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Following in the footsteps of Sosse and the late Jack Baker, Nancy Pinney is running the Chester Gallery and making her own connections to the Chester community. (Photo by Jim Wallis )
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Sometimes people work hard to find the perfect solution to a problem. Sometimes, it just falls into their laps. That’s what happened to Nancy Pinney and Sosse Baker. Baker wanted to sell the building that housed the art gallery that she and her late husband Jack had run for some 37 years. It had been on the market for a year and Baker was still dickering with a potential buyer who kept trying to argue her price down.
Then Baker ran into Nancy at a program at the Chester Meeting House. The two knew each other because Nancy, like Jack Baker, was a picture framer. The two women talked about the gallery, and Nancy said that, although she was not in a position to purchase the property, she would love to rent it both to show art and to continue her picture framing.
In the end, that’s just what happened. Baker got tired of haggling with the would-be buyer, took her property off the market, and rented the gallery to Nancy. It meant that Baker could stay on in the apartment on the second floor; Nancy could run her business; and the Chester Gallery, a local institution, would live on.
“I am so happy Sosse could stay. She has been such a big help to me and her baskets are still exhibited in the gallery,” Nancy says.
Nancy repainted the gallery, had some landscaping done on the property, and reopened last July. On Friday, June 7, the gallery will unveil its latest exhibit, Pop & Beyond, a show that features serigraphs, lithographs, and etchings from some of the iconic names of the Pop Art movement, among them Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, and Robert Motherwell.
Nancy will have two Warhols, signed and numbered prints, both limited editions. In addition, the show will include gouaches, a form of opaque watercolor painting, and lithographs done by one of the masters of Conceptual Art, the late Sol LeWitt, himself a Chester resident. There will also be a coffee table made according to a LeWitt design.
The exhibit grew from the visit of a buyer who came looking for works by LeWitt, whose art has been sold by Chester Gallery for many years. In the conversation, the buyer mention he had a large collection of Pop Art, so large he had to sell some items. He asked Nancy if she would be interested in selling them on consignment.
She was curious about why he had chosen the Chester Gallery.
As Nancy recalls it, the collector explained that he liked Chester, he liked Jack and Sosse, he liked meeting her, and he liked the idea of doing business in the town where Sol LeWitt had lived.
“Also there are a lot of art lovers in this area and we will be offering them a chance to collect these artists at fair prices,” Nancy added.
Beyond the featured exhibit in the main gallery, Nancy has devoted the back room of the store to smaller, less expensive paintings, often by local artists.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to buy art,” she says.
The building also houses Nancy’s frame shop. She has done picture framing for 40 years.
“I got my first job when I was 18,” she says.
She had just graduated from Old Saybrook High School and gone to Newport, Rhode Island to paint. She worked in an art supply store so she could get materials at a discount. The proprietor asked her if she would like to learn to frame and she has done it ever since.
After two years in Newport, she returned to study art at the Lyme Academy, where she took courses for six years. In her final year, she did intensive work in portrait painting, though now she paints landscapes.
“It’s a tricky business painting portraits, honestly,” she says. “Landscape is freer for me. I want to paint what I want to paint.”
She often works on site on small panels, and enlarges the work in her studio. She shows a visitor a panel done on Water Street in Chester and explains she had to squeeze herself into a tiny space on the side of the road as she worked so a car wouldn’t hit her.
“I nearly got killed on this one,” she says.
Much of her work is local scenes, but she has also on two occasions had fellowships for painting residencies in Ireland.
For 20 years, until two years ago, Nancy had a frame shop in a barn behind the Cooley Gallery on Lyme Street in Old Lyme. The Cooley Gallery itself was the major client for much of her framing, but two years ago she was laid off.
“I did whatever I needed to do to survive,” she says.
That included not only framing, but art appraisals, photography, website design, and even pet and house sitting for a number of regular customers. She contemplated becoming an Uber driver, but never followed through on it.
In Old Lyme, Nancy designed many of her own moldings and custom-made frames to compliment the art. She uses glass that blocks ultra-violet rays and acid free paper to keep paintings from deteriorating over time. She is now trying to learn how her new clients in Chester want their frames to look.
“I had a following in Old Lyme, but I am just getting to know people here,” she says. “People come in the gallery for framing and say that Jack knew just what they wanted. He was an amazing framer and a hard act to follow. I tell people to let me know who they are and what they like and that they will never have to tell me again.”
After Pop & Beyond, in August and September, Nancy has a show tentatively titled In Our Nature that will feature realism and trompe d’oeil, and then in October and November, Uncommon Goods, an exhibit featuring the art and sculpture of Jan Cummings and Peter Good and their two sons, Justin and Jesse. In December and January, Nancy will continue the popular postcard show that the Sosse and Jack Baker originated.
Nancy hopes the gallery remains a vital part of Chester’s cultural life; she has already had one author talk in the gallery and anticipates other events.
“I’ve fallen in love with the Chester community,” she says. “It’s a wonderful community to be a part of.”
Every Christmas for the past 15 years Nancy has done something that has nothing to do with the art world. She and a group of volunteers cook Christmas dinner and deliver to recipients in eight towns. Along with a meal, the volunteers leave a gift bag and spend some time talking with the recipients.
“The more drivers we get, the longer we can stay and talk to people,” she says. “It’s not about being needy. It’s about being alone on Christmas, being lonely. It’s not something I usually talk about, but it is something that I love to do.”
Nancy is excited about what she does all the rest of the days of the year as well.
“I am doing what I want to do, framing, painting, having shows, continuing to create,” she says.
Pop & Beyond
Pop & Beyond runs from Friday, June 7 to Sunday, July 21 at the Chester Gallery, 76 Main Street, with an opening reception that is free and open to the public from 5 to 9 p.m. on June 7. For more information, visit chestergalleryct.com.
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