In the two years I’ve been writing for encore, I’ve noticed a huge rise in the arts community. Artists have been moving here and sojourning from other cities to exhibit their work in local galleries and with other artists.
During the economy’s downfall, the first thing heavily impacted seemed to be the arts. Yet, artists are resilient and soldier on, creating work that offers an exodus and release from difficult times. As the economy slowly strengthens again, a need and demand for new galleries and art spaces rises with it. Among it, Era Gallery ushers in a new era, as well. After closing its doors in 2009 due to the economic downturn, curator and owner Chet Fisher will reopen at 523 Third Street this weekend.
Born and raised on a farm in Nash County, Fisher spent his summers in Carolina Beach and, like so many before him, he became entranced with the area. Yet, it wasn’t until after he took numerous jobs—working at Barney’s in the window-display department and in various restaurants, art galleries and furniture stores—that Fisher returned to southeastern NC. He bought a gallery space downtown Wilmington, at the corner of Third and Castle, an historic building from the 1880s. Fisher’s first goal was to transform it into a restaurant, but it needed so many repairs, he worried it would fail before he even opened the doors. So, he followed his next passion: Art.
“I developed this interest in 20th century design and a love of beautiful objects,” he says. “I want to create beautiful surroundings with a minimalist approach. We spend so much time in our dwelling that it’s good to be surrounded by beautiful things.”
The gallery stayed open for four years. Afterward, Fisher rented it out as office space, as well as to a few more upstarts, like Parallellogram (see page 22 for their latest project), and the art gallery Projekte, which closed in 2012. During that time, Fisher stayed in Wilmington and took odd jobs, but could never shake his passion for art and design.
“I had the opportunity to reopen, and people were encouraging me to, so why shouldn’t I?” Fisher rhetorically asked. “I also really missed working with artists and felt like I was just floating around.”
Excited to return to the arts, he is taking an urban approach to the gallery this time by working and living in the space. His first show will feature local artist Sullivan Anlyan and DC-based artist J. Coleman, each of whom showcased work in Era’s previous incarnation. On exhibition will be a series of individual and collaborative works dealing with ideas of religion.
“When I opened the gallery in 2005, the first show featured 40 portraits of recognizable famous people in Wilmington by J. Coleman [which featured encore editor Shea Carver],” Fisher explains. “When I closed the gallery in 2009, I featured the work of Coleman again for the last exhibition. It was the most successful gallery show to date, so I felt it was only fitting his work should help me reopen the gallery again.”
Not only is their a nostalgic relationship between Coleman and Era, but the artist designates a strong desire to participate in subject matter of this caliber. He wants to visually translate something that tremendously impacted his life. “Growing up in the church, as they say, I became very aware of the bedtime stories and mythology associated with Christianity,” Coleman states.
Pairing Coleman with Anlyan felt natural, too, especially when viewing her portfolio of work from earlier in her career. Fisher has known Anlyan throughout her time as an artist and loved her series of paintings entitled “Houses of Worship,” which featured various local places of prayer.
“Anlyan is one of my favorite artists in town,” Fisher states. “I’ve known her since she started her career. This series drew a huge audience, which included practitioners of various faiths across the spectrum.”
Together, Coleman and Anlyan will be exhibiting their works and collaborating on murals inside of Era. Coleman will create an installation while in town, which focuses on a crucifix. Putting their personal agendas aside, the artists’ intent is not to create controversial work. Sullivan’s gold-leafed prints and Coleman’s carved-lion sculptures possess unique and celestial elements that surround the exhibition with a heavenly aura.
“Neither are primarily concerned about the many things which so many love to argue in regards to religion,” Fisher clarifies. “It is, however, compassion and tolerance that attract and interest the artists’ explorations. It is the peace and beauty that is conveyed in the stories of the great prophets that carry much more weight with them.”
Entitled “Do This in Remembrance …” the opening has organically evolved into a resurrection of sorts. “I had the outside of the building painted white, and it is now beginning to look like a church,” Fisher quips, “which I kind of like. It’s keeping with the religious undertones of the exhibition.”
Do This in Remembrance…
Art work by J. Coleman and Sullivan Anlyan
Era Gallery • 523 Third Street
On display through May 15th
Hours: Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.