One of the gallery’s longtime exhibiting artists talks history, community and the current state of affairs in our resort town.
- Story by Dena Temple, photos courtesy Gallery 220 and Ellis Anderson
Many customers travel a good distance to view their work and to buy. “Our typical customer drives here from New Orleans or even Baton Rouge. They are decorating their homes and want something original with a local flavor, but don’t want to pay ‘city prices’ for it.” She pauses, then whispers confidentially, “Our works here in Bay St. Louis are much more affordable because we don’t have the big-city overhead.”
Judging by the heavy foot traffic – at least before the closure – that is the worst-kept secret in town.
Also shopping at Gallery 220 are local homeowners looking for something special, and tourists looking for a keepsake of their visit to our area.
The Gallery 220 Story
Jenise McCardle and Mark Currier operate Clay Creations in the back of Gallery 220, making handmade sculptures of homes, businesses, churches and schools out of white clay, then glazing and firing it to a hard, glossy surface. Their work features well-known structures in New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, but they also do a substantial amount of custom pieces for homeowners. The business was moved from New Orleans to the historic building at 220 Main Street in 1993. Mark is also a potter in his own right, specializing in ceramic bowls.
They are also the landlords of the gallery space. Gallery 220 is one of longest-running artists’ collectives in Mississippi. Organized after Hurricane Katrina displaced beachfront artists, Clay Creations/Gallery 220 was one of the first businesses to re-open after the storm, when it hosted get-togethers every Saturday and became a place where neighbors could gather and share information.
“Jenise and Mark are fabulous landlords, always willing to help or make changes to the space, and they’ve been very supportive during the COVID-19 shutdown.” Barbara smiled, the corners of her eyes turning up behind smart wire-rimmed glasses. They are so supportive, in fact, that they stopped charging their artists/tenants rent during the closure.
Artwork fills every nook and cranny of the bright, well-lit display space. Creativity takes many forms within this inviting venue, from original paintings in oil, watercolor and acrylic; to photography, hand-made jewelry, mixed media, mosaics, pottery and ceramics, sculpture and textiles. Artists range in age from mid-20s to late 70s, so perspectives are many and varied. All the artists work the at gallery at least once per month, which rotates depending on the artist. “It’s a great way to meet with customers and showcase your work,” said Barbara. “I always look forward to my days to work the gallery.”
There is always a list of artists waiting for exhibition space. Of the 35 artists displayed at Gallery 220, thirty are longtime exhibitors, and five spots turn over fairly regularly. Applicants are reviewed collectively by the artists, who offer a fair assessment on the suitability and salability of the work and assist in pricing. “The venue is not right for every artist, and we want to help them succeed any way we can,” Barbara explained.
In addition, some art classes are offered on-site, depending on the medium. Popular watercolor classes are held at the gallery, for instance. “A number of our artists have studio space elsewhere in town where they offer workshops,” said Barbara. “This is great for messier media, or formats that require special equipment.”
For example, May’s featured artists, Karen Tiner and Joanna Slay, offer classes in mosaic tile work in their studio off Washington Avenue.
“The New Normal”
Barbara is optimistic about re-opening after the COVID-19 closure, although she admits that things may be awkward for a while. “We’re struggling with how to make this work for the safety of customers and our artists,” she said. “We’re limiting the gallery to ten people at a time and requiring masks. I don’t think we will require gloves, because people like to touch and feel artwork. We just need to work out how do preserve that experience, safely.
“Our first real test will be Second Saturday on June 13. Most residents and visitors seem to respect the health guidelines, but some have shown a real disregard for the protocols. Will we see a spike of coronavirus cases? Will people exercise social distancing – and common sense? That remains to be seen.”
Like everyone here on the Gulf Coast, Barbara is anxious to get back to a more normal existence – one that includes the gallery, her friends, and social interaction. “Bay St. Louis is a very ‘social’ town, very connected, with residents having known each other for decades. It will be interesting to see how we manage to stay physically distant from one another when we’re all emotionally so close.”
Gallery 220 is a lot of things – a center for creative commerce; a brand portal for the town, showing visitors our best side; and a sentimental gathering place for longtime ‘Bay rats.’ Now it’s finally – finally! – back to being the creative heart of Bay St. Louis, as well.
Gallery 220 List of Artists