On the corner of Castle and Third streets is a charming building adorned with a male cardinal painted by Wilmington-based artist Sullivan Anlyan. It leans, ever-so-slightly, on its foundation. Known as Era Gallery, the exhibition space has been closed for nearly a year after receiving a noncompliance order from the New Hanover County Building Inspections Department.
Originally opened in 2005 by North Carolina native Chet Fisher, Era was forced to close its doors once before due to the economic downtown in 2008. That’s why it was a complete shock when Fisher found an order of noncompliance posted on the gallery’s front door on April 2, 2014.
New Hanover County had cited Fisher for a zoning violation. He was using the front portion of the building as a gallery space, while maintaining a residence in rear portion. While Era is located on property zoned as Main Street Mixed-Use (MSMU), the noncompliance came because of not having a firewall installed between the gallery space and residence.
“When I received the order of noncompliance, I had two choices,” Fisher tells. “I either had to pay daily fines and would have been considered operating without proper licensing, or I had to close.”
Fisher made the tough decision to close Era’s doors again in June 2014. “I had a year’s worth of art shows planned and was very disappointed to have to postpone; however, not re-opening was never considered,” he notes.
Ten months and $40k in renovations later, Era has been issued an “Order of Compliance” from New Hanover County and is slated to reopen on Friday, April 10.
“The renovations required were a huge financial undertaking and risk,” Fisher explains. “I believe my investment in this city will pay off eventually now that the U.S. economy is making its way back.”
Reopening was also important to Fisher for another reason: He wants to share his passion for art and design with the city of Wilmington. Era will celebrate its reopening with a solo exhibition featuring recent work from Washington D.C. artist J. Coleman, in a show titled “Not for Sale.”
“‘Not for Sale’ is multi-layered in meaning for me,” Fisher says. “I have more than once walked into an antique shop or gallery and been drawn to an object of beauty, only to be disappointed when turning over the tag and finding the three words: not for sale.”
The concept for the exhibition was borne out of Fisher’s passion for collecting taxidermy, the sale of which is illegal in North Carolina. “While many may find the art of taxidermy morbid and unsettling, I find it beautiful and peaceful,” Fisher says. “Taxidermy not only provides a venue to utilize as much of an animal as possible and to prevent waste, but it also is the greatest way to preserve memories for hunters and to honor the very existence of harvested animals.”
Although Era cannot sale its coveted collection of taxidermy animals, it can, however, exhibit them alongside artworks of other things in life that are simply “Not for Sale.”
“Pride, love, happiness, strength, and your doctor’s cell phone number are not for sale,” Fisher quips. “The tranquility you can find while sitting on Wrightsville and Carolina beaches, listening to the sounds of crashing waves is not for sale.”
Coleman, too, recognizes the beauty of coastal Carolina. “Much of the work I have produced for Era has been influenced by the ocean,” he explains. “A reverence for the ocean and the overwhelming spiritual experiences, which are often the result of observing the ocean for me personally, continue to inform my subject matter”
This isn’t the first exhibition for Coleman at Era. The artist has been showcased in three solo exhibitions at the gallery, including his successful “NC/DC” portrait exhibition, which features portraits of 40 famous personalities that have resided in Wilmington. Portraits included actor Pat Hingle (“Batman”) and actress Hilary Burton (“One Tree Hill”), former Wilmington mayor Harper Peterson, encore editor Shea Carver, as well as everyone’s favorite Village Market clerk, Curtis Thompson. In addition, Coleman exhibited a series of 50 drawings in the final show before Era’s closing in 2008.
“Ironically, J.’s last show at Era was the most successful show, sales-wise, to date for the gallery,” Fisher informs. “When I called J. and told him the concept I had in mind for the re-opening, he loved it from the start.”
Coleman works in several media: painting, sculpting and mixed media. His stylized work most often deals with the male figure and typically features heroic archetypes evocative of social realism and comic books.
“I feel moments of enlightenment and peace have a cosmic resonance; after the moment has passed and the echo fades, a period of longing can result,” Coleman tells. “During these moments, when the mind craves stimulations and the heart longs for the peace it once felt, one can become discontent with the stillness. It is in this moment which I believe most of my characters inhabit and that I try to capture in my work.”
One such work is “Haller” (mixed media on paper), depicting Harry Haller, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse’s controversial novel “Steppenwolf.” Haller is hunched over, in physical revolt of society and himself.
“J. Coleman’s works represent existential struggle—something I personally struggled with during the closures of Era,” Fisher says. “With this exhibition, I hope art-goers will feel no pressure to buy something, sort of like a visit to a museum. Although the drawings and sculptures by J. Coleman will indeed be for sale, his subjects are in limbo psychologically—there is nothing for sale to change this state of mind.”
Not for Sale
April 10, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Era Gallery • 523 S. Third Street
Chet Fisher: 910-599-6620