On a frozen First Friday art opening last month, the streets were scarce with people, but gallery-goers packed into Artful Dimensions to see their new location at 922 Caroline Street in downtown Fredericksburg. They were living fixtures in the space, talking to artists, interacting with the work in the way art objects are supposed to be interacted with. They craned, they peered, they spanned, and—somewhat less advised—they touched pieces in the gallery.
Artful Dimensions reopened to the public on January 5. The gallery, founded six years ago on nearby Charles Street, has a simple mission: to bring 3D art to the forefront of the gallery experience. Gallery president Christine Lush-Rodriguez said the cooperative began when she and the other founding members expressed their unwillingness to be continually cast into corners and the background of galleries that focused on painting. “In many galleries, 3D art is a second thought,” she said. “But that's not true for us. We wanted to put the focus on dimensional art.”
The new location is doing that in a way they haven't experienced before. Aside from the reopening reception, she said they had more foot traffic the first day than they would have in a week in the former location—and more walk-ins the first week than they would see in a whole month.
The move wasn't just about location. The group wanted a space that worked for them with a well-thought out gallery and studio spaces. They built it out themselves for almost a year. In some ways, that process was like the craft of creating 3D art. But it also, according to treasurer and woodworker Joe Wilkinson, was the complete opposite.
The whole process involved the act of uncovering: exposing wood and brick, peeling back linoleum to expose the original terrazzo floors, finding tin ceilings from the art deco era and then even older tin from the 1880's. It was an exercise in patience and self-control—not things artists are generally known for.
Along with the gallery are six studio spaces. Lush-Rodriguez said they hope at least one artist will be there working during open hours so visitors can view the craft being done. She has a studio there, creating ceramics. “It is the techniques in their art,” she said. “People like to look at art, but also like to see how it is made.”
Also there is Mary Lazar, who does fabric art, including batik dyeing. She has been working with the medium for 40 years and opened her studio during the First Friday event to show people her current pieces. So did Sally Cooney Anderson, who does free-form crochet. She showed visitors how she starts with a color palate and goes where the yarn takes her. The cooperative has 19 members now, who create in mediums as diverse as paper, sculpture, stained glass, and jewelry.
Wilkinson, who makes custom furniture and wooden art pieces said people sometimes ask him, “But what do you use this for?” He's responds, “It's like a painting, for your table.” He makes one-of-a-kind furniture, never using the same design twice. He likes complicated pieces. But like many 3D artists, he runs into the problem of cost. He said because chain stores manufacture similar goods for a fraction of the price, he has to explain the artistry, time, and quality inherent in his products.
He said his medium, woodworking, is in his genes. Wilkinson's grandfather and all of his sons worked for a saw mill. Growing up, he worked on houses with his father, carving gingerbread features for old Victorians. He kept the craft going throughout his time in the Navy and made it a full time preoccupation in retirement.
Likewise, Lush-Rodriguez has always known her medium. She has worked in ceramics ever since high school when she first took a class in it. Along with her work in the gallery, including a group of vases that look like Birch trunks, she does shows around the country. She has one coming up in Miami featuring her pots covered in clay barnacles. She said all of her inspiration comes from the natural world, mostly plants and the ocean.
Throughout Artful Dimensions, unusual pieces made by artists in this region of Virginia are on display. They will also be hosting their third annual juried show, Dimensional Expressions, featuring 3D artists from all over the country (the deadline for submissions is February 28). But the collective is not just about promoting its members and their ilk; they want to increase the number of people making 3D art.
To that end, they offer regular workshops and classes in forms such as felting, polymer clay, Raku pottery, stained glass, weaving, fabric dyeing, and even making clocks out of found objects. Lush-Rodriguez said they also offer private classes for particular interests. No matter what someone wants to make, she said they have members with varied expertise who can help.
“We're real, not plastic,” she said about the people who make up the gallery. “We're real people with rich stories.”
Artful Dimensions will host their next gallery opening on Friday, February 2. Learn more about their members and upcoming classes at artfuldimensionsgallery.com.
Photography by Aaron Spicer