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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023

Local business highlight: Edgewater Gallery begins "Define 'Small'” show

View of Main Street from Edgewater’s gallery at 6 Merchant Street
View of Main Street from Edgewater’s gallery at 6 Merchant Street

Middlebury’s Edgewater Gallery is a bastion of the fine arts in Addison County, and the state of Vermont. Its two locations, on Merchant Street and Mill Street are filled with artwork, mostly paintings, as well as some photography, ceramics, and woodwork. Light jazz music fills the space, providing another layer of calm.

Theresa Harris is the gallery’s director. Harris’ earlier career was in textile design, until she started working at Edgewater six years ago. She started in a lower-level, part-time position and worked her way up to being director.

 “It's been the best job of my life. And I mean, it's so interesting all the time,” Harris said.

The gallery shows work from mainly Vermont-based artists, although it has some pieces from other places around the world. According to Harris, many of the store’s visitors have fallen in love with Vermont, and ask whether all of the art is from the state.

Harris noted the important balancing-act showing local work requires. “We love to support artists in Vermont and show their work,” she said. “But we also have a lot of New England artists, and some farther away. And that's mostly because I just want to make sure that the collection we have, yes represents local work, but is also just a nice, broad collection.”

While one of Middlebury’s largest draws for many visitors is the college, some also come to visit and purchase from Edgewater.

“We're the reason a lot of people come to the town,” Harris said.

There is also significant overlap between the college community and the gallery visitors. Harris pointed out that many parents stop at Edgewater  to look at and purchase paintings as they explore the town of Middlebury.

The gallery sees a cyclical pattern of visitors. Many second home owners come during the summer months to enjoy the warmer weather and Middlebury’s close proximity to a number of lakes. Fall foliage season is also a busier time, as more tourists in Vermont means more visitors at Edgewater. 

December is also a busy month for Edgewater.

“Not everyone is buying art for the holidays, but we definitely see a bump,” noted Harris.

At first, many Edgewater customers were local, but recently, more have been traveling from other parts of the state and New England.

“We have regular customers as much as you can have regular customers [as an art gallery] … but eventually they literally don’t need more [art],” Harris said.

The gallery’s two locations can be confusing to some, but came about naturally when the owner decided to lease another space in town to display more art. Edgewater Gallery on the Green is located at 6 Merchant’s Row, and Edgewater Gallery at Middlebury Falls is located at 1 Mill Street. 

“It is really unusual. But we seem to be able to support both galleries, and I really divide the work [so it’s] going to where it's going to look best,” Harris said.

The gallery on Mill Street used to be the Frog Hollow Crafts Center, which has led some locals to view it as the ‘craft gallery,’ although Edgewater does not distinguish between the two spaces.

Edgewater has a number of artists it actively partners with, which means the gallery regularly discusses the work they artists are producing, what the gallery would like to see more of, and moving pieces in and out of the gallery. Edgewater also solicits submissions of work from unaffiliated artists once a year. 

“We might get 200 submissions from various artists and take two. It has to do with quality, but it also has to do with [the composition of] our collection,” Harris said.

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Sometimes, a work is rejected because Harris just doesn’t think she can sell it. Generally, artists are understanding.

Artists don’t earn any money until the work is actually sold. This is a process called consignment, in which the artist hands over the work to the gallery in a contractually-mediated agreement, and once the work is sold, the artist and the gallery split the funds.

“It is a hard pill to swallow for [artists]. You're painting a painting, it's $2,000 and now the gallery is taking half of it,” Harris said. 

The value, however, for the artist, is all of the promotional and marketing work Edgewater does for their works.

In most cases, the artist sets the price of the work, but Edgewater also consults with them to maximize the chance of a work selling as well as the revenue for both the gallery and the artist.

Price is often based on where an artist is in their career trajectory.

“I do always try to find quality, but also a range of where they [artists] are in their career… And that will give a range of price,” Harris said.

The least expensive small works at Edgewater cost around $250, but even small paintings can cost several thousand dollars. 

The gallery has a series of shows throughout the year, in an attempt to highlight the work of each of its artists. At the moment, the gallery is showing its current small works in an exhibit titled Define “Small” until Dec. 31.

Working on a small canvas creates hurdles for painters. “It's kind of a unique challenge for an artist,” Harris said. “Sometimes these small works are really impactful, just as impactful as you know, a giant canvas.”

Small works also tend to be more affordable.“We really don’t want people to think they can’t afford art,” Harris said.

Even though students from the college likely aren’t looking to hang a piece of art in their dorm room, nor are they ready to spend a thousand dollars or so on a painting, the gallery is worth a visit to look around. They are located at 6 Merchant’s Row and 1 Mill Street. Both locations are open Sunday and Monday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.