Gallery plans move to Nolan Center and call for local artists

From painters to comic illustrators, jewelers to woodcarvers, quilters to printmakers, Wrangell is full of talented artists. However, after a downtown gallery closed earlier this year, there was no centralized venue for artists to display their work and tourists to check out the local art scene.

Cyni Crary, director of the Nolan Center, Michael Bania, a member of the former art gallery, and others are planning a collaborative effort that will house a new gallery in the Nolan Center for community members and summer visitors to enjoy.

The former gallery was housed on Front Street, where its 10-or-so members met weekly to work on projects, graze on sweets and socialize. “We would always get the tourist boat schedule and a couple of us would sit down there,” recalled Bania. “The main thing that people liked from the tour ships was that our shop was so different from other locations. It was refreshing to see something that was not commercial.”

Before it had a physical location downtown, the ladies’ art group began as an informal get-together in 1964. Olga Norris, Roberta Floyd, Jacquie Dozier, Joyce Phillips, Joan Benjamin and others would meet regularly at a variety of locations to create art together.

Each member had a different artistic niche, from quilting to watercolors to beading to children’s books. When their mutual friend, artist Lavon White, passed away, her daughter let them use the building on Front Street as a gallery. The group was housed there for about eight years.

Under the building’s former ownership, gallery members paid a small monthly fee to cover electricity and heat; when new owners took over, the cost became unaffordable.

In its future Nolan Center location, Bania hopes to continue the gallery’s legacy of displaying local talent and bringing the community together. The space will be “an opportunity to recognize the value of art in our hometown,” she said. Wrangell artists will get the chance to “sell their stuff and be more recognized for what they’re doing. We think it’s a real win-win. … It has a mutual benefit. It benefits the center, it benefits the members, it benefits the tourists.”

The new gallery would be housed in the small theater room next to the Nolan Center gift shop, according to a proposal submitted to the borough assembly by Crary on Feb. 14. Her proposal will require additional hearings before the assembly before it is officially approved, but she and Bania hope that the gallery will be functional by late spring, so it can operate throughout the coming tourist season.

“I think it’s a great location,” said Norris. “And they have a lot of foot traffic in there when the boats are in.”

In the coming weeks, Bania and Crary plan to issue an open call for artwork to community members. The pair is seeking high-quality work in a variety of mediums that represents the best of the local art scene. The financial details are still under review, but artists will likely be asked to pay a display fee or commission to the center and volunteer for small shifts in the gallery during tourist season.

A more detailed proposal to the assembly, which will iron out financial and legal details, is forthcoming.


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