Art by Serendipity: Isha Nelson Gallery Brings Light
Step one foot into the Isha Nelson Gallery on (Great Barrington’s haute highway) Railroad Street and you will not want to leave — not too soon anyway. The gallery, which had a soft opening at the beginning of December, is an aesthetic amalgamation of bohemian chic meets pristine cathedral. The giant space (formerly Gatsby’s, a high-end, ultra-urban clothing joint) with it’s creaky wooden floors and various alcoves and rises could threaten to engulf a lesser product; in Nelson’s case, the perfect balance is achieved by, not surprisingly, art. Art of all kinds, from Nelson’s own vibrant acrylics and heavily illuminated Venetian plasters to handmade art-deco jewelry by Anni Maliki to larger-than-life, gothic-themed photographs on canvas by Edward Acker. The variety is almost as overwhelming, but, because it’s Nelson, everything fits for a reason.
“I wanted to make an environment where art is accessible to everyone,” Nelson says through her scratchy cellphone. (She’s island-hopping in Hawaii for a few weeks.) “The gallery is really for every walk. I find that usually people are really intimidated by art galleries, so I’m very out of the box with everything.”
That could be an understatement. From the very beginning, Nelson, who is a Berkshire native, has never done anything “according to the rules.” The devil-may-care artist was raised in an ashram at Kripalu in Stockbridge, when the retreat was run by controversial founder Yogi Amrit Desai. From there, she attended Rudolph Steiner School and then on to global destinations, including an intensive art study in Italy and adventures in South America and Hawaii. But her home base remains in the Berkshires, where, she says, her usually unplanned yet most creative connections are made. Including that one vital connection of space for the gallery.
“My inspiration randomly happened. I had an art show in my house in October of last year, and more than 100 people attended,” Nelson says. “I happen to know the people who own the old Gatsby’s building and was able to make the gallery happen. For me, it’s about the artists themselves – their work, their personality, their energy. The energy between people works well to tell the story. People just show up and they happen to be an artist, or have a friend who is one, and suddenly everything opens up.”
With nine (or so) artists and crafters currently on display and an impressive waiting list of still more talent, there is no shortage of creative variety at Nelson’s jewel, which is a breath of fresh air amidst the town’s discerning gallery scene. Each wall is dedicated to a different artist, including the likes of multimedia abstract master John Clarke, fresco oil paintings by Carol Lee Rainey, and precise pencil drawings by Billy Paul. Because of the breadth of space, and Nelson’s own design background, the art is not limited to wall space. Graceful, amoeba-esque sculptures by Serena Weld Granbery are scattered (atop pedestals) throughout, and in a skinny corner nook, a collection of bright, art-deco pochoir acquired at various estate sales ($100 to $375) adorn a weathered brick wall. Of course, Nelson’s own work, which features acrylic and gold dust on glass as well as her beloved, yet labor-intensive Venetian plaster, shine lustrous under the gallery lights, like the pages of an illuminated manuscript.
“I want to create a sense of wonder for people when they come here,” she says. “I get to play in different worlds and I know that your surroundings – color, light, texture – are so important. I’m a firm believer in letting life happen, and this all has come together just like that.”
As for the future of the gallery, which is a bright spot in the face of shop closures and reconfigurations on Railroad Street, Nelson sees a vibrant community hub (much like upstairs neighbor Sruti) where parties and openings happen once a month and fundraisers and networking events for artists are the norm.
“I’m all about bringing art and culture together and here this is such a rich, positive arts community. If you build it, they will come.” —Nichole Dupont
Isha Nelson Gallery
25 Railroad Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
Open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.