by RONA MANN / Photos by Stephanie Sittnick
It’s off-Broadway. Way off Broadway. Yet it is inhabited by a former opera singer/illustrator, a former actor/ director, and a production that is constantly evolving and changing. It is a cozy, welcoming theatre of sorts, one that beckons and seduces the senses, and it is most definitely a destination.
Like some of the finest off-Broadway theatre, like some of the most interesting restaurants, like some of the most sought-after treasures in the world, this is not, at first blush, easy to find.
“I call it ‘Mystic’s Hidden Treasure,’” says Kristen Bach brightly. And while “it” is neither theatre nor restaurant, it is indeed a treasure. Welcome to Courtyard Gallery, located in the inner courtyard of Factory Square, 12 Water Street, in downtown Mystic.
Yes, Courtyard Gallery is an art gallery by classification, but certainly not by definition!
While many galleries are pristine venues of unapproachable attitude and hushed tones, the Bachs have deconstructed that mold in a hurry! Theirs is a joyous homage to art of all styles and the people who create it and love it. While Courtyard Gallery is a destination location for serious art collectors from all over the world, it is also a wonderful place for the less experienced and more curious to wander around, ask questions, sit awhile with a glass of wine on Salon Sundays, and to gradually begin to gain an appreciation without feeling intimidated.
This gallery was created by Frances Harkins-Grunwald and her husband, Rudy, years before Kristen and her husband, Del-Bourree Bach came to Mystic. Originally from Manhattan, where Del worked as an opera singer and acclaimed illustrator while exhibiting his own paintings, and Kristen trod the boards as both actress and director, Mystic became their “pit stop” between the galleries of Boston and New York. Rudy Grunwald and Del became close friends; and after Grunwald’s death, Del joined Frances Harkins-Grunwald as Director of Courtyard Gallery. Today both continue these roles, aided by Kristen.
Unlike the sterile, antiseptic look that many of their counterparts exude, Courtyard Gallery has the feel of a European salon where lively conversation is peppered with occasional bursts of laughter, and people convene in joy rather than hushed tones. The brick walls are perfect for showcasing large framed paintings, while throughout the two floors, whimsical and wonderful works of sculpture cast in all media seem to pop out at the visitor, demanding attention.
“We have a core group of artists represented here,” Kristen informs, “and along with our customers, they are continuously sharing this passion. The artist and the patron of the arts come together here.”
This intimate, workable relationship is fostered each weekend when Courtyard Gallery features Salon Sundays, a chance for “both sides of the coin” to interact. From 3-6PM the wine is poured, visitors munch cheese and crackers, and the gallery is anything but hushed. Lively conversation ensues, offering both the collector and the casual visitor a chance to get up close and personal with the people who created the work.
“It’s not just when we have an opening or just for a special exhibition. It’s every single Sunday, twelve months a year. It’s warm and wonderful, and people love it.”
Featured artists at Courtyard Gallery include Sarah Stifler Lucas, Domine Vescera Ragosta, Christopher Zhang, Serena Bates, S. Chandler Kissell, Robert Noreika, and the ongoing contemporary collection of co-Director, Del-Bourree Bach. Bach is a Signature Member of the American society of Marine Artists, Society of Animal Artists, National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society, the Salmagundi Club of New York, Audubon Artists, Providence Art Club, and was the first recipient of the Robert Sandstrom Prize awarded by the National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic. Heady stuff, indeed, but neither Del nor Kristen are stuffy nor full of themselves. Rather they are filled with the joy that is art, and they yearn to share it with their community, whether casual drop-in visitor or serious collector.
Everything they create for their patrons is done out of a serious dedication to, and love for the work, but is often coupled with a sense of fun and frequently tongue firmly planted in cheek. In addition to Salon Sundays, Courtyard Gallery participates in Mystic’s Art in the Evening, an open gallery stroll held the first Thursday of each month from 6-8PM. The Bachs have also perpetuated The Red Dot Society, “an inner circle of friends who appreciate art, collect art, then go out to dinner and talk about art,” laughs Kristen. Red Dot Society members also enjoy discounts and special gallery events.
Although many of their artists compete in world renowned exhibitions and shows, Del doesn’t want the artists showcased in this gallery to compete in any way. “We try to find artists who carve out a special niche for themselves. Frances, Del, and Kristen try to vary the styles “so that there is something for everyone who walks in,” says Del.
Many of the artists featured are within easy driving distance of Courtyard Gallery, which makes Salon Sundays a fun adventure. “You never know who’s going to drop in,” Kristen says, “but there is always a group of artists chatting with a group of patrons. It’s a shared passion.”
“From the ultra realistic, to abstraction, and everything in between” is Del’s assessment as he glances at the walls. Everything is beautifully lit to offset and complement the work and the message without hitting the observer over the head with stark brightness. Like the Directors of Courtyard Gallery, this too is a collaboration.
A piano sits center stage on the main floor of the two tiered gallery. “When we have special events, we have a piano player providing the music,” Kristen offers, “and we both feel quite strongly about our community. We are always giving back to the very special organizations in this area. Additionally, we are available to offer the gallery to groups who enjoy an art environment. We give them an opportunity to “take over” the space for a night and host an event.”
The Courtyard Gallery customer cannot be pigeon-holed or stereotyped as “an art gallery person.” To Frances, Del, and Kristen there is no one “art gallery person.”
Their customers are their guests in this salon. They are the people who come from all over the United States and the world once or twice a year, viewing the gallery as a true destination location. They are there to add to their collections. They are also the people who are visiting Mystic and looking for something to do who stumble upon this “hidden treasure.” And they are the old friends…people who have purchased art in the past, who may just be looking today. They are the people who sit comfortably upstairs with a glass of wine in their hands, admiring someone else’s vision turned into reality on canvas. And they are the ones who like “the road less traveled”…who are patrons of off-Broadway, rather than Broadway. The ones who hop in the car and think nothing of driving 50 miles to an out of the way restaurant. The ones who never take the highway, but delight in getting lost on the back roads. These are the people and this is the place to which they come. Courtyard Gallery… Destination. Hidden Treasure. Salon.
And remember, Courtyard Gallery handles ONLY original art…never a reproduction. Come share the passion!
Courtyard Gallery is tucked away in the inner courtyard of Factory Square, 12 Water Street, Mystic, just waiting for your visit.
Phone: (860) 536-5059 Visit them online at: www.courtyardgallerymystic.com