Hightstown debuts new art gallery

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
HIGHTSTOWN – The Hightstown Cultural Arts Commission is sponsoring a Home Grown Hightstown Pop Up Gallery this week.
“A pop up gallery, often located in a vacant storefront, is temporary, unexpected and creates a surprising and unique environment to entice visitors,” said Hightstown Cultural Arts Commission Chairwoman Ann Marie Miller.
The gallery is at 118 South Main Street and is open through Nov. 21 from noon to 8 p.m.
The gallery features the artwork of “home grown” Hightstown artists including Ann Marie Miller, Barbara DiLorenzo, Adam Welch, Frank Rivera, Whitney Cookman, and Heather Lisk. Other artists featured include Janae DeLaurentis, Kathleen “Kat” Liao, Paul Mordetsky, Joy Sacalis, Jonathan Shahn, and Juanita Yoder.
Artwork will be available for sale.
“I thought it was such a creative and fun idea,” said Ms. DiLorenzo.
She said she submitted a painting of the outside of a restaurant in New York City called “Puddin.”
“They sold only pudding and it was delicious,” she said. “I also submitted a nude I painted while at the Art Students League in New York.” Both are oil paintings, she added.
“Because of the pop-up gallery, we noticed an uptick in restaurant traffic on Friday and Saturday nights,” said Ms. DiLorenzo, who is also a co-owner of 12 Farms. “I’m sure visitors to the gallery went to eat at various restaurants in Hightstown.”
She said not only was this event good for the soul with lots of incredible art from our local artists, it was good for our local economy as well.
Ms. Lisk, a resident and art teacher at Hightstown High School, has two ceramic pieces in the gallery: Wandering Geist & Heart of Hestia.
“It was a great experience and it felt amazing to see the community we live in support the arts in such a positive way,” she said. “I hope more events like this are able to happen around town again in the future.”
She said her favorite part of the event has been seeing the community come out for the opening night.
Mr. Welch, a resdient and a Hightstown Arts Cultural Commissioner, said he is exhibiting three of his ceramic works and a table he made inspired by Enzo Mari.
“Two of the ceramic works are wheel thrown and one is coil built,” he said. “The two wheel-thrown pieces are thrown and altered inspired by Chinese landscape paintings. The coil built piece comes out of my eight years, on and off, apprenticing and studying northwest coast design and totem pole carving in Alaska,” he said. “These are not my newest works but they are ones I have not shown and are particularly happy with.”
He said that Northeast coast form line design and totem poles are perfect abstractions.
“I have for a long time been interested in Native American art and culture and found a great kinship with the Tlingit carver Nathan Jackson, who I recently brought to Peddie and Rogers school to lecture, and who also served as officiant for my wedding a decade ago,” he said.
He said that the Chinese landscape paintings are the most exquisite narratives.
“Whole lifetimes can take place within one of those lovely simple ink paintings,” he said. “I find the scroll format of these narratives are well suited to the three dimensional nature of the vessel that you cannot take in all at once but unfolds as your move around the piece.”
Ms. Miller said this is a great opportunity to share the work of talented Hightstown residents who create art for a living or in their free time.
“The Cultural Arts Commission is amazed by the creative energy in our small town and plans to find fun ways, like this Pop Up Gallery, to showcase art for the enjoyment of our community,” she said.
She said that the main goal was to feature the work of artists who live in Hightstown and bring the community together through the arts.
Mr. Welch said they are working on creating more arts activities in the town.
“We are trying to build interest and excitement around the arts,” he said. “The pop up has become a fresh way to allow artists to show their work in a non-traditional setting outside the conventions of the gallery space. It’s an excellent opportunity in a town that does not have a full time gallery space,” he said. “I like the impact a pop up can have.”
Juanita Yoder, owner of The Art Station who lives in Robbinsville, said she also works with Gallery 33 at Comisky’s Greenhouses in Hightstown.
“I’m quite excited to see what looks like a cultural renaissance in the area as artists find one another,” she said. “12 Farms is also offering gallery space in Hightstown. I usually work in painting on silk for churches.”
She said the piece she featured in gallery is an oil titled “Three Caves.”
“To paint in oil was much more pensive and meditative than the immediacy and concentration required to paint large works on silk,” she said. “The piece on display, I think, expresses a more quiet inner reflection. It was a treat to see works by other local artists and see the arts begin to flourish in Hightstown,” she said.
Paul Mordetsky said he got involved in the pop up because of Ms. Miller and after running across it on Facebook.
“I sent her a note asking what it was about and who was in it,” he said. “I thought it was a great idea and I really like this cultural arts commission.”
He said he was only dimly aware of it until a few months ago and given the amount of work that was facing him for putting on his current show at 12 Farms, he put off any sort of involvement with the commission.
“I submitted three pieces – an expressionist portrait done in water soluble crayons, a large charcoal drawing, and an oil painting,” he said, adding the last two are from his series in which fire plays a central role.
For a small town, there are a number of remarkable artists living and working here, and it was so nice to be able to be showing with, at least, some of them and sharing that with the town, he added.
Ms. Miller said that Kat Liao, who is a commission member, is part of a ukulele quartet called The Woe Nellies, and it performed on opening night.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Ms. Miller. “The quartet has played in Roosevelt and several if not all of the Woe Nellies are also visual artists like Kat.”
One piece was sold on opening night, a ceramic piece by Ms. Lisk, said Ms. Miller.
She said that they been talking about a pop up gallery at their monthly Hightstown Cultural Arts Commission meetings because they don’t have a home base right now.
“We don’t even have a town hall in Hightstown where we can hang artwork or hold events,” she said. “When we were working at the Harvest Fair in the Wells Fargo parking lot, we noticed that there appeared to be an empty storefront across the street.”
Someone said they thought the building was owned by the Peddie School, she said.
“I contacted Catherine Rodrigue, who is the Peddie School representative on the Arts Commission, and she found out that indeed, Peddie owned that property, and put me in touch with the property manager who was open to the idea of a temporary pop up gallery,” she said.
She said that they talked about a time frame, which gave them an opportunity to get the space refurbished for rental or sale.
“They thought it was a good idea and a way to show off the property,” she said.
She said that Adam Welch and her looked at the space and the idea took off.
“We reached out to Hightstown artists who are on the commission and also those who responded to the community survey that we’ve been circulating for months,” she said. “Everyone was excited and happy to participate. Before I knew it there were 11 artists who could contribute one to three pieces of work, so we have 24 pieces in the gallery,” she said.
Mr. Welch helped write an artist agreement form that required the artists to gallery sit for shifts that would keep the gallery open from noon to 8 p.m. from now though Nov. 21, she added.
“Artists also agreed to contribute a 30 percent commission on any sale of art to support future programs of the Hightstown Cultural Arts Commission,” she said.
She said the highlight for her was meeting the artists and learning about their work, their inspiration, and process, how long they’ve lived in Hightstown, where else they exhibit.
The feedback has been positive, she said.
“On opening night, I overheard a comment, ‘This is a little bit of Soho in Hightstown,’” she said. “The other big question is “What’s going to happen with the space when the pop up is over, and why can’t it be open until Christmas?”
“I know there are renters/buyers interested in the space, but I guess we’ll see what happens next,” she said. “The reaction has been so friendly and welcoming and another person said that there is a need for a place in town for people to linger, something to keep them in town longer than to pick up something or catch a meal.”
“We extend our gratitude to The Peddie School for being so responsive to this idea,” she said. “This space happens to be the only empty storefront in town, so who knows where art will pop up next in Hightstown but I’m sure we’ll be looking for the next great opportunity.”
Mr. Welch said for him his favorite part was getting to see the outpouring of support and interest from the town.
“We’ve had a years worth of commission meetings and participated in a few events but this event was where theory and practice aligned,” he said. “The art was out there and the town showed up. It’s an exciting time in Hightstown and I’m happy to be a part.”
For more information contact the Hightstown Cultural Arts Commission at cac@hightstownborough.com.