From farm to tableau: Local family builds art gallery

Posted 12/8/22

Years of isolation have taught the necessity of getting creative with connection.

To help foster community within a non-traditional setting in a non-traditional town, a family of artists and …

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From farm to tableau: Local family builds art gallery

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Years of isolation have taught the necessity of getting creative with connection.

To help foster community within a non-traditional setting in a non-traditional town, a family of artists and artisans has built their own art gallery.

“I wanted to show some work and have a venue that other people could show work that was a little more alternative to what I was seeing in town,” said DJ Whelan.

Whelan, with the help of her mother, Carol Nicosia-Whelan, and aunt, Pat Nicosia, took it upon themselves to build an airy little gallery right in their front yard.

The multi-colored glass panels lining the top of the gallery are indicative of artistic touches all around the property. Everywhere the eye stops to rest, it seems Whelan or her mother have made it ready with some surprise to find and delight in.

Such a wonderland doesn’t come without a lot of know-how.

Whelan and her mother spent 11 years building a vast art compound in Joshua Tree, California before recently making the move to Port Townsend.

“There’s six or seven little buildings, and a stage, workshops, guests houses, a sculpture trail going across two and a half acres. It was a beautiful spot, magic place, and I didn’t necessarily want to repeat that,” Whelan said.

“I actually bought the house just last year so that my mom had a permanent spot in Port Townsend,” she added. “When we got this property, I just kind of felt like, you know, it’s not a whole lot of space, but I think we could do a whole lot of stuff with it. So we just started building.”

Not only have they built the gallery in the front yard, but behind the main house are more buildings which function as either art studios or living spaces.

Just a few months ago, her mother’s sister moved up as well, and was able to lend a hand in building the gallery.

“My mom and I have been doing this for so long that it’s just kind of second nature. And Patti is pretty handy with a hammer, as well,” Whelan said.

After getting the structure up and art hung, they started with a soft open on Oct. 22 with work from Whelan, her mother, and a few other local artists.

“I think that there’s an untapped cache of art here that just doesn’t show in the public spaces so much, so I just kind of wanted to put together a little venue where people that were doing something a little different felt like that could show there stuff and not necessarily cater to tourism or commercial galleries,” Whelan said.

The creativity and craftsmanship of the larger structures follows like a fractal as the viewer zooms in on the smaller scale work.

“It is something I’ve been doing for probably 30 years,” Whelan said of her art career.

Her work on display ranges from a mixed media “bird series” through a world of sculptural pieces both figurative and abstract often using found objects from her work with the Trash Taskforce.

Both Whelan and her mother have been described as “go to” members of the local volunteer group that cleans up trash from all over town. Not only are they beautifying the community through removing the trash, but doubly so by turning the more useful things they find into objets d’art.

Whelan’s mother’s artistic streak is also on display in the show, but while Whelan went to art school in Boston, her mother’s creativity manifested differently in its early stages.

“She was always baking. She’s always been a creative type,” Whelan said. “She’s always been a carpenter. She’s always built, but in the last 15 years or so, especially since I got the place in Joshua Tree, all that land promoted building and installations, sculptures. She started getting involved with mobiles, junk art, anything that moved and she could hang.”

“Now I think she’s honing it,” Whelan added. “When she’s out there working, making magic, it’s pretty cool. She’s pretty amazingly talented.”

In the current show, she has a number of decorated strands that hang along the windows, and a “tree bijoux.” She also has a number of mobiles situated inside and outside the gallery.

Even though Whelan, her mother, and her aunt put in all the work to build the gallery, one of the main goals of the project has been to meet other artists through the gallery by inviting them to show there.

“I’m looking for people whose work I jive with, stuff that makes sense to my eyeballs, stuff that I’m not seeing in other galleries,” Whelan said.

Of course, a great way to get to know people is by nourishing not just eyes, but bellies, too.

“My mom is an artisan bread baker and an artisan cook,” Whelan said. “I would love it if that became a really integral part of each event.”

Another important factor in making friends is generosity, which Whelan shows by making sure all proceeds from an artist’s sales go directly to the artist without taking anything for the gallery.

Since this is all brand new, they still haven’t figured out what the hours for the space will look like.

“I would love to be the kind of gallery that could be open all the time, but I have to work,” Whelan said.

“I think it’s going to be more geared toward having events and happenings,” she added. “I’m keen on trying to put something together for December right before the holiday; a little show, maybe a little more food, and some heat and a covering of some sort.”

She hopes to add live music to the future events and, of course, continue the tradition of food with the possibility of potlucks.

Until fixed hours can be found, the best way to get a look inside is to contact Whelan at djliveshere@yahoo.com.

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