Introducing the Savannah Gallery of Art

BI-WEEKLY ART COLUMN

Detail from “Reflections” by Spotlight artist William Kwamena-Poh

A few months ago, I started noticing social media posts about a new downtown gallery coming to Bryan Street. 

Initially concerned that it may be a bit off the beaten track of the historic district, I visit the newly opened Savannah Gallery of Art on a recent sunny late afternoon. I find a beautiful redbrick warehouse space flooded with light, the entrance doors (actually on the Lincoln Street side of the building directly across from the Abe’s on Lincoln tavern) flung open to invite in the many locals, passersby and, of course, tourists walking to and from their hotels and inns on Bay and River Streets. 

“There are people everywhere!” says jewelry maker Cathy Sizer with delight. Sizer and seven other artists comprise the charter members of the Gallery. All eight had shown together at the former Savannah Art Association Gallery on Chippewa Square, a space I had thought would be terrific for foot traffic when it first opened. 

However, visitation was lower than hoped, and sales—especially following the three-month Covid-19 closure—were lower still. When the property owner informed the Association that their lease would not be renewed by giving a generous five months’ notice, Sizer sprang into action. 

Fellow charter member and photographer Joe Shields is the realtor who found the current building located directly behind, and owned by, the Staybridge Hotel on Bay Street. 

The tenant at the time, a Berkshire Hathaway Realty office, was moving out and there were already two other offers in place on the day Shields called the leasing agent. With no time to spare, the eight charter members bravely took a leap of faith, placed the highest offer, and began the work of forming an LLC and transforming the office into a serene and welcoming home for their art. 

Shields tells me, “one of the most incredible things about what we’ve done is that among the eight of us, each has different skills.” 

For example, on the afternoon of my visit, photographer Molly Cusick is at the sales counter hunched over her phone teaching Shields how to access and run the Gallery’s security system she newly set up; wood turner Roy Yarger is a Master Carpenter who designed and built the exhibition panels and print racks, figured out the best layout for the space and installed the lighting; and several members utilize their masterful social media skills (on the day I arrive the business appeared among the top listings in a Google search of Savannah galleries. Their choice of name does not hurt!)

The founding partners have worked hard and are proud of their new space. 

“We look at this as a true gift—despite it being such a labor!” laughs Sizer. 

All eight charter artists are equal partners in the LCC and are actively jurying in other artists to swell their ranks. They have carefully created different levels of membership, dues, benefits and involvement for those who would like to join them (access that information on their website). 

At time of writing, three new artists have been juried in, and an additional six consignment artists will join in January.

They also plan to host regular juried exhibitions and “Spotlight” artists. Sizer and Shields are particularly excited about the Spotlight exhibition space, housed within the glassed-off corner of the Gallery, home to the former conference room. 

The Gallery will spotlight local and regional artists of high merit with an emphasis on women and minority groups who may previously have been under-represented. Local businesses and individuals are sought to sponsor these rotating Guest Artist exhibits. 

The first Spotlight sponsor is Savannah’s iconic Crystal Beer Parlor, and the first Spotlight artist is William Kwamena-Poh, who will show his work at the Gallery’s opening celebration on Friday, Dec. 3. 

Savannah-based Kwamena-Poh paints watercolors of everyday life from his native Ghana, focusing on tableau of fishermen, women and children at the marketplace, beach, or chophouse (restaurants and eateries), and sensitive portraits of women in their traditional colorful fabrics. 

A self-taught artist, Kwamena-Poh uses an opaque watercolor called Gouache and works on a dry surface of three-hundred-pound paper. 

He considers his work to be a way of educating viewers about his culture and society. Normally found painting in his own studio, housed upstairs in City Market, he is often on the road participating in various public and private juried shows throughout the United States. 

The recipient of countless blue ribbons, Kwamena-Poh recently returned from his mother’s 90th birthday celebrations in Ghana and will be just back from the Thanksgiving weekend Cocoa Beach Art Show in time for the Savannah Gallery of Art festivities. 

In addition to the Spotlight Artist, the Gallery will also feature its first juried exhibition on Dec. 3. The partners devised a cleverly named “21 and Done!” show to usher out 2021. (“Good riddance!” chuckles Shields). The entry fee was $21 and, of course, twenty-one artists have been selected. The show will be judged by Savannah sculptor, artist and cabinet maker John Mitchell, MFA, and cash prizes of $1,000 will be awarded that evening.

The eight partners are as follows: Wayne Chambers, a student of the famed New York Arts Students League, who has been painting for 59 years! 

His original watercolors and giclee prints on canvas feature iconic historic district homes and squares and Low Country marshes. 

Garry Covell, a self-trained artist, exhibits work in many styles utilizing a variety of media. During my visit I saw a Jackson Pollack-like paint splattered canvas and graphic colorful portraits of musicians such as Bob Marley, Ray Charles, and Janis Joplin.

Molly Cusick takes nature photos which are infused into a coating on aluminum using high heat and high pressure. She recently returned from spending a year and half in New Zealand during lockdown and many of her pieces are of the trees and flora there.

Patricia Elliott Lamar, a member of the American, Southern and Georgia Watercolor Societies displays paintings of Low Country scenes.

James Mravec, who teaches illustration at SCAD, has been working on interactive media for over 35 years. Long interested in wildlife conservation, his oil paintings focus on wildlife art, Savannah scenes and fantasy illustrations.

Joseph Shields, an international award-winning photographer, shows stunningly sharp images of Savannah and Tybee vignettes. 

His impeccably matted and framed work is in the Lamar Dodd Art Center in LaGrange, the Huntsville Museum of Art, in private and corporate collections, and is represented by two stock image agencies.

Cathy Sizer has been creating her one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces for the past 15 years utilizing ng vintage materials she sources wherever she can. 

Roy Yarger, a member of the American Association of Woodturners, shows masterfully lathed and turned wooden pieces in which he laminates different woods together into intricate patterns.

The Savannah Gallery of Art, already open seven days a week, will host its Grand Opening from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday, December 3. It will feature work by Gallery members, Spotlight artist William Kwamena-Poh, and twenty-one guest artists in the “21 & Done!” juried show which hangs through December 31. The Gallery is located at 304 East Bryan at Lincoln. Connect at 912.358.0287, Instagram@savannahgalleryofart or SavannahGalleryofArt.com