Last November, Local Colors Artists’ Cooperative celebrated its 30th anniversary with a bustling reception to celebrate the thriving gallery that has been a home away from home for many local artists over the decades. Its mission from the start was to offer original, handmade art.
Then COVID-19 came.
The gallery closed in March and didn’t reopen until mid-June and then on a part-time basis as the group navigated the needed safety protocols.
Although a few cooperative members left the gallery, the majority opted to stay and are committed to ensuring that Local Colors returns even stronger.
"Our cooperative was founded on sharing expenses and work duty," said Donna Amero, the sole remaining founding member. "COVID presented a challenge when we reopened. However, we decided we needed to work even harder as a group, come up with new ideas and make changes to continue our tradition of offering locally made art.”
Like other artists, Kathy Bucholska, a 29-year member, said she struggled to reignite her creative talents in the face of the global pandemic.
"I had a hard time getting into making my jewelry and mixed media during the period we were closed. I certainly had time on my hands, but lacked incentive,” she said. "However, reopening, even part-time, motivated me to create new work. Even with limitations and a new way of doing business, I felt a renewed sense of hope."
In an effort to support the greater artist community, Local Colors offered some gallery space to special guest artists as a monthly feature. Starting in August, work by Joe Higgins of Fished Impressions was featured, followed by the paintings of Regina Piantedosi in September and now the paintings of Joan Bediz of Essex until month's end. Bediz, a former member of the cooperative, noted that during COVID-19, she found herself doing abstract paintings, a departure from her usual work.
"Joan also created 9-by-10 pastels, called the Mmmmm Series, comprised of cocktails beginning with 'M,' like manhattans, mimosas and martinis, during the dark March month of COVID quarantine," according to an exhibition statement.
In spite of the challenges of recruiting new members during the pandemic, the cooperative was thrilled to welcome a new member in August, Mya Rae Nelson, a Gloucester woodworker who creates unique furniture and home goods including mirrors, wooden trays and sushi boards.
Gloucester's Peter Black, a ceramic artist, a member in the early years of Local Colors, has rejoined.
"My recent works reflect a creative burst of energy in response to these stressful times," said Black.
David Katz, a photographer member for 20 years, said although life is still limited by COVID, the gallery continues to find ways to bring in new members.
"It seems like a perfect opportunity for people who are re-thinking what they’re doing. Becoming a member of an artists’ cooperative might lead them in a new direction. We’ve seen renewed interest and have given out several applications in the last month alone," Katz noted.
One annual Local Colors tradition continues this year. Its Dia de Los Muertos — Day of the Dead — altar, is on display now through Nov. 1, and features the resident skeleton named Miranda. The public is invited to leave a note of remembrance of family and friends at the altar.
"This is about recognizing artists and loved ones who have gone before us, and is meant as a celebration," said Bucholska.
Bucholski said the artists are truly optimistic about the future.
"We see this time as an opportunity to regroup and offer new ways of presenting art," she said. "Historically, some of the world’s most enduring art was created under the most challenging circumstances and the artists of Local Colors are working to carry that tradition forward."