Maple and Main…A Rare Fine Art Gallery, Chester
by RONA MANN
“Almost anyone can walk through our door and walk out with a piece of fine art.”
That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?
But it’s a true one, proudly made by the CEO of a fine art gallery. You don’t find that to be the case with too many art galleries…in fact it’s pretty darn rare. But “rare” is a wonderful word to describe the gallery found at the corner of Maple and Main Streets in the heart of Chester…not coincidentally named Maple and Main Gallery of Fine Art.
Yes, CEO Peter Barrett is pretty proud of the fact that nearly everyone who comes through the door is quick to find that they may be able to afford a piece of fine art “in all price points, starting from just $100.” Barrett’s proud, and he has a right to be, because Maple and Main is not just another art gallery dotting Connecticut’s map, but one that is steeped in history, invested with sweat equity, and lovingly cared for by a member group of artists representing every style and medium.
To understand why Maple and Main is so extraordinarily special you need to first go back and explore the very roots of the building they inhabit. Claudia Van Nes, one of the founders, a current board member, member artist, and a strong voice for both the gallery and the artist community informs, “The building was built in the late 1700s by Samuel Colt in a sort of late colonial, federal style.” At first it was a ship’s chandlery, providing needed hardware to the ship building industry. After several incarnations, a young businessman and philanthropist named David Joslow bought the historic building, making it an integral part of his restoration of downtown Chester. “In the beginning he used the property to house his engineering business,” said Van Nes, “later turning it into the first gallery in Chester, the ‘Wall Focus Gallery.'”
In 2010 the iconic edifice was again sold, this time to BLP Properties which, within a short time, advertised it for rent. “When we first heard it was for rent, we rallied together,” Claudia added. The “we” to which Van Nes was referring, was a group of local artists who felt that housing a gallery in the space at the corner of Maple and Main would be “such good use for the town of Chester.”
The group met one evening with the intention of tossing ideas around, but according to Van Nes, “It quickly turned into a fraternity party. It was utter chaos. Everyone had their own agenda, pandemonium reigned, and we were getting nowhere, until…”
Until in the doorway appeared Peter Barrett, “dressed in this perfect dress shirt, tie, tassels on his loafers. I asked if he were a businessman because he sure looked like one,” Claudia laughed. “When he told me he was, I said, ‘Good. Then come in here and run this meeting!'”
Barrett took the cue. Suddenly chaos morphed into order, and the artists were now listening to someone who would organize their good intentions, coupling their goals and dreams with sound business resolve.
“What we tried to do in the beginning was idyllic,” said Barrett. “We wanted to make it a pure cooperative with the thought that this would draw in artists. Everyone put in $100. to start.” And everyone put in more than their two cents as well! But Barrett, ever the focused businessman, came up with a structured business model so that the gallery would not lose money.
“We switched gears. Instead of being a non-profit,” Gallery Director, Rachel Carlson added, “we incorporated as a membership association. We still have that structure with members who contribute on a monthly basis.” And this was not an easy time. When Maple and Main Gallery of Fine Art opened its doors, it was right in the middle of a significant economic downturn; yet they have stayed the course and are now a successful, well known, and well loved gallery in the Connecticut River Valley.
What Main and Maple offers is “original artwork, pure and simple,” according to Carlson. Strolling throughout the gallery one is immediately taken with the spaciousness, the light and airy feel, the fact that the art is not crowded, but carefully hung to garner the most attention from spectators while showing off the work to its best advantage.
Every style and medium is represented here, contributed by artists drawn from a geographically broad area, yet all of them from Connecticut, which is important to those who make up this gallery. “A big part of our success is both the diversity and broad base of the talent we exhibit here,” said Van Nes adding, “but we have no crafts. No reproductions. No photography. That point has never been compromised.”
The gallery is a busy one, presenting six shows a year; and always, according to Gallery Director Rachel, “there is always new art at each show, over 250 pieces per show.” That’s a big part of what keeps their patrons coming back. Each show always promises fresh original work produced by artists who are serious and committed. “We’re a high functioning group of people,” adds Van Nes, who points out that everyone is a volunteer at Maple and Main with the exception of Rachel the director.
In addition to the large main gallery, there is the Small Works Room featuring exactly that-small painting, yet fine art nonetheless. The downstairs gallery is named for Joslow, the man who so loved Chester and brought the first gallery to the space. Some shows are themed, while others are not.
Being ever the good neighbor in a town where it is de rigueur for people to help their neighbors, Maple and Main is a popular gathering spot that on occasion is loaned out to the town and non-profit groups for events. It’s a win-win, bringing in new people and allowing Maple and Main to give back to the town they so love. There’s another space downstairs, The Stone Gallery, that the group rents out to artists from time to time for their own private exhibitions; while looking to the future there are thoughts of bringing in guest artists and offering workshops.
So Maple and Main is indeed “rare”… a very special place in a very special New England town. Chester is quintessential New England from its historical roots to its architecture to its considerable representation of the love it shows for the arts. And right there at the corner of Maple and Main is a testament to it all: Maple and Main Gallery of Fine Art, where the structure firmly rooted in sound business sense made for the ultimate success of fine art.
“I think we are an unusual gallery,” says Claudia Van Nes, “because we’re a tight knit group that works well together. No one’s going to get rich here, we’re not going on the stock exchange, but we sell each other’s art and have a good time doing it. We’re a success.”
Visit Maple and Main Gallery of Fine Art at 1 Maple Street in Chester
Or visit their online gallery anytime at: www.mapleandmaingallery.com
(860) 526-6065 Open: Wednesday-Saturday, 11-6; Sunday: 11-5 and by appointment