Business Spotlight Article #7: Gallery at the VAULT
For Release 4th Week of January, 2017
Contact: Caitlin Christiana - Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce
Business Spotlight: Gallery at the VAULT
by Springfield Regional Chamber Volunteer
It’s an unseasonably warm day in January, and the Gallery at the VAULT at 68 Main Street is humming. Sunlight pours through the floor-to-ceiling windows as an artist stops by to drop off new work, customers browse the shop, and volunteers gather for the monthly board of directors meeting.
At the back of the gallery, Nina Jamison and Diane Kemble admire a display of mandala-like paintings by Riverside Middle School students. Jamison was a driving force behind the gallery’s creation, and Kemble is a longtime volunteer who manages the gallery’s marketing efforts and children’s art programs.
The two women are responsible for much of the gallery’s appearance. They happily spend hours visiting artist studios across the state in search of new artisans and then showing their work to best effect. In particular, Jamison’s past career as a retail buyer, merchandiser and display artist is evident throughout the gallery.
She and Kemble have a knack for finding charming artificial trees for displaying holiday ornaments or twinkling lights in autumn hues to string in the window or just the right stand to hold a stained glass “painting” so the sunlight can shine through it. They also put together the gallery’s displays at the nearby welcome centers on the highway, which helps bring visitors to Springfield.
The gallery is one of only four Vermont State Craft Centers, and to achieve that designation, the majority of the artwork must be produced by artists who reside in Vermont with the rest coming from the surrounding area. The gallery offers a vast and varied collection of items for sale, including paintings, photography, pottery, woodenware, blown glass, handcrafted jewelry, decorative tiles, silk and woven scarves, and native stone and iron sculpture.
Painters and photographers submit their work for review by the gallery’s current artists in those disciplines while Jamison and Kemble find most of the other artisans.
“I have a feel for what would be attractive to people to purchase,” Jamison says. Even if they don’t fit her personal style, she will choose items that “are well-constructed and different.”
She also consults with gallery manager Marilyn Miller because she knows what people are buying. Indeed, Miller seems to have a sixth sense for what people are looking for when they walk through the door and can easily guide them to a variety of choices.
Jamison says the team also strives “to keep an overall balance of fine art and craft in a range of prices.” She adds that “price is not necessarily an indicator of what will sell,” and she will often choose an artist’s signature piece out of an array of items, even if it is the most expensive. Over time, she has learned that modern and abstract work does not sell and that locals and visitors alike value Vermont-made items.
The nonprofit organization behind the gallery was established in 2001 with the goal of encouraging an appreciation of the visual arts while furthering the revitalization of downtown Springfield. The name “Gallery at the VAULT” is a play on the building’s history as a bank and also stands for Visual Art Using Local Talent.
In 2000, when many of the businesses on Main Street had closed, Jamison approached owner Steve Greene about installing work by local artists in the vacant windows of the old Furman’s department store. She says she had prepared a speech and a detailed document, but “after a couple of sentences, he gave me the key.”
Jamison and Alison Wallace, a Reading artist and gallery owner, went to work filling the empty store’s windows in an effort to boost the town’s morale and help spark revitalization. Soon after, Greene showed her another one of his properties — the 1908 Victorian bank building at 68 Main Street. It needed work, but the large windows were a major selling point and Jamison instantly saw the possibilities for a permanent art gallery.
“I started writing grants,” she says. Months of restoration and renovation work followed with help from donors throughout the community. She plucked some volunteers off the street by inviting passersby to help rip out carpeting.
In May 2001, the first board meeting for Gallery at the VAULT was held at the Miller Art Center. On Dec. 15, 2001, Gallery at the VAULT officially opened with 35 artists and craftspeople. Now it features the work of 160 artists.
And the old bank vault — a work of art in its own right with its intricate locking mechanism visible through a glass panel — is filled with an enormous photo of a barn owl, quilted table runners and handwoven baskets. The outside of the door is draped with brightly colored scarves.
Beyond serving as a marketplace for artists, the gallery offers about a dozen workshops each year by the likes of watercolor painter Robert O’Brien, pastel artist Robert Carsten, felt artist Sue Carey and illustrator Christine Mix.
The gallery also hosts children’s art camps in the summer and during school breaks, and makes scholarships available for children who could not otherwise afford to participate. It recently received an Arts Impact Grant to deepen the art camp experience for children. The Vermont Arts Council awards the grants to “support organizations, municipalities and schools in their efforts to create a more vibrant quality of life by providing equal and abundant access to the arts.” Kemble says the gallery was a natural fit because “we’re focused on impact anyway.”
In addition, four Open Wall exhibits each year offer local artists of all ages and levels to show their work without going through a jury process. “Local” is defined as people who live within 30 miles of Springfield. Artists are often asked to join the gallery based on the work they submit for the Open Wall shows.
The gallery also achieves its community mission in unexpected ways. Last year, Springfield Hospital received a grant from the Susan Sebastian Foundation, which had a goal of placing art in all Vermont hospitals, and reached out to the gallery for help with choosing and purchasing 38 works of art by 10 local artists. It was a gratifying experience for the artists, the gallery and the hospital.
Other events — such as the annual Chocolate Tasting on Saturday, Feb. 4 — “are a way to invite people into the gallery who might not otherwise find their way inside,” Kemble says. The money raised at that event supports the art programs for children.
Fifteen years after its creation, the gallery has three employees and dozens of volunteers who keep everything running. And it has gained a reputation throughout Vermont, Jamison says. “Now artists come to us, and my job is not as difficult,” she adds.
As the latest group of board members begin their meeting, she says she is proud to have built a strong base and even happier to see new people get involved and create their own vision for the gallery.