST), the bank helped promote our art and our tour by displaying the work of local painters and photographers. And at Christmas, the bank warms its walls with an astonishing display of quilts.
Many Gardiner-based artists have been seen at the bank. Established local painters such as John A. Varriano (familiar landscapes and portraits), Stacie Flint (cheerful scenes of daily life) and Marsha Massih (rich floral still lives) are examples, and we have also admired the abstract photography of Jonathan Pazer and award-winning quilts of great complexity and beauty by Shelley Greener. You never know what you’ll come upon when you go to make a deposit or pay your mortgage.
From the bank’s perspective, the shows are a public service that reflect and enhance the life of the community, similar in scope to their monthly promotions of local businesses. Not all of their customers (the drive-up ones) even see the art. But that doesn’t diminish the value of the venture.
Everyone who does enter the bank is offered a changing reminder that creativity—in all its mysterious and fulfilling ways—is alive and well in Gardiner.