SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI – When Roberta Richman moved to South Kingstown in the early 1970s, she wasn’t sure she could continue to grow as an artist.
Richman had moved to the area with her then-husband, who had taken a job at the University of Rhode Island. But she was a trained artist who had earned an MFA and she wanted to stay in her field.
“I had to try to figure out how I was going to pursue a career as a professional artist living in this small town,” she said.
Through her affiliation with URI, Richman met a group of women who were in the same boat — professional artists, she said, who had little opportunity to show their work. So they got together and in April 1974, 10 of them created Hera Gallery.
Forty-eight years later, the gallery is stronger than ever and its members reflect on the history of the cooperative through its current exhibition, entitled “Where we are”.
Sonja Czekalski, the gallery’s director, described the exhibition as a snapshot of active Hera member artists. She said all current members were invited to exhibit their work in the exhibition and many of them were selling their art for less than $150.
The gallery is hosting an opening reception for the exhibition on Saturday starting at 6 p.m. It will include light refreshments and guests will be able to chat with some of the exhibiting artists.
“As Hera nears her 50th birthday, almost exactly 2 years into the pandemic, the thought came – Where is Hera in all of this?” said Czekalski. “The exhibit gives every current artist member a voice to say, ‘This is where I am and this is what I’m doing right now. “”
Twenty artists submitted pieces to the exhibition, and Czekalski said they exhibited a wide range of works, including photographs, drawings, paintings, sculptures, stone carvings, collages, prints, fiber arts and handmade paper arts.
Among the photographers is Viera Levitt, who submitted a diptych of the Campanile, a tower in the middle of the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where she works.
Levitt enjoys taking photos of brutalist architecture, she said — the Campanile style of architecture and a style characterized by dark concrete buildings.
“I photograph this style of architecture which is often seen as gray and crude, but I try to make it more interesting,” Levitt said, “for people to like and appreciate it.”
Levitt joined Hera Gallery in 2008. She said she felt a special connection to the gallery, as she was born in 1974 – the year it was founded by Richman and a group of other artists.
Richman, who submitted an abstract painting, said she was delighted to see the variety of works displayed at the show, especially because each piece was created by an artist who lives and works in the area.
For her own submission, Richman was inspired by photos of mountains and lakes she took on her travels.
“I collect these photographs, and when I start a new painting, I look at an image or several photographs of a place,” Richman said. “But from there, it takes on a life of its own, and I don’t feel like I’m representing any particular place. It’s really just an abstract thought.
And after nearly 50 years of submitting her work to Hera Gallery exhibitions and serving regularly on the gallery’s board, Richman said she’s thrilled to see how the co-op has grown and changed.
“I watch it now and feel grateful for the people who took up the torch to make it the success it has become. It’s almost like raising a child and seeing it succeed,” said Richman, whose second daughter was born the same month Hera opened.
Levitt is among the member artists who continue to shape Hera, and she praised the history and importance of the gallery.
“It’s very healthy, I think, for the small town of Wakefield to have such cultural institutions,” Levitt said. “They are largely created by people here and for people in this region – and far beyond.”