Pleiades Gallery celebrates first year in downtown Durham
Darius Quarles brought in three paintings to Pleiades Gallery on a recent Friday, his contribution to the new exhibit at the gallery titled “Local Flavor.” One of the paintings has an image taken from an 1870 hand-drawn map of Durham. Over that map, Quarles has placed a piece of Plexiglass and painted images of buildings related to the location on the map.
“I’ve been researching these maps before Durham became Durham,” Quarles said. “I know a lot about Durham now.” On these historic maps, the cartographer often will note the changes in street names. One map also notes the existence of a pond on Rigsbee Avenue that churches once used for baptisms, Quarles said.
Quarles is one of 10 artists at Pleiades celebrating the gallery’s first anniversary downtown. For “Local Flavor,” the artists are contributing new pieces in different media that reflect in different ways the character of Durham.
The gallery takes its name from the cluster of seven stars found in the constellation Taurus. The stars are represented on the city’s flag, and Taurus, or the bull, also represents the symbol most often associated with Durham.
In that spirit, two artists will incorporate Durham’s tobacco past. Painter Sandra Elliott will contribute some new smoke and water paintings, this time using tobacco smoke. Jeweler Jena Matzen is making “Bull City Tobacco Cure” earrings, with a “secret-recipe patina” that includes tobacco.
Kim Wheaton, one of the co-owners of Pleiades, is creating a work using menus from “landmark restaurants” in Durham. Jim Lee will include some photos he took of the demolition of the Heart of Durham hotel. “It’s a surprise,” co-owner Renee Leverty, who works in metal sculpture, said of her contribution.
While Leverty and Wheaton are the gallery’s co-owners, “as much as possible, we try to run it as a hybrid collective,” Leverty said. The artists pay a monthly fee to help with rent and utilities, and pitch in to run the gallery. The strength of Pleaides comes from “10 people working together to make it as fine an art gallery as it can be,” she said.
Along with the new contributions from the artists, “Local Flavor” will have a space set aside in tribute to Ernest Oliphant, who died in February. Oliphant often would be seen downtown sketching people, birds, animals and flowers, and many of those sketches are in this exhibit. “He spent a lot of time here and we got to know him very well,” said Elliott. He contributed a piece to Pleiades’ “Truth to Power” exhibit, which will be included in this show.
He always gave away what he sketched. “His way of communicating was with his sketches,” Elliott said. Often, when he spoke to you on the street, he would be sketching you. The artists at Pleiades all have sketches that he gave them.
While Pleiades has seen success during its first year, running the gallery has been a learning experience, Leverty said. “All 10 of us have learned ways of running a healthy business,” she said. Running the gallery is a process of creating art “with vision and passion,” and inspiring viewers to buy, she said. Having pieces with varying prices is part of that success, she said.
The artists see themselves as connected to the revitalization of downtown Durham that has happened in recent years. They meet with artists at other galleries to discuss how to advocate for the arts, Leverty said. Wheaton said there has been an upswell of creativity in the area in the past two years, and she sees Durham becoming not just a city known for food but “more of a creative city. … As a gallery, we have a really strong commitment to Durham,” she said.
GO and DO
WHAT: “Local Flavor” exhibit
WHEN: Exhibit is now open, on view through May 10
WHERE: Pleiades Gallery, 109 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham
ALSO: A free, public opening reception will be held April 18 from 6 to 9 p.m.