Designer/artist Judy Campbell has an interesting perspective on living in Ashtabula, even on a gray November day.
“You are lucky if you live here. Think of it as a privilege,” says Campbell, one of the original four investors in the Bridge Street Art Works Gallery.
Campbell, who grew up in the Geneva area, says Ashtabula County’s lakefront is rich in artistic, aquatic inspiration, but historically has been a poor place to sell or even exhibit fine art. Bridge Street Art Works strives to change that paradigm with a public venue that also nurtures artistic and professional development.
“We believe in promoting the arts in areas that are not over-saturated with art,” she says. “There is a small art community here in Ashtabula and we felt that it needed to be supported.”
The juried gallery has been associated with Bridge Street since it was founded four years ago by Campbell and three others with backing from Paul and Sandy Lockwood. It recently relocated from its original location in the former Beaches storefront to 1099 Bridge St., on the west side of the street and next to Carlisle’s Home in the Harbor. Yep, that’s the storefront that DiFina’s store occupied for many years, and for decades before that, the Topky Cook Hardware.
Campbell says the new space, which features the authentic brick walls of the late-19th-century building is ideal for a gallery, although flies in the face of what many art snobs would consider appropriate.
“When you walk in the door, there is a warmth here,” Campbell says of the space, which retains the original wood floors, tin ceiling and mezzanine. “I cannot stand art galleries that are all white, boring.”
Yes, the art is stacked on the walls to the ceiling, and the selection includes upcycled pieces, woven rugs, and homemade soaps and perfume, but Campbell and partners Anzietta “Z” DiPierro and Becca Stowell believe in embracing the entire spectrum of creativity as long as it is done well. It might be said that Campbell has never met an artist she does not admire, as long as that person is striving to be a professional within his or her discipline. And as for that his or her issue, Campbell says the gallery was started by women artists and continues as a partnership of females, but welcomes artists of both sexes in at least a dozen disciplines.
“We try to keep (the gallery’s representation) to a three-a-piece discipline,” she says of the gallery’s 20 core artists. “And it always seems to work out right at three.”
Thus Ashtabula County photographer Bill McMinn, Erie, Pa., fine art photographer Bill West and portrait/wedding photographer Heather Martello have space in the gallery. Martello also rents one of the four studio spots in the back section of the building.
“Now I can do the studio stuff because I have the space,” Martello says.
“All four studio spaces are filled,” says Campbell, whose art studio occupies one of the spaces. “Heather heard that we were moving across the street and she bought in.”
“I do this for joy, more than anything else.” Judy Campbell
West’s work has evolved from photojournalism to more of a fine arts genre since he became associated with the gallery, Campbell says.
“He’s launched into more things,” Campbell says of West, who had to go through the long and painful process of developing a style and elevating his work to photo-illustration.
Another artist in transition is Ashtabula resident James Jones, who started with the gallery with his en plein air paintings but is evolving his work into metal sculpture, “Astral Planes.”
The gallery rents space to these artists on a monthly, square-footage basis. Campbell says the pricing is about half of what galleries to the west charge. It’s not a co-op, per se, because the artist is not obligated to work the gallery a certain number of hours every month. “It’s not your traditional co-op,” she says. “It’s really a partnership.”
An added benefit is Campbell’s nurturing and promotional work on behalf of each artist.
“Artists are the worst sales people, and I know that,” she says. “So when (a potential buyer) walks in the door, I want to make them have a better day than what they were having. I want to offer them an experience.”
She says that even if an artist does not sell work, they may pick up a commission as a result of having their style and art on display and promoted by Campbell. Moreover, she says that, thanks to the lake, Lodge and promotional work of the Lift Bridge Association, the gallery draws an educated clientele from as far away as the East Coast. She says the buyers find the gallery as refreshing as the breeze off Lake Erie.
Locals are more likely to be drawn to the gallery for its classes and Campbell’s sip-and-paint sessions, something she’s been doing for 15 years. Several of the artists represented in the gallery have held seminars on their work, including Cleveland-based card artist Sheila Galeano.
With more gallery and studio space in the former DiFina’s building, Campbell predicts there will be an expansion of events, as well. A monthly newsletter goes out by email to those interested in learning more about upcoming events or the work of represented artists. Sign up by sending an email.
The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. On Mondays, Campbell’s day off, it is open “by chance.”