2014 marks the 30th anniversary of DeBlois Gallery, which has touched so many with regalia of fascinating art and their histories from the patrons who hang them. Thriving now after a recent move to a wide-open space and studio, DeBlois Gallery changed the landscape of art on Aquidneck Island.
In August 1984, artist/patron Edith Bozyan gathered fellow artists to begin a gallery showing cutting edge contemporary art in DeBlois Alley. This house, along with 138 Bellevue Avenue around the corner, was Edith’s property. The name stayed. According to the cognoscenti, this was the first cooperative gallery on Aquidneck Island, continuously running for 30 years, exhibiting local artists from Rhode Island and southeastern MA. Changes in Newport have been reflected by the changes on canvas at DeBlois.
“We have flowed with the times: the prosperous Navy days, the great ‘80s. We had regulars who would drop in all week, students from the Newport Art Museum School, townies and tourists,” says artist/publicist Valerie DeBrule. “The gallery was always packed for reception night. It became a social event. The first several years the gallery often held two shows a month. This is hard to even think about! There was a group of wonderful patrons through the years. A number of us could depend on this. Outside buyers, like tourists, were frequent patrons and commented on our good prices compared to New York, even Boston.”
Chicago-based Joe Norman had his first RI show in DeBlois. Rita Rogers, contemporary oil painter, exhibited many times. Last fall, the gallery moved from the shadow of the mansions to a shell’s throw from First Beach. “After 30 years at the Bellevue location, we had to seek a new space. The Bozyan family, who continued to own the 138 historical building, decided to retire to Florida and sell the property. It was only through the generosity of the family, continuing Edith Bozyan’s tradition of helping local artists, that DeBlois could operate on Bellevue Avenue. Our rent was decreased all those years,” adds Valerie.
The new location was picked after the 14 gallery members searched through Newport real estate for months. “Cities like Newport, with ‘world-class’ status, know that part of that sophistication can come from a well-established art community along with galleries who show ‘one-of-a kind’ artwork. The quality of town life improves, too. Big-name artists will want to show in Newport, students will walk in to be inspired, locals will get an art education and Newport will truly be perceived as within ‘The State of the Arts,’” adds Valerie.
Besides ample parking, the new space accommodates modern hanging and the backspace has been reconstructed as “Buzz Studios” used by three artists. Member Michael Guertin will curate art books by Island and local artists, current or past. “This mini-bookstore will sell books and keep us connected to the art community,” adds Valerie. “Each month (we will offer) new work from 14 artists, cards, shrink-wrapped art or art prints (no giclee) photographs, sculptures, plus the new work of two to three featured guest artists.”
“One of my favorite moments was Ellen Blomgren’s show years ago. It was her first show and she had made a Artist/Patron Edith Bozyan carousel with large, hand-formed clay animals around it, and other large pieces,” adds Valerie. “She sold almost 100% that night, which was truly amazing. Ellen said at the end, ‘This is the happiest day of my life.’ She went on to form Mudstone Studios in Warren providing space and services to clay artists. It’s not only good that you have a day like that, it’s good when you know it!”
Valerie believes that artists need deadlines and people who can orga- nize their work better than they can. “Having fresh art and artists in every month with guests really helps inspire and push us. Sometimes I think an exhibition is like a dance: From the first review of an artist’s work, to the contact, follow-up, publicity, coordination, delivery, hanging, sitting, selling, pick up. All members have a role in this dance. I am grateful to fellow artists here who make it happen every month.”
Photography by Marc and Bonnie Jaffe and the work of 3-D artists are the next exhibit at DeBlois Gallery beginning June 7. DeBlois Gallery. 134 Aquidneck Avenue, Middletown. 401-847-9977.