When Elaine Crossman opened her New Era Gallery on Vinalhaven in 2001, part of her goal was to create a gathering place for artists on Main Street and to bring art to the fore of Main Street goings-on. Ten years later, that goal has been achieved, expansion has occurred, and an economic downturn has been weathered.
On any given day during the high season, one can walk into New Era Gallery and find artists and art-lookers alike chatting amidst paintings of familiar island scenes, metal sculptures of various life-size animals and vibrantly colored hooked rugs, among many, many other examples of work found in the gallery. Sometimes a patron is sitting in the grand, yet comfy, carved chair that sits beside the gallery’s desk, conversing with Crossman or one of her helpers. Other times, clients may be found in the cool, quiet sculpture garden admiring the sizable work to be found outside.
New Era Gallery originally represented 12 artists. That number has swelled to over 60. “In many ways, it’s too many for a small space,” concedes Crossman. “It’s an extraordinary number for a small island. The level of work is extraordinary here. People come in and say ‘That’s a Kitty Wales!’ or ‘That’s an Alison Hildreth!’ as if I didn’t know,” said Crossman. The majority of Crossman’s artists show in other places, such as New York. But, according to Crossman, many of the artists may not find another gallery in Maine that they feel as comfortable with as they do with New Era. Therefore, some of her artists may show on Vinalhaven and in New York, but “maybe don’t take that intermediate step of Portland or another gallery,” she said. “I feel honored when one of those people decides to show the work they are doing here, here.”
In addition to Crossman’s catalog of artists expanding, her gallery’s physical space has grown as well. For the first five seasons, New Era Gallery was located in the center of downtown Vinalhaven in a tiny storefront. Five years ago, Crossman took a leap of faith, leaving her prime retail location in favor of a brand new building up the street that is more than double the size of the old space. This move has allowed Crossman to use the physical space to differentiate between her featured artists and the “regular” artists. In addition, she has been able to diversify the types of art she shows as well, adding shelving and stands for small sculpture, pottery, jewelry and fiber art. The new building also includes an outdoor sculpture garden in which Crossman shows, among other things, very large granite works.
After the economy crashed in 2008, many galleries closed or specialized. “I feel the opposite is the way to go,” said Crossman. “There is such a variety. I’m not trying to make things homogeneous.” Clearly this strategy has worked, as New Era is still going strong despite a couple of lean years on the part of art buyers.
This summer, Crossman is celebrating New Era’s 10th season with a special gift to herself. She has rented a refurbished barn behind the gallery for the whole summer as additional show space. The barn will host a myriad of alternative art, from larger pieces that wouldn’t fit in the regular gallery, to installations, to dramatic readings and perhaps even a performance or two. “I get to do all these fun, interesting things out there and that makes me happy,” said Crossman. “The barn is going to give us the opportunity to see things in bigger variety, bigger depth, performances, talks, whatever comes up,” she said. “In my mind, it’s about blowing the doors off. Every show is a celebration in a way. It’s going to be a whiz-bang summer.”
Kris Osgood is a freelance writer living on Vinalhaven.