Sunday, January 5, 2003

Closson's gallery was a foundation of city arts scene

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Closson's president Paul Darwish talks with Phyllis Weston, art gallery director for the store and a longtime art supporter.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
Closson's was born as an art gallery in 1866, selling prints of Civil War generals. It continues as the oldest gallery west of the Alleghenies.

It earned a regional reputation from its early days, representing famed Cincinnati artists including Frank Duveneck and Henry Farney.

More recently current gallery director Phyllis Weston is credited with discovering artists including Jens Jenson, Michael Scott, Tom Bocher, John Ruthven and David Martesky.

Pat Renick, nationally known sculptor, says she was "incredibly fortunate" in 1970 when owner A.B. Closson Jr. and Mrs. Weston supported her work just a year after she moved to Cincinnati.

With the gallery's move to Hyde Park, Mrs. Weston says, "I'm going to make a point of being more involved with the downtown arts community than ever before, spending more time with the arts community, building support and just caring."

It's the departure of more than a century of history that other downtown gallery directors remark on even as they look forward.

"It's sad to see them go, certainly," says Dennis Harrington, director of the Aronoff Center for the Arts' Weston Gallery and a veteran of commercial and non-profit galleries downtown.

He adds that the departure of Closson's gallery from downtown "really represents the times" with a "client base that lives further out in the suburbs."

He quickly points to encouraging signs for the city's core, including the opening of the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Arts in spring.

"People are moving downtown," Mr. Harrington adds. "They may not be in the economic strata that would visit Closson's, but it's important. Linked as it is to Tower Place, it seems there's real opportunity for development."

Fourth Street gallery owner Linda Schwartz echoes Mr. Harrington's respect for Closson's history but she doesn't expect the departure to impact Gallery Row.

An open door

"I'm sorry to see anyone leave downtown," she says, but adds Closson's has its "own clientele."

She doesn't believe the store's departure will affect the small, progressive galleries that anchor the west end of Fourth Street.

"It's just as sad that Suzanna Terrill Gallery (on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine) closed last week."

Mr. Harrington notes that the departure of Closson's "exacerbates a problem, that people believe it's a hassle to come downtown, that there are safety issues, that it's inconvenient, that it's difficult to park."

Ms. Schwartz, like Mr. Harrington, sees new opportunity for development with the store closing.

"What we need to change the climate is mixed use," she says. "Maybe this will open the door to getting something different. Maybe it's time to woo a Crate & Barrel."


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