The “Bird” Behind the Chair at… The Bird Nest Gallery and Salon Suites
by RONA MANN/Photos by Jeffery Lilly
Isn’t it refreshing when you meet someone who is genuinely happy? Who loves what he does, is comfortable in his own skin, and generous enough to derive a good portion of his happiness and joy from the people with whom he works?
It’s also rare to find someone with such joy, such innate genuineness, who has a lilt in his voice and laughs so easily and often. Such a man is Steven Uccello of The Bird Nest Gallery and Salon Suites in Guilford, perhaps the most unique venue ever established in that charming shoreline town. Perhaps the most unique anywhere.
To begin, yes, it is The BIRD Nest…singular; and there’s a very good reason for that. Owner Steven Uccello is of Italian heritage; and in Italian, “uccello” means “bird.”
Like a bird, Steven Uccello is a free spirit, loving to soar in many directions, yet always coming back to securely nest among the coterie of artists and artisans he has ensconced within his gallery, surrounded by the beauty of their many and varied talents.
A hair stylist by trade, a number of years ago Steven decided to go off on his own (“My mom, a very talented jewelry designer, was my inspiration”), leaving the security of a traditional hair salon to soar even higher. While he did not want to give up his love of styling hair, he sought a mixed-use space…a gallery to both continue his art and marry it with the variety other artists and craftsmen could provide with their collective talent.
At first he settled at a boutique in New Haven amid the State Street shops and galleries filled with delicious vintage, antique, and repurposed goods. By his own admission Uccello says, “I like to repurpose. I enjoy turning this into that;” so within a short time Steven left New Haven, opening a one chair salon in Guilford. But he still longed for a larger space to accommodate a fine art and craft gallery, finally finding his dream venue in an historic house, circa 1782, on Water Street in the heart of town.
Here at The Bird Nest Gallery and Salon Suites Steven Uccello has turned a house into a home that is “an art space with two gallery spaces in front and a hair studio on either side of the building.” Ucccello styles hair by appointment in the front salon, while Nicole Flagge is owner/stylist of Salon Opus in the back of the house. While he readily admits,”My hair is my art,” Steven also likes to dabble a bit in other media; but most of all he likes to show off his gallery artists, which change frequently but always provide the spectator, shopper, or “just looker” with wonderful artisanal variety, an amazing plethora of talent, and always a pleasant experience.
Steven Uccello is quick to point out that this is not an artists’ co-op, but a gallery where participating artists are paid a commission for their work. And their art is most affordable! Although there are some larger pieces that command a higher price, Uccello proudly says, “Most art here is under $100. dollars, so there’s something you can find for any occasion, a gift, or even for yourself.”
The emphasis at The Bird Nest is on the great variety of media from woodworkers and fiber art, to jewelry design, quilting, paintings, and repurposed items…from the traditional to the unconventional and every unique and delicious thing in between. Although he cannot single out every artist, he points with pride to locals like David Wilson, Jamie Marigold Page, and Sharon Hosley, who provide pottery unlike any you’ve seen elsewhere. “Everyone’s work is so different,” Steven says with the delight of a proud father promoting his children’s talents.
“I’m passionate about what I do and what these artists do,” Uccello continues, recounting fiber artist Laura Lyons who fashions little animals from wool and looms rugs. “Laura raises the sheep on her farm, cleans and spins the wool herself, hand dyes it…she does it all. These artists make this space.”
Another fiber artist, Michael Agenbroad, contributes looming and weaving…”very traditional work,” while gallery visitors enjoy the quilting of Kate Themel, the oil painting on canvas by Laurie Flaherty, and the multi-media adaptations of Casey Shain who paints, photographs, and repurposes wood.
With more than 30 artists represented at any one time in the shop, Steven Uccello enjoys quietly and unobtrusively keeping all those balls in the air from behind the chair in his hair salon. “I get busy behind my chair, but I always love meeting new artists and look forward to doing more collaborative work with them.
Upcoming, Uccello looks forward to working in concert with the Branford Art Center and being part of their impending “gallery crawl” to benefit the VA, as well as hosting Sisters in Cloth, Shoreline Art Quilters with a prospective quilt show. The more Uccello talks about “his” artists and his collaborative events, he becomes more animated; and that sense of pure joy just soars out from within.
He is especially proud of his assistant, Emily Grigsby, a SUNY Purchase graduate who despite her young years, is an experienced curator and also sculpts in bronze. “We are so lucky to have her.”
It is apparent that Steven Uccello takes little of the credit for the success of his business. He is genuinely in awe of the artists around him and the talents they possess. He is content to let The Bird Nest Gallery and Salon Suites be their showcase, their acts in the center ring, and he the ringmaster, merely directing the show.
“When you come to The Bird Nest you’ll see nothing about a hair salon. I’m just the hair guy in the back,” Steven says with that signature laugh.
Ah, but the “hair guy in the back” is also one smart bird who has purposefully made his nest a thing of beauty…and so, he soars.
Visit The Bird House Gallery & Salon Suites at 25 Water Street, Guilford
www.thebirdnestsalon.com (203) 689-5745